The following is a guest contribution from University of Miami law school student Bryan Saul who is also one of the biggest Miami Heat fans I know. Follow him on Twitter: @SaulitosWay.
Team Name: Miami Heat
Last Year’s Record: 66-16
Key Losses: Mike Miller, Juwan Howard
Key Additions: Greg Oden, Michael Beasley, Roger Mason Jr.
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Coming off a second straight championship season, the Heat seemed poised to coast through the off-season without many headlines, but that’s just not what this front office does. First came the departure of fan favorite and teammate favorite, Mike Miller, as a casualty of the NBA’s amnesty provision. The front office’s decision to allow Mike Miller to walk was not one taken in stride by fans or teammates, but in reality, when looking at the move from a business standpoint, it was a necessary move. Mike Miller was set to make $6.2 million in salary alone in the 2013-2014 season, and this contract was going to cost the Heat Franchise nearly $17 million in luxury tax expenses, essentially making Mike Miller a $23 million expense. As much as everybody in Miami loves “shoeless” Mike Miller, he was a piece of the puzzle that simply just did not fit financially.
Next came the low risk, possibly very high reward signings of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, both of whom signed for minimal amounts for the opportunity to play and develop within one of the NBA’s best organizations.
After years of devastating injuries that turned Greg Oden from the next big thing to this generation’s Sam Bowie. After intensive rehab, Greg Oden seemed poised to make his return to the NBA, and he was not without suitors. After much deliberation, Oden opted to ink a contract with the Miami Heat, which could turn out to be a career changing decision. By signing with the Heat rather than another NBA team, Oden will not be under pressure to deliver right away, and will not be subject to the spotlight (with all of that going to the Big Three). Oden will have to opportunity to gradually get back into game shape without the pressure of getting back onto the court immediately, which will also give him time to further develop his game with newly added assistant coach, Juwan Howard. If Oden does not end up being the player that all Heat fans hope to see, the Heat barely even take a loss having signed Oden to a one-year, $885,000 contract; the epitome of low risk, high reward.
For the Miami Heat, Michael Beasley presents almost the exact same situation as Greg Oden, as he also is low risk, high reward, but as opposed to Oden, Beasley is in his situation due completely to his own immature actions. After several seasons of low production and immature behavior, and even a couple arrests, Beasley was bought out by the Phoenix Suns this summer. Following the buy out, the Heat front office decided they might as well take a chance on their former #2 overall pick, and brought Beasley back in on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, worth just over $1 million. But the Heat are not without caution this time around with Beasley. As Ethan Skolnick reported, Heat captain Udonis Haslem apparently sat down with both Michael Beasley and his former partner in immaturity Mario Chalmers to remind them that “this is not 5 years ago,” and that their focus needs to be on on-court production rather than off-court fun. As of late, it looks as if Beasley is taking his second chance at an NBA career much more seriously, and has been production in his two preseason outings thus far.
In addition to the Heat’s player personnel moves this offseason, the Heat also shook quite a bit up in the front office and coaching bench as well, seemingly transitioning the team to become acclimated to a world without Pat Riley. Pat Riley will of course remain the President of Basketball Operations, but he will no longer act as General Manager as well, with those responsibilities being formally handed over to long-time Assistant GM Andy Ellisberg. Former Direct of Player Personnel Adam Simon has been promoted to Assistant GM and General Manager of the Heat’s newly acquired D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls SkyForce. Chad Kammerer and Keith Askins will both be leaving the bench as Assistant Coaches to become Director of NBA Scouting and Director of College and Pro Scouting respectively. With these vacancies left on the bench, Dan Craig will move from the video room to the bench (the same progression Erik Spoelstra once made), and recently retired Heat Champion Juwan Howard will assume his position on the bench; this time in a suit (full time) as the newest member of the Miami Heat coaching staff.
Not much needed to change this off-season for the Miami Heat, but the Miami Heat took some very smart steps this off-season to continue to not only better the roster, but better the organization as a whole as well.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
This question is pretty much rhetorical at this point for the Miami Heat. Quite obviously, the Heat’s biggest strength is that they have the planet’s best player in his prime. LeBron James as really come into his own throughout his three seasons with the Heat, becoming a smarter, more confident, and more polished basketball player. LeBron averaged 26.8 PPG, 8 RPG, and 7.3 APG this past season, while shooting a stellar 56.5% from the field. From the outside looking in, it would seem as if there really isn’t much room for improvement in LeBron’s game, but the fact that LeBron doesn’t think this way is really what makes him who he is. LeBron is nothing less than a perfectionist, and has yet again worked this summer to better his game (at least he did so when he wasn’t getting married or travelling on his honeymoon). Notably, LeBron has disclosed that he has set a goal for himself this coming season; for most of his career, he has been just an average free throw shooter, but after much work in the off-season, he hopes to break into that 80% plus range. In addition, do not be surprised if LeBron becomes even more efficient than he already has been and shoots around 60% from the field this year.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
The Miami Heat’s biggest weakness going into the 2013-2014 season is Dwyane Wade’s knees. For the past two seasons, NBA fans and organizations have seen Wade put up stellar numbers throughout the regular season, only to take a backseat role in the playoffs due to ailing knees. Wade’s knees have been an issue throughout his career, dating back to college, but have become a larger issue in the past few years due to worsening tendinitis. Recently, Wade disclosed that he actually regrets a surgery he had in 2002, in which the meniscus in his left knee was removed; a procedure which had played a role in his lingering knee pain. Wade has said that much of his knee pain started because of this procedure, and that looking back now, he wished he had taken a more long-term approach to healing his ailments.
I guess hindsight really is 20/20.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Championship. Plain and simple. Anything else would be considered a flop of a season.
5. What will happen with the Miami Heat roster following the 2013-2014 NBA season?
This really is the question that everybody around the NBA wants to have answered. As of now, Norris Cole is the only player guaranteed to be under contract with the Miami Heat for the 2014-2015 NBA season. In addition, due to salary cap implications, it would seem as if it is going to be very difficult to bring back all of the Big Three, while simultaneously surrounding them with the level of talent that the NBA has come accustomed to seeing around Wade, James, and Bosh. I think it is safe to say that nobody really knows exactly what is going to happen with the Big Three (whether they all opt-in or opt-out of their current contracts), but based on the way Pat Riley has been talking in the past year, it seems as if he already has a trick hidden up his sleeve.
In regards to the supporting cast, this could be the end of the road for a few key members. Shane Battier believes he will retire following the expiration of his contract with the Miami Heat, which expires following the 2013-2014 NBA season. Ray Allen is getting up there in age, so there is no guarantee that he decides to play another season following this one, or that he wont try to take his last shot at a decent contract before hanging it up. Also, Udonis Haslem is 33, and has already seen his role slightly diminished since his foot injury two years ago. Do not be surprised to see Udonis either take a major pay cut on his next contract, or call it quits after a great career with the Miami Heat, and take a position somewhere within the organization. Then, in regards to Mario Chalmers, Greg Oden, Michael Beasley, Chris Anderson, Rashard Lewis, and James Jones, it would seem as if the Heat would want to bring some of these players back, but whether they are able to do so will depend entirely on the contracts the Heat have negotiated with the Big Three, and what kind of money these players will demand in free agency.
If I had to guess, I believe the Heat roster in the 2013-2014 season will look much like the roster going into this season, but with only one player under contract thus far, there is much room for some shakeup.