Heat get better, eye more additions
The celebration in the Heat's Biscayne Bay office lasted mere minutes before Miami stopped, pivoted and moved on. No sooner had Ray Allen accepted a three-year, $9 million offer on Friday -- the NBA's all-time three-point leader spurned a two-year, $12 million deal from Boston to join its hated archrival -- than the Heat were on the phone with Rashard Lewis, effusively praising the sharpshooting forward like they did Allen. Here comes Miami, after just exiting the championship-parade route, barreling down the free-agent highway, courting a ring-chasing veteran near you.
It's a scary thought for NBA coaches: Miami is getting better. It took two years for the Big Three to get on the same page, for LeBron James to play patiently and not defiantly, for Dwyane Wade to accept that this was no longer his team, for Chris Bosh to truly feel comfortable in a supporting role. Now the Heat are adding more weapons to the mix?
"That's not a team they are building down there," an Eastern Conference executive said. "That's a juggernaut."
The addition of Allen is critical because he slips comfortably into Miami's offensive attack. The Heat played more up-tempo last season while ranking eighth in the NBA in points per 100 possessions (106.6 per game). Yet, internally, they want to play even faster next season, to push the pace on nearly every possession, to blitz opponents early. Allen will turn 37 next week and is coming off right-ankle surgery. But he can still shoot, as Allen showed in hitting a career-high 45.3 percent from three-point range last season, and the Heat envision him burying threes as a trailer on the break or camping out on the wing, waiting for defenses to collapse on James, Wade and Bosh.
"You can't help off of Allen," a scout said. "He is going to be lethal on those drive-and-kicks and is going to make James and Wade so hard to guard."
Lewis, 32, struggled with his shot last season, making 23.9 percent of his threes in an injury-plagued year with Washington. But he's a career 38.8 percent three-point shooter, one who made a living playing off Dwight Howard for 3 1/2 seasons in Orlando. If he signs with Miami -- a source described his meeting with Heat officials on Sunday as going "very well" -- there would be no pressure. Just make a few threes every night, Rashard. We'll take it from there.
For all the changes commissioner David Stern and his owners made to the NBA's salary structure in the new collective bargaining agreement, for all the advantages given to teams to retain their own free agents, the league can't control motivation or opportunity. Allen's sour relationship with Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo contributed to his taking $3 million less per season to play in Miami instead of returning to Boston, and the Heat were there to reel him in. And Lewis found himself free after being bought out by the Hornets, who acquired him via a trade with the Wizards for small forward Trevor Ariza and center Emeka Okafor. Lewis will collect $13.7 million from New Orleans this season, an ample financial cushion to accept the veteran's minimum to chase his first championship.
The pursuit of more players may not stop there for the Heat, though they won't break up the team to do it. The Heat have no interest in including point guard Norris Cole or center Joel Anthony in any sign-and-trade scenarios, a source said, meaning anyone interested in playing for them (veterans such as shooting guard Raja Bell and center Marcus Camby) will have to settle for the minimum.
This is Miami's approach now. Last summer it was small forward Shane Battier who took the South Beach discount; this summer it's Allen and, perhaps, Lewis who will do the same. The Heat have a recruiting machine of which even John Calipari would be envious. They have James and Wade, who wooed Allen with phone calls and text messages before coach Erik Spoelstra sold him on the system and president Pat Riley and his bucket of championship rings came in to close the deal. Last summer, this summer, next summer, Miami will continue to lure free agents with the promise that championships -- maybe two, three, four -- will likely accompany any deal.
Yes, here comes Miami, imploding Stern's hopes for parity, reloading on the fly. The superstars are locked up and any lingering whispers of James, Wade or Bosh opting out after the 2013-14 season and going elsewhere have vanished. It's dynasty-forming time in Miami, and if there is a free agent out there whom the Heat think can help, well, expect the full-court press.