SUN. SURF.Nightlife. No state income tax. What more could a free agent want? That's thedecidedly nonrhetorical question the Heat needs to answer for one of the NBA'smost eligible, Dwyane Wade, who is clearly keeping his options open. Over thesummer he declined to extend his contract, giving him the option to flee Miaminext July.

"A lot ofthings are great here," Wade says. "But you want to make sure that forthe rest of your career you can compete for a championship."

But with the Heathamstrung by the league luxury tax, president Pat Riley made no major rosterimprovements this off-season. Which means the promise of a competitive futurewill have to come from advances made by Miami's young players—guards MarioChalmers and Daequan Cook and, especially, forward Michael Beasley, the No. 2pick of the 2008 draft. Beasley followed an inconsistent rookie year with amonthlong mandated rehab stint in Houston this summer for violating theleague's substance abuse policy. While the specifics of Beasley's violationremain shrouded, it didn't come as a complete surprise; he had been fined$50,000 for the scent of marijuana being present in his room during his rookiesymposium.

Still, Miami'ssecond-year coach Eric Spoelstra is bullish on Beasley after Heat staff workedwith him throughout the off-season, even when he was in rehab (where the coachvisited him three times). "You'll see the improvements with Mike rightaway," says Spoelstra. "In just four months he put on 10 pounds ofmuscle. He's faster and more explosive than last year."

Wade acknowledgesmuch is riding on the 20-year-old's progress, saying, "How much betterMichael got this summer will be how much better the Heat gets as well."Beasley and Miami have 82 games to help Wade envision a better future in SouthBeach.

PROJECTED STARTINGFIVE with 2008--09 statistics

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

PG MARIO CHALMERS PPG: 10.0 APG: 4.9 SPG: 1.95 FG%: 42.0 3FG%: 36.7
SG DWYANE WADE PPG: 30.2 APG: 7.5 RPG: 5.0 SPG: 1.34 FG%: 49.1
SF MICHAEL BEASLEY PPG: 13.9 RPG: 5.4 APG: 1.0 FG%: 47.2 3FG%: 40.7
PF UDONIS HASLEM PPG: 10.6 RPG: 8.2 BPG: 0.33 SPG: 0.57 FG%: 51.8
C JERMAINE O'NEAL PPG: 13.3 RPG: 6.4 APG: 1.8 BPG: 2.00 FG%: 47.4

KEY BENCH PLAYERS:G-F Quentin Richardson, 10.2 PPG; G Daequan Cook, 38.7 3FG%; F James Jones, 4.2PPG; C Joel Anthony, 1.43 BPG • New acquisition

COACH: EricSpoelstra (second season with Heat) • 2008--09 RECORD: 43--39 (third inSoutheast)

POINTS SCORED:98.3 (18th in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 98.0 (12th in NBA)



Games in whichDwyane Wade (17) and Mario Chalmers (16) each had at least four steals lastseason. That's the most by a pair of teammates since Gary Payton (20) and NateMcMillan (14) of the 1994--95 Sonics.


The lesson of lastyear was that Dwyane Wade can't get it done alone. He got into the playoffsagainst an Atlanta team with some athletic guys and couldn't carry his teamanymore. They're not going to win 50 games and get back into contention as longas he has to play at an MVP level every night.... The best thing for the Heatis to get Michael Beasley back on the court and try to raise his value, whetherto keep him or to move him. From what I've seen, he's not a guy who'll endearhimself to Pat Riley with his commitment and attention to detail. If they playhim at small forward this year to get Udonis Haslem on the floor more, Beasleywill have a size advantage and might be able to demand more double teams, buthe'll lose the quickness advantage he had [against power forwards]....Theover-under on Jermaine O'Neal is that he plays 50 games. His knees and his bodyare breaking down, and his skills have diminished so much that it's hard toexpect him to be anything more than serviceable....Mario Chalmers did a solidjob, but once he got into the playoffs he was a nonfactor. To get back intocontention, they'll need to upgrade the point and bring Chalmers off thebench.

PHOTOBOB ROSATODWYANE WADE Will his teammates be more than passable? PHOTOBOB ROSATO