LeBron James. Dwayne Wade. Chris Bosh. Together, they have created the most hated team these past four seasons in the NBA. Most of the hate, of course, is the idea behind structuring a super team. Regardless of what people think of the team, it is hard to argue with the results of four straight finals appearances and two championships. However, after an embarrassing showing in the 2014 finals, the Miami Heat have an uncertain future, as they head into the offseason.
The Big Three: The biggest question of all for Miami heading into the offseason is whether or not the big three will opt in to the final two years of their contracts. If James and Bosh elect to come back to the Heat, they will make $20.59 million next season and $22.1 million in 2015-16. If Wade opts in, he will make $20.16 million next season with a $21.7 million salary in 2015-16. Those are some hefty pay checks. That said, the reason this team was constructed was to win championships. They have won two of them; however, this past postseason was different.
The 2014 finals for the most part turned into James’ old team the Cavaliers, resulting in him having to do everything — score, rebound, defend and get others involved. This is not why the Heat were assembled. One could see it on James’ face that he was frustrated. Because of this, if Miami does not give him significant help during the offseason, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he will leave the team. Considering it is more help that he wants, many have speculated that he might be willing to come back for less money, but if the rumors are true, James has told his “team” that he does not plan on coming back for less in order for the team to get a tax break.
In terms of Bosh, considering his declining numbers particularly on the boards, it is unlikely he would get a contract of equal value elsewhere. He also does not appear to be interested in being a leader. It is not entirely his fault though. Spoelstra has essentially let his power forward rely on shooting, particularly an increased production from the 3-point line instead of the double-double machine he used to be in Toronto. As a result, his rebounding has vanished. Last postseason he averaged 7.3 rpg; this season he averaged 5.6 rpg. Prior to coming to the Heat, he averaged 9 rpg during the regular season. As a result, he has become one of the biggest holes for Miami, as their rebounding was dead last in the NBA at 36.9 rpg during the regular season. The only way Bosh opts out is if Wade opts out, only to come back for less money to help the Heat’s financial flexibility.
Wade is a completely different story. He is the eldest of the three, and as shown in the playoffs and during the regular season for that matter, his body is falling apart. He missed 28 regular season games. In the finals, he looked noticeably hobbled, eliminating his explosiveness that was seen in the previous playoff series. As such, Wade has a few choices. While many have speculated that Wade should retire, it appears unlikely that he is willing to give up on his playing career quite yet. Considering that, he could opt in and garner all that money he is owed. The problem with him doing so is that he will once again limit the Heat in signing quality role players. Considering the guard will most likely see a decrease in minutes as he gets older, it might be in his and the team’s best interest to opt out, only to re-sign and take less money to give the team financial relief.
Role Players: As important as it is to bring back the big three, the more glaring problem for the Heat is the help needed from the role players. Initially when they were constructed, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and later on Ray Allen and Chris Andersen were all significant contributors to the squad. They helped ease the load of the big three. This past season that declined. Sure, Ray Allen would occasionally have a killer game where he downed the other team with three-pointers. However, currently the sharp shooter is 38 years old, and as is the case, he may retire, much like Battier already has. Moreover, the Heat were the oldest team in the NBA. Because of this, Miami cannot allow itself to focus on cheap veteran minimum players; instead, they need athletic players with an upside.
That said, for sake of argument if the big three come back, what is it that they need? Two positions should be at the top of the Heat’s list— point guard and center.
Point Guard: LeBron James should not be playing as point guard like he did in Game Five. They need a true point guard who can not only get the big guns involved but also key role players, while also being able to score from time to time. If Bosh and Wade take less money and they have the cap to do so, this is the position they need to spend on. The two biggest point guards in free agency are Kyle Lowry and Eric Bledsoe, but they may be out of reach unless they are willing to take less money than what they command (around $10 million at least per year). That said, the Heat could go after Shaun Livingston. He showed to have a comeback season on the Nets last year as a significant contributor off the bench. By going to the Heat, he likely will have an increased role and production, with half the cost at least of the other big point guards.
Patty Mills is another solid point guard who will be on the market, but it is unlikely he will go to the Spurs’ nemesis. The one other that would be a good option is Darren Collison. He made waves off the bench during the postseason for the Los Angeles Clippers. He currently has a player option, where he can likely garner more money and at 26, he helps the Heat’s problem of having a lack of youth. If signed for a few years, he could be the perfect addition for point guard, while also being able to command more money after a two-year stint.
Center: The center position is the other integral part needed for Miami. With Bosh determined to be more of a shooter than a rebounder, they truly need someone with size who can take the position of leading rebounder so James does not have to focus as much on it. The big gun centers this offseason are most likely out of reach. Marcin Gortat is the main one, but he is most likely going to return with Washington. Pau Gasol will command way too much money, plus he does not help Miami’s age problem.
Greg Monroe probably is the center with the greatest upside. Last season in Detroit he averaged 15.2 ppg and 9.3 rpg. The problem with him is that he is going to command a hefty paycheck as well. Additionally, with him only at 24 years of age, he may not be comfortable relinquishing his scoring to James, Wade and Bosh. Andray Blatche is a cheaper guy that could contribute. Last season he only played 22 mpg and averaged 11.2 ppg and 5.3 rpg; if he becomes a starter in Miami, he will be able to increase those numbers and develop while still only being at the age of 27.
Bench: Whether Ray Allen comes back or not, Miami first and foremost needs a sixth man, ideally at the shooting guard position. After all, Wade will likely see the fewest minutes as Spoelstra tries to limit him to prevent injury. Alan Anderson and Avery Bradley both could be solid contributors for Miami; however, with both being restricted free agents, it is unlikely the Heat will be able to claim them. Instead, they should look at Jodie Meeks who managed 15.7 ppg last season for the Lakers. The question moreso is if Meeks is willing to go to a championship-contending team for less money. If money is an issue, Jimmer Fredette is a nice, cheap option. He is 25, only averaged 11 minutes last season with a 5.9 ppg average. That said, he could be a gamble. It is unlikely that within one season he can go from 11 minutes to sixth man, but he could be a young, quality guard off the bench.
Another player who will be coming off the books for Dallas might work as a contributor off the bench. Vince Carter, while not the star he once was, proved to be quite productive this last season for Dallas. Additionally, he would fill the void of Ray Allen as that clutch shooter. The only problem with him is that he is another older player at 37. For the Heat to get him, they would need to get him cheap and for one or two years at most. Beyond that, it would not be a bad idea for Miami to re-sign Rashard Lewis for cheap (if he does not retire).
As for backup big men, Michael Beasley would be a good one to come back. At the same time though, Spoelstra needs to use him in the lineup. Like Bosh, he is a big guy who can score but is not much of a defender and rebounder. However, the guy Miami truly needs to go after is DeJuan Blair. Since Chris Andersen will opt out of his contract, they need rim protection. Blair is a strong guy who, despite only being 6’7″, will give them some muscle and energy.
Bottom line for the Heat is they need to persuade LeBron James. There is no better way to do that than to surround him with younger role players who have plenty of upside. As great as Wade used to be, these finals proved that he no longer can be relied upon as the number two guy. That said, if the Heat players get less money and other players are willing to come in for less money, it is very possible for them to get back into contention. Without much youth increases though, the Heat likely fail to win another championship next year.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey