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2011/12 Miami Heat Preview – In Case A Season Happens

We have been doing Miami Heat season previews every year for the past four years.  While it is uncertain as to whether or not there will even be a 2011/12 NBA season, Bryan Saul took the time to prepare a preview…just in case.

Team Name: Miami Heat

Last Year’s Record: 58-24

Key Free Agents:

  • Restricted: Mario Chalmers (qualifying offer extended)
  • Unrestricted: Mike Bibby, Eric Dampier, James Jones, Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire

Team Needs: Point Guard, Center, Perimeter Defensive Stopper

1. What are your team’s biggest needs this offseason?

The new era Miami Heat, in their first season together, reached the NBA Finals; a place many thought the team should reach, but one that many did not think the team would reach. Regardless of their immediate success on the court, there are strides that need to be taken to get this team over the hump. The same could be said at the beginning of last season that is said now – this team needs upgrades at the point guard and the center position. Mario Chalmers showed great improvement throughout the season, which was culminated by his stellar play in the NBA Finals. The Heat have shown confidence in Chalmers as a starting point guard, as evidenced by Pat Riley striking a deal to move up in the draft to take Norris Cole (the senior point guard out of Cleveland State). Although the team seems poised to go with this point guard rotation, do not look over the roll the lockout will play in this scenario. If the entire season is wiped out, Cole will have lost an entire year under the Miami Heat coaching staff, something that will severely hinder his ability to play immediately. In addition, do not forget the ability of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to play the point guard role at an extremely high level. When it’s all said and done, don’t be surprised to see the Heat sign a veteran point guard to help the two young guns. The Heat also have a lingering need for a center. Pat Riley has always relished the opportunity to have a big man in the middle, and he seems poised to go after one in this year’s free agency. Only one problem – all the good big men on the market this year are probably going to be offered more than the mid-level exception (MLE). Several names have been thrown around in the past months, such as Samuel Dalambert, Nene, Tyson Chandler, Kwame Brown, etc., but getting one of these guys to sign a contract for less than they could get elsewhere (excluding probably Kwame Brown, who could get more money, but would then be extremely overpaid) will prove to be a tough mission.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths & weaknesses? (so far)

When addressing the strengths of the Miami Heat, it is hard to look past the “Big Three,” but in an effort to make this article not sound like every other article addressing the Miami Heat, I propose we take a look at the Miami Heat’s defense and hustle stats. A lot was made of Erik Spoelstra this past year. People questioned whether he was fit to coach a team such as this, but after a rocky start, his players bought in, and eventually played Erik Spoelstra basketball, which for those of you who don’t know, is defensive basketball, where each player rotates on a “string.” The Miami Heat ranked in the top ten of every defensive category this past season. Spo’s Heat ranked sixth in points allowed, only allowing 94.6 ppg. They ranked fourth in assists allowed, allowing only 20.1 apg. They ranked second in opponent field goal percentage (43.4%). They ranked third in rebound differential, outrebounding their opponent by 2.9 rpg. They ranked ninth in blocks per game (5.3 bpg). They also ranked tenth in turnover differential (+0.7 tpg). I’m not saying that the “Big Three” is not the Heat’s biggest strength. What I am saying is that we all know the offensive prowess this team has. Now couple that with the defensive power the Heat displayed, and tell me how to beat this team (If Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle, Dirk, or Jason Terry are reading this…stay quiet!).

In regards to the Heat’s biggest weaknesses, it has been addressed to an extent in the first question. The Miami Heat lacks consistency at the point guard position. Mario Chalmers showed in the NBA Finals that he can play at a high level, but has also shown throughout his career that this level of play is not always sound. In addition, the Heat lacks athletic depth at the center position. There are rumors throughout the Heat camp that Dexter Pittman will see more time than last year, but increasing your playing time from nonexistent is not very hard, so the amount to which he actually plays is still up in the air. If all stays the same, Joel Anthony will likely be the starter, although he is vastly undersized. With the insertion of Udonis Haslem (the heart and soul of this team), Bosh will be looked at to play some minutes at the center position, but like Anthony, he lacks the size to play against many opponents around the league. The Heat have people who could play effectively at both positions, but consistency and depth at the two positions could pose a few problems throughout the season (that is if we have one).

3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?

If the NBA were to cancel the entire 2011-2012 season, the Heat roster would look very similar to what it does now. Next year, the only players expected to hit free agency are Eddie House and Zydrunas Ilguaskas, both of whom see limited playing time as it is. Where the team will truly lose ground, if the season were to be cancelled, is in the development of two young players who the Heat are looking to to eventually have an impact with this team. The Heat have already liked the development of Dexter Pittman. Having dropped his weight to around 285 pounds, the second year center is showing promise, after dominated the D-League. The Heat hope to better his condition and refine his raw skill in an effort to make him an effective center for years to come. In addition, the development of Norris Cole will seriously be hindered. Riley loves this guy, there’s no doubt about it. He wants him to play and play soon, but missing an entire season will cause Cole to lose an entire year with the Heat coaching staff.

4. If you could make one change to the NBA’s new CBA, what would it be?

Apparently my mind is thinking more along the lines of the owners’ mentality, but the idea of non-guaranteed contracts is an intriguing one. Obviously, the contracts should not be completely non-guaranteed, but they should be somewhat similar to NFL contracts. Many owners are looking to install a Hard Salary Cap and do away with Salary Cap Exceptions, primarily because there are a ridiculous number of players who are extremely overpaid. With the implementation of partially guaranteed contracts, salaries will be lowered, and owners could cut their losses on underperforming players. Be honest. How many times have you looked at the team you are a fan of and said, why does so-and-so make so much money? Partially guaranteed contracts can eliminate this. No more Jermaine O’Neals making $20 million to barely touch the court. Players who are at the end of their career who are making big money, or players who are simply underperforming, can simply be cut, and the teams would only be responsible for paying the guaranteed portion of the contract.

5. Really, whose team is this?

LeBron James’ or Dwyane Wade’s? This is the big one. All of last year, from the second they all signed their contracts, this question came up, and I think it’s been answered. LeBron loves the spotlight; nobody is denying that. At times, he is the focal point of this team, offensively and defensively, but it’s still Dwyane Wade’s team. For you naysayers, answer me a few questions. Who has been with this team longer? Who yelled at who more (D-Wade of LeBron)? Who did the people of Miami want to have the ball in the last minute? Who is the captain of this team? All answers are D-Wade. Credit should never be taken from LeBron, because what he has brought to this team can never be matched. Simply put, he is an athletic freak, but Dwyane is so loved in Miami, by the fans and by the players. The Heat are still his team. He is the leader of this team on and off the court. Having said that, don’t overlook Udonis Haslem as a driving force behind this team. He has been and will continue to be the heart and soul of this team. His mentality and the way he plays the game bring so much to the Miami Heat on and off the court. That is why he is still a captain of the Heat, and will be so long as he is with Miami.