2014 NBA season preview: Miami Heat
- With LeBron James out of the equation, is it a safe bet to count out the Miami Heat? They may not be gunning for a championship or title run but they are definitely not out of the equation of the Playoffs in a weaker Eastern Conference.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are celebrating the return of their King LeBron James for the next two seasons at least, but moreover the city of Cleveland and state of Ohio are once again buzzing with championship hopes and aspirations. Meanwhile at South Beach, the franchise known as the Miami Heat and its fans are coming to terms with the loss of James more professionally than Cavaliers fans and management had four years ago.
Replacing James is no easy task. Nevertheless, the Heat have picked pieces which when click together would somewhat contribute what the best player on the planet would. The likes of Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts suit up in the Miami uniforms alongside the existing superstar duo of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to help them contend for the title.
Heat general manager Pat Riley maintains a positive attitude for the next season and has made it a point to convey that feeling to his players, coaching staff, management and the ownership.
There has been so much media attention in Miami around James’ departure from the franchise that many forget that the players are still coming to terms with the horrific and embarrassing loss they suffered in the finals series against San Antonio Spurs.
Having said that, it’s been over three months since they lost game 5 and as the training camps begin, it’s high time the players in the Heat locker room switch their focus to the coming season rather than still grieve over the previous one.
Projected position in standings at the end of the season:
4th/ 5th in best case scenario.
Projected Starting Line-up:
Point Guard- Mario Chalmers
Shooting Guard- Dwyane Wade
Small Forward- Luol Deng
Power Forward- Josh McRoberts
Center- Chirs Bosh
Now that we have the projected starting five and predictions out of the way, here are the key factors that will influence and factor how the Heat first season without James in four years will turn out.
Leadership of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh
Although James has departed, Heat still two of their former ‘big three’ in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to rely on. These superstars are going to have their work cut out from them this season. Not only do they need to concentrate, focus on making their own game more impactful and efficient but also at the same time be the leaders of a team that might lose its way during the season. They will have to be vocally active on the court during games as well as in the locker room.
With the roster they had their disposal last season, Heat could afford to make Wade sit out every second game in order to let his knees recover and have him fit for the Playoffs. However the possibility of the team considering the same this time around is highly unlikely. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP will have to play more minutes, take care of his knees and will have to deliver high-octane offense every time the team fails to do so. Honestly that’s asking a lot from a 32-year-old whose knee issues could be career threatening.
Bosh being younger and more healthier will have a lot of the ball this season in Miami’s offensive system. During his time with the Heat, he has adapted to his team’s needs and became a perimeter shooter, more like a stretch-5 player. Often times he will be the team’s go-to player given his relative versatility to be able to shoot the three or drive the basketball to the hole. There are those who believe his five-year 118 million dollar deal is an overpayment for the services he can provide, then again Bosh won’t get more opportunities than this season to prove many wrong.
Contribution of role players
There are a quite a few players from the team last season who have remained with the team. There are also many who have left or haven’t committed to the next season yet. Rashard Lewis and James Jones signing contracts with other teams, Shane Battier deciding to retire and Ray Allen having not yet made a call on his future leaves a gaping hole in the Heat’s role players list, not to mention the hole left by James in the starting line-up.
Among the new recruits picked up this off-season, Danny Granger if health permits, Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts seem to be the new faces of the Heat bench this coming year. However there are more than one if’s and but’s before we assume that this trio will contribute efficiently for the team.
Luol Deng is a handy player to have no doubt, but how is he going to fit into the Heat’s system- as a spot up shooter or a guy who does all the little things? Granger is another asset to have except that he hasn’t had a good time on the court since his knee injuries. McRoberts might have looked like a shining star the past season with the Charlotte Hornets but expecting the same this season would be a gamble more than anything else.
Pardon the excess negativity but the point remains that the Heat must work on the bench and role players just as much as their starting line-ups.
Playing as a team and relying on strengths
The Heat no longer have the best player on the planet as their go-to man in clutch situations. So there is not a better time for the team to understand the importance of team play than now. Head coach Erik Spoelstra will have a tough job on his hands, probably more difficult than managing the ‘Big Three’ in the first season.
Despite a couple of slow legs and creaking knees, the team’s strength is still their defense and during training camp and their pre-season schedule a concentrated effort must be made to make the team concentrate on its one known strength.
Spoelstra and the rest of the coaching staff will earn their salaries this season than ever before for thier work on just making the team competitive after a setback like losing James. By no means is this team a lost cause like the Cavaliers were a year after James left for Miami. In a best case scenario they could be in the Playoffs as a 4th or 5th seed fighting to have home court advantage at least in the first round.
On the other hand, if everything falls apart and things take a turn for the worse then the team might just miss the Playoffs and come under further scrutiny from the media and the team’s fans. If your bets are against the Heat not making the Finals, you will get your money’s worth but it would be safe to assume that the team’s initial mission would not be to play for the title, instead it would be to find the right balance first.Published 29 Sep 2014, 13:41 IST