By Zachary Lang
The Miami Heat have arguably been the most recognizable team in the NBA for the past decade. From 2011-2014, the Heat made four consecutive Finals appearances, winning 2 back to back in 2012 and 2013. However, things took a turn last season when LeBron James opted to not re-sign and instead return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and try to win a title in his home state. This destroyed the dynamic of Miami’s big three, leaving behind Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The 2014-2015 season was a forgettable one, finishing tenth overall in the Eastern Conference with a record of 37-45. This was the first time since 2008 the team has missed the playoffs. How can they regain their strength in the conference after a season of woes?
For Miami to make the playoffs in an already weak Eastern Conference, one thing is certain: they must stay healthy. Chris Bosh, arguably the team’s best player alongside Dwayne Wade, was sidelined for the entire second half of the season last year because of a blood clot on his lung. This was his first season under his new deal, a maximum 5-year contract. Bosh averaged 21.1 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game in 44 games (ESPN), solid numbers for a player making maximum money. Had he been healthy, there’s little doubt the team would’ve made the playoffs. Wade also missed some considerate time, playing in a total of 62 games (ESPN). If this team wants to make progress, they need all hands on deck, especially their star players.Embed from Getty Images
The point guard position has normally been a weak one for Miami, but that needs to change. Longtime Miami PG Mario Chalmers is an average guard, but is now taking the backup position after the acquisition and re-signing of PG Goran Dragic from the Phoenix Suns. Chalmers wasn’t needed as much in the past because the dynamic of Miami’s Big 3 allowed ball movement to thrive and centered mainly on James’ gameplay. Now, without James, they need a PG to take control on the offensive end, and Dragic is the man for the job. He averaged 16.2 PPG in 26 appearances for the Heat in 2015, shooting just over fifty percent and averaging over 5 assists per game (ESPN). He signed a 5 year, 90-million-dollar deal to stay in Miami in the offseason, so he is seen as a key to success. As for the other point guards, anything could happen. Chalmers’ name has appeared on the trade block for weeks due to the massive luxury tax bill Miami will have to pay and the team has already traded PG Shabazz Napier to the Orlando Magic. PG Zoran Dragic, brother of Goran, was also traded in the offseason to the Boston Celtics. With this shuffle on the bench behind Goran Dragic, he will see many minutes in his first full season for the team.
Justise Winslow was considered a steal for the Heat when he fell down to the tenth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Having finished his season at Duke as an NCAA champion, he was highly valued. He needs to prove his worth on the team, however. He had lower minutes in his first 3 preseason games, playing under 30 minutes and averaging 5.3 PPG. However, in his last preseason game against the Orlando Magic, he posted a double double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, but was only 4-11 on shot attempts (ESPN). To be successful, he has to be consistent. How his playing time at small forward with fellow newcomer Gerald Green and starter Luol Deng will determine his value and if he can produce in an NBA environment.Embed from Getty Images
One of the biggest weapons for Miami may be its underpaid center, Hassan Whiteside. The 7 footer played well in the absence of Chris Bosh, averaging a double-double throughout the year with 11.8 PPG and 10.0 RPG and had even higher numbers of 13.7 PPG and 11.8 RPG in 32 starts (ESPN). Whether he starts or not at the beginning of the season remains to be seen with the returns of Bosh and power forward Josh McRoberts as well as the addition of big man Amare Stoudemire, but regardless of that, Whiteside is a steal. He is being paid under a million dollars for this upcoming season, a rare deal in the NBA for a player who has averaged such numbers despite having played 67 total games in the NBA. Whiteside simply needs to prove he’s a threat offensively and defensively while improving his dreadful free-throw percentage (.494 career) and he will certainly see time on the court.Embed from Getty Images
Miami has all the pieces to be a great team. There is no better time to bounce back than now when the Eastern Conference is in a time where teams below .500 can make the playoffs. How Miami chooses to capitalize on their abilities and new assets under coach Eric Spoelstra remains to be seen.