They got caught at an impasse this summer, not knowing whether Dwyane Wade will re-sign as a free agent, and he doesn't want to sign until he knows what they're going to do to improve the team. The result is that they had an offseason in limbo while a lot of other teams in the East made moves to improve.
There is no question that Wade's all-out style of play could shorten his career, and you never know if you're going to be without him for a while. I don't think he necessarily looked tired going into the playoffs last year. The lesson was that he couldn't get it done alone, even as well as he played last year. He got into the playoffs against an Atlanta team with some athletic guys and he realized he couldn't carry the team anymore. They're not going to win 50 games and get back into contention as long as he has to play at the high MVP level every night. When he won his championship a few years ago, he had a dominant low-post presence in Shaq and other good players, which shows that if you put the right players around him, he absolutely can lead you all the way. I don't question Wade's decision-making because one of the traits he shares with LeBron is a willingness to share the ball. The question with this team is, Who can he share the ball with?
Even though they didn't make a major acquisition this summer, they can show improvement simply by having their young players get better. They had a rookie point guard in Mario Chalmers who started 82 games, and another rookie in Michael Beasley who was their second-leading scorer.
It got out during the offseason that they were offering Beasley in trades trying to make something work to get Carlos Boozer. After he went into a rehab facility this summer, his trade value had to be as low as it could be. The best thing for the Heat is to get Beasley back on the court and try to raise his value, whether to keep him or to move him in a future deal. From what I've seen, he is not the kind of guy who would endear himself to the Pat Riley approach in terms of his commitment and attention to detail. He was a candidate to be the No. 1 pick, so you know he has talent. You have to account for him because he has legitimate NBA three-point range, and he is an excellent shooter from the elbows. If you close out too hard, he's going to be much quicker on the dribble than most of the power forwards who are guarding him, and being a lefty doesn't hurt him either. He's not a bad low-post player as well.
If they decide to play Beasley more at small forward this year -- which I'm skeptical about -- he should have a size advantage and might be able to demand more double teams, though he'll lose his quickness advantage. He wasn't a great defender last year, either because of inexperience or a lack of focus or effort, and he would be even more exposed attempting to defend the small forwards. But I understand it if it means they can get Udonis Haslem on the floor more often at power forward. The key for this team is to further establish Beasley as a second option who can take pressure off Wade. He's got too much ability to give up on him this quickly.
Haslem has been a rock in that organization going back to their championship team. He's their high-effort guy, though they may have to move him in order to trade for someone as talented as Boozer. But he's like a frontcourt version of Raja Bell when it comes to some of the intangible things he does on the defensive end in terms of rebounding and toughness. His skills show up better on a contending team because he doesn't need the ball to do what he does. The problem with this team is that it needs more guys who can do more with the ball. But all of that being said, Haslem does a lot of little things to help you win.
They can't count on Jermaine O'Neal to be the No. 2 guy. The over-under on him is going to be that he plays 50 games. His knees and his body are breaking down. He still has some of his old skill level, but he doesn't have the physical side of it anymore. He used to be a big man who could run and was more athletic than most centers. For most of his career in Indiana, he was kind of the best player on the team when they had Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson. But when they lost that surrounding talent and O'Neal had to become their franchise player, he showed he wasn't good enough for the role. At least Miami didn't really give up anything of long-term value to get him. Even if he stays moderately healthy, his skills have diminished so much that it's hard to expect anything more than for him to be serviceable. If he gives them close to 70 games and 12-13 points a game, he can have a steadying presence there.
Chalmers did a solid job in starting 82 games as a rookie, but once he got into the playoffs, he was a non-factor. He has the size and ability to defend his position, and he could make shots when Wade penetrated and kicked out. If the Heat improve over the next couple of years and get back into contention, they'll need to upgrade the point and bring Chalmers off the bench as the third guard. That role would suit him best because while he's capable of making shots, he's not one of those great shooters who demands constant coverage. He's not a dangerous penetrator; you're not going to worry about him getting into the teeth of your defense. He is a solid all-around player who would be very valuable on the second unit.
Daequan Cook made a huge improvement in his second year. I thought he'd be a washout journeyman, but last year he emerged as a key player. He had some great nights coming off the bench and he made some big shots. His three-point shooting improved and he became serviceable defensively after being a liability as a rookie.
Another guy who could make a difference with a full season of health is James Jones, who is exclusively a catch-and-shoot guy but one who gives Wade room to operate. Among Jones, Cook, Chalmers and Beasley, they have enough guys to keep the floor spread for Wade to penetrate and create.
Quentin Richardson may play some role, and on some nights he'll go for 20 and help them win. But it's been a long time since he contributed to a winning program. He has fallen in love with the jump shot and rarely gets to the free-throw line anymore. He doesn't seem intent on defending.
I have a lot of respect for Erik Spoelstra, who works hard and learned at the hand of a guy in Riley who is awfully good. If Spoelstra had not had the respect of the players -- and specifically Wade -- it would have shown early, but the opposite was true. He had Wade's total support and respect and the guys on that team really bought in, and so give Spoelstra a lot of credit for harboring that kind of environment. It can't be easy to coach for Riley, especially since Spoelstra didn't try to do everything exactly the way Riley would have done it. He had his own approach and he kept things simple, which is not something you would say about Riley.
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