's (center) health could largely determine whether the Heat
capture a third straight title. (Heinz Kluetmeier for Sports Illustrated)
Here's a look at what's in store for the Heat this offseason after their run to the 2013 NBA title.
• What’s the biggest priority for Miami this offseason?
Getting Dwyane Wade completely healthy. This is already a team in fine form, and one without risk of significant turnover. But contending for a third straight title will require all that Wade has left, and the Heat will be much better off if he's healthier and better rested for the later stages of the postseason. Miami can't exactly plan around prospective injuries, but one would expect both Wade and coach Erik Spoelstra to take a slightly more proactive approach in terms of maintaining the 31-year-old guard's health. This season was a bit atypical because of a 27-game winning streak that largely spanned the stretch run, but, under normal circumstances, Spoelstra should be able to find more periodic rest for his team's second star.
Beyond the R&R needed in the wake of such a lengthy run, Miami will eventually turn its attention to its one impending free agent. Chris Andersen was signed for a portion of this season at a veteran's minimum salary -- a level of compensation dwarfed by his impact and per-minute production. If the Heat want to retain Andersen, they'll undoubtedly need to offer him a more substantial deal. Miami would likely need to dig into its mid-level exception (which is already reduced to $3.2 million because of its taxpayer status) in order to re-sign him.
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Because of his short stint in Miami, Anderson does not have Bird rights, which enable a player to re-sign with his team without regard to the salary cap. But in this case, the Heat would have to weigh the value of retaining Andersen against the alternative use of their $3.2 million exception. Frankly, I don't see them doing much better than Andersen. Miami is stacked at the wings as is, faces an ill-fitting lot of price-appropriate free-agent ball handlers and risks downgrading in swapping out Andersen for another, perhaps more affordable big man.
Andersen has his flaws, but he also shot 81 percent in the postseason by playing perfectly off of LeBron James and Wade, and helped key some of Miami's biggest postseason runs with his finishing ability and effort. He may well be as good a fit for this roster as the Heat are likely to find at that price point, or at the very least registers as a safe selection for a team that doesn't much need to chase risk.
• How can the Heat improve this offseason? Through free agency? The draft? Trade?
In all likelihood: none of the above. Miami doesn't have a draft pick or apparent interest in acquiring one. The trade option is on the table, but most every player on the books is either essential, cherished (in Wade's case), cost-effective or likely uninteresting to other teams. And as described above, the Heat's biggest asset in free agency is the $3.2 million taxpayer mid-level exception, which could be used to either bring back Andersen or lure another role player. (Miami and former No. 1 pick Greg Oden reportedly have mutual interest, but who knows what the 25-year-old center can offer after so many knee problems?) Beyond that, Miami could take a chance on a minimum-salary player (much like they did with Andersen, Rashard Lewis or the long-since-released Josh Harrellson) to fill out the roster, but it shouldn't be expected to find any rotation regulars in the depths of the bargain bin. If it happens, good on the Heat, but Andersen-type additions are very clearly exceptional.
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Armchair GMs will float the notion that Bosh should or could be traded, particularly in light of his scoreless performance in Game 7 against San Antonio. That line of thinking is ridiculous. While the thought of trading Bosh isn't inconceivable, most casual observers seem to misunderstand just how valuable he is in the context of the Heat's incredibly demanding defensive scheme, to say nothing of his ability to space the floor with mid-range shooting.
In order to cover pick-and-rolls (and rotate in general) the way Miami does, the center needs to be able to cover ground quickly, cut off driving angles and ward off passes to the interior. Bosh does most of those things about as well as one could reasonably ask. He had trouble with Tim Duncan's post work in the Finals, just as he was bullied by the far bigger Roy Hibbert in the Eastern Conference finals. But those one-on-one situations aren't remotely representative of his defensive contributions on the whole. Spoelstra has installed a frenzied defensive system in part because of the disruptive abilities of James and Wade, but the whole operation hinges on Bosh's ability to stream through a flurry of responsibilities while closing up every gap he can. He can't cover them all, but to find a big man capable of handling so much on D is a rare thing, and to find it in a player who is also so useful offensively even rarer still.
Spoelstra and his staff could well consider tweaking Miami's system to alleviate some of its risks and demands, perhaps making Bosh more expendable in the process. That shift could even be nudged along by what stands to be a considerable tax hit, as the hefty salaries on the books for Miami have started to take their toll. But as it stands, Bosh provides far too great a value to a team of such unconventional design to be dealt without considerable return, even if he isn't as reliable a scorer or rebounder as one might like.
• Will the Heat enter the 2013-14 season as title favorites?
Naturally, though these playoffs were a display of how that distinction can be tested. Miami was the championship favorite at every stage of the season and postseason, but that standing couldn't stop the Pacers from taking the Heat to seven games or the Spurs from pushing the since-crowned champs to their competitive limits. Both of those teams will be back in the postseason next year, and Chicago will see the return of Derrick Rose and Oklahoma City the return of Russell Westbrook. All of that would seem to cast doubt on the Heat's ability to capture three straight.
But the Heat have earned their first-call standing as 2014 title favorites
on the basis of being the most broadly dangerous team and posing the biggest threat to the greatest number of potential opponents. But the next go-around isn't likely to get much easier, as the rest of the league continues to find ways to game-plan specifically against the Heat and build rosters with the intent of toppling the defending champs.