By Rob Mahoney
September 09, 2013

Greg Oden's ability to become a shot-blocking, low-post presence again could secure the Heat a fourth-straight East title. (Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)Greg Oden's ability to be a shot-blocking, low-post presence again could secure Miami a fourth-straight East title. (Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)

Even a roster as incredibly flexible as the Heat's -- built around the the brilliance of the team's three stars and a corps of substantial role players -- has its limitations. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade can both be taken advantage of in particular matchups. Ray Allen, while still a dead-eye shooter, has to be taken out of games at times due to his woeful defensive play. Shane Battier suffered a brutal shooting stretch throughout the 2013 postseason, and was an offensive drain until he went 6-for-8 from long range in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Chris Andersen struggles to grapple with interior threats. Opponents can shoot over the top of Udonis Haslem, and leave him relatively unattended while Miami is on offense. Mario Chalmers is hot and cold, Norris Cole was a net negative for much of the season and Mike Miller is in Miami no more.

The pitfalls in relying too much on any one of Miami's supporting pieces creates a consistent need for roster improvement in order to account for the ebbs and flows of those orbiting around Wade, Bosh and LeBron James. Unlike the last two summers, Miami did not make a significant mid-level addition to bolster its existing roster this year. That leaves open the possibility of regression due to inconsistency and age among the team's role players, particularly with Miller's departure removing a quality shooter from the mix.

The risk is relative, as Miami stands to contend for the title this season no matter the supporting cast. But the Heat's pursuit of the title could be aided by just a single unexpected contributor taking a step forward. There are but a few candidates for that kind of development, though each comes with his share of skepticism.

Greg Oden (25 years old): The Heat prospect with both the highest profile and greatest potential. Oden's return date is still unclear, as is his on-court value given that he hasn't played NBA basketball since 2010. Yet if this signing breaks Miami's way, Oden could pan out as a conference-shaking acquisition. Teams with so much high-end talent can benefit greatly from the right kinds of supporting parts, and a potentially menacing back-line defender with Oden's size and rebounding ability would put the Heat another class above the best of the East.

Norris Cole (24 years old): Miami's second-string point guard had a shockingly solid playoff run, but let's not forget that he rated as one of the worst rotation players in the entire league for 80 games last season. It would take a significant improvement merely for Cole to sustain his playoff marks (a 10-percent bump in effective field-goal percentage, a slight improvement in passing and a noticeable dip in turnovers). Expecting anything more would be unjustified by Cole's two-year NBA standard.

Jarvis Varnado (25 years old): Varnado has some decent appeal as a shot-swatting prospect, but is still so raw in his defensive awareness that he doesn't present much immediate value. He could be worth keeping around due to the lack of similarly-skilled defenders available, but in his current form he's not very playable for a team in the Heat's position. Miami also stands to save some money by releasing him, which could be appealing given the team's costly luxury tax bill.

Justin Hamilton (23 years old): Any big man capable of shooting from outside is worth a look for Miami. Hamilton was drafted in the second round by the Heat in 2012, and is reportedly close on a training camp contract with the team after spending a year playing overseas. Making the regular season roster might be a stretch, but Hamilton could conceivably make the cut if he's able to knock down mid-range looks consistently and prove that he can compete on the glass. In that Hamilton seems unlikely to even make the team, the prospect of him breaking into the rotation to provide any consistent value is fairly minute.

Eric Griffin (23 years old): Griffin is an outstanding athletic prospect with the kind of reach, quickness and leaping ability that could be amazing if harnessed with any consistency. But his game reflects his lack of practical basketball experience -- a factor which leaves open the chance for improvement while all but erasing the possibility of immediate contribution. A project of this ilk won't do much to address the aforementioned concerns regarding Miami's role players, but an exception could be made for the sake of such a dynamic athlete.

Larry Drew II (23 years old): Though not yet a member of the Heat, Drew is reportedly set to work out for Miami this week and could garner a training camp invite. Drew doesn't immediately seem NBA-worthy, but he did lead the NCAA last season in assists per minute and could offer Spoelstra a purer play-making alternative to Cole. That said, finding a third-string point guard isn't exactly a priority with James and Wade on the roster. Camp invite or not, it's hard to expect much given his nonexistent scoring and unspectacular all-around game.

Michael Beasley (24 years old) Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports Suns

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