Where Do the HEAT Go From Here?
Despite the fact the city of Miami is still sipping champagne and celebrating the HEAT’s impressive championship run, we know Pat Riley is not one to rest on his laurels. The core of this stacked roster is obviously intact, but a dynasty is often achieved by adding essential pieces to the puzzle each off-season. And make no mistake, multiple championships are the clear objective of this organization (LeBron said so himself…)
Thus, the question then becomes: What moves will team president Pat Riley and company make this summer in order to maintain momentum and position themselves for a run at another ring?
Front Office Management and Coaching:
For the first time in a long time, there are no doubts or consternation as to who will coach the HEAT going forward. Or who should coach the HEAT, for that matter. As much pressure as was heaped upon LeBron James’ shoulders these past two seasons, head coach Erik Spoelstra was under immense pressure, as well. Plenty of pundits claimed Miami would be better served bringing in an experienced coach who could handle the personalities and deal with the bright lights and big stage of important NBA playoff games. However, Pat Riley remained faithful in his staunch support of Spoelstra. The move ultimately, finally paid off this month, when Riley handed the Larry O’Brien Trophy to his young protégé last week at center court after Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
In addition, the best may be yet to come. Spoelstra is just 41 years of age, and is still learning his craft. The HEAT were out-coached and out-maneuvered by Rick Carlisle and the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, but Coach Spo got the better of Scott Brooks and the Thunder this year. Spoelstra’s future is obviously bright, and having the opportunity to coach the game’s greatest player and an extremely talented roster never hurts.
Heading into the season, many in Miami feared that point guard would be the HEAT’s Achilles heal. However, with LeBron playing a hybrid point-power-forward position and handling the ball so often, the combination of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole at PG ended up being a formidable, if sometimes inconsistent, tag team. Instead, the HEAT’s biggest weakness all season was their lack of a true center. Joel Anthony is a solid defender, but extremely limited offensively. Miami rolled the dice on Ronny Turiaf, but as expected, he was unable to stay healthy. They even brought in Eddy Curry, in hopes the talented big man would be able to contribute something. Eventually, Miami realized it was all a lost cause. Spoelstra reacted by transforming his lineup – often playing Chris Bosh at center, LeBron at PF, and Battier (or Mike Miller) on the wing. This was the lineup that generated the HEAT’s greatest success, especially in the postseason and particularly in the Finals.
Going forward, Riley would obviously like to address the gaping hole in the middle, and adding a legit starting center will be one of the primary off-season objectives.
The ancillary benefits of winning a title in any sport often manifest themselves during free agency, when veterans in hopes of joining a legitimate championship contender are willing to take less than market value in order to latch on a team within reach of a ring. It will be interesting to see how many free agents are enraptured with the idea of playing with LeBron and Wade and company.
Because the “Big 3” of James, Bosh, and Wade will account for $52 million by themselves next season, the most the HEAT will be able to offer is the “tax payers mid-level exception,” worth roughly $3 million. Moreover, the HEAT are already over the luxury threshold, which means owner Mickey Arison will have to pay an increased tax bill if he is willing to add free agents to the roster. Arison has been known as a fiscally conservative owner, so this is not a forgone conclusion. However, with a trophy on his mantelpiece and a new network deal in the works, most Miami insiders feel Riley will be able to convince Arison to splurge for the right player at the right price.
Interestingly, there are a number of intriguing free agents centers set to hit the open market next month. As mentioned above, this is certainly an area of need. While Riley doesn’t have the cap room to make a run at the elite FA centers such as Roy Hibbert or JaVale McGee, there are some big men that might fit the bill.
Unrestricted free agent Chris Kaman has shown sporadic flashes of brilliance throughout his NBA career. Back in 2009-2010, he earned an All-Star berth by averaging 18.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, and 1.2 blocks. However, the issue with Kaman has been durability; he’s missed months at a time during each of the last two seasons. Kaman made $12.7 million last season, and will undoubtedly have to settle for a pay cut in his next contract. Still, centers with his skill set still make a pretty penny in today’s NBA; would Kaman will being to settle for a lowball offer from Riley?
Another potential target might be former 76ers center Spencer Hawes. Hawes got off to a great start last season, before an injury sidelined him in late January and limited his effectiveness when he returned. Still, he’s a legit seven-footer and there is an undoubted upside there.
If Riley is looking for a short-term plug in, Marcus Camby would be worth a look. Despite his advanced age (37 years old), Camby has shown he has plenty of gas left in the tank. Over the past few seasons, Camby has averaged over 9 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks per contest, despite playing under 25 minutes a night. He would defend the rim on the defensive end, and could float around the perimeter on the other end – effectively clearing space for LBJ and Wade to attack. The type of defensive minded pivot you don’t have to run any plays for, but can still be extremely effective in spurts.
A few other free agent big men that would be far more affordable and might pique the interest of Riley and company: Jermaine O’Neal, Nazr Mohammed, Memo Okur, Omer Asik, Greg Stiemsma, Hasheem Thabeet, Joel Pryzbilla, Aaron Gray…
Yet, as noted earlier, Miami had tremendous success rolling out a lineup that didn’t feature a traditional center down low. Thus, Riley will also consider spending his cap space on a sharp-shooter to help spread the floor.
For this reason, Ray Allen’s name has frequently been attached to Miami since the Celtics were eliminated by the HEAT in early June. Allen is currently recovering from ankle surgery to address nagging bone spurs, but has been adamant in declaring he’ll be ready to rock-and-roll by the time training camps open next October. With LeBron incorporating an improved (and nearly unstoppable) post game, loading the HEAT roster with reliable long-distance shooters is imperative. Miami displayed just how difficult they can be to guard during Game 5 of the Finals, when Mike Miller got hot and hit seven straight three-pointers, a major factor in the demolition of the Thunder during that close-out game. However, speaking of Miller, his future is very much up in the air. Anyone watching him limb around the court throughout the postseason could clearly see Miller was physically worn down. The three bulging disks in his back made it painful for him to tie his shoes, let alone play basketball. After the Finals, Miller hinted he would consider retirement. He will likely need surgery in attempt to alleviate the back pain, which would be his fifth operation in five years. If Miller does decide he is coming back, Miami might then consider using the Amnesty clause to clear him from the cap. Miller is owed a whopping $18 million over the next three seasons. If “amnestied,” Miami would still have to pay him his full salary, but would create additional cap space. This is obviously a situation to keep an eye on. If Miller was out of the picture, safe to assume Allen would be the ideal replacement.
Last offseason, the HEAT brought in Shane Battier and benefited greatly from that addition. Current free agent Grant Hill is a player cut from a similar cloth – incredibly high basketball IQ, unselfish, strong leadership qualities, etc. With Miami potentially looking to bolster it’s depth on the wing, expect to see Hill’s name mentioned in Miami over the next couple of weeks as well.
Here are a few other guard/forwards Miami might take a look at: Mickael Pietrus, C.J. Miles, Danny Green, Jodie Meeks, Marco Belinelli, Matt Barnes, Brandon Rush, Andres Nocioni, Matt Carroll, Jason Kapono, and Michael Redd.
If Miami wants to roll the dice on a versatile player who has significant size but can also handle the ball and knock down perimeter jumpers, might they look to bring in Lamar Odom? Lamar spent a season on South Beach back in 2003-2004, when he averaged a career-high 17.1 points to go along with 9.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists. Coming off a disastrous season in Dallas, Odom could possibly be snagged at a discount this summer.
Free agency isn’t the only avenue by which Miami can upgrade its roster over the offseason; they also have the 27th overall pick in the upcoming 2012 NBA draft.
When you are an organization that just won a championship, you often have the luxury of rolling the dice and going the “best player available” route. On the other hand, for a team bumping up against the cap, it is important to capitalize on each draft pick. With this is mind, and considering the dearth of talented big men in the league, many pundits have predicted Miami will spend its first round selection on a center. If they do opt to go in that direction, there are few centers projected as late first-round picks that may be on the board when Miami is on the clock. Fab Melo, a raw but talented 7-0 center who spent two seasons at Syracuse is a definite possibility late in round one. Melo was named the Big East Player of the Year as a sophomore, and projects as a possible dominant defender. With as much offensive firepower as Miami possesses, this would be a solid fit. Other center possibilities at #27 overall might include Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt and St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson.
If all three big men are off the board, Miami might look to add depth and take the player that possesses the highest upside; Royce White (a versatile forward out of Iowa State) would be an absolute steal if he was still on the board at that stage of the draft. Draymond Green would be a solid pick at that point as well.
King James has finally been crowned and the Miami HEAT have captured their first championship of the “Big 3” era; now comes the challenge of retooling and revamping the roster in order to successfully stay atop the NBA mountaintop…