If there is one thing the Miami Heat were lacking during their 2014 campaign, it was depth. This offseason, Team President Pat Riley has filled the void by grabbing many quality acquisitions beyond re-signing Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, such as Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, among other returning faces. In order for the Miami Heat to compete with a more competitive Eastern Conference, Riley is looking to add a few players at a veteran’s minimum for depth.
In the completion of Miami’s roster, there are two spots that the team, ideally, wants to fill prior to training camp. With the loss of Ray Allen, the team has been looking at Jordan Crawford and Leandro Barbosa as a backup shooting guard. The second position they are looking for is a big man to play alongside Chris Bosh or to back up the All-Star power forward Josh McRoberts. Among the contenders for a big man role in Miami are Andray Blatche, Emeka Okafor, and Ekpe Udoh.
Jordan Crawford – Despite only playing four years in the league, Crawford has been a journeyman, with stops in Atlanta, Washington, Boston, and Golden State. He also has served as an unpredictable player by averaging 16.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3 rpg and 1.4 spg at the height of his career in Washington, to near lows the second half of last season, when he was relegated to the bench, with 8.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg and 1.4 apg at only 15.7 mpg. The fortunate thing for Crawford, if he gets picked up, is that he is likely to receive sizeable minutes as a second-string shooting guard. Wade will likely be played conservatively to savor him for a postseason run, allowing Crawford more minutes than he might expect. Considering Crawford came off one of his more disappointing seasons, the shooting guard may consider a one-year veteran’s minimum to showcase his talents and to entice prospective teams for next year’s free agency period.
Leandro Barbosa – At one point in time, Barbosa looked to be one of the premier up-and-coming guards in the league. During his first stint in Phoenix, he averaged highs of 18.1 ppg, 4 apg and 1.2 spg during the 2006-2007 season. Unfortunately for the Brazillian native, he has not had the best of luck since the 2010-2011 season, where he has jumped from team to team, including the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and his return to Phoenix last year, where he averaged a mediocre-at-best 7.5 ppg with a mere 1.6 apg. Part of the problem is that Barbosa has been injury-prone the last few years, often playing half of the regular season at best, or at worst, only 20 games last season. He does have the potential to serve as a spark plug off the bench he remains healthy. However, he is a huge risk for Miami to take on, considering he would play the role of backup to the often-injured Wade. Despite his risk, if Miami is unable to get Crawford, Barbosa might be their best bet, with few quality guards left in free agency.
Andray Blatche – Last season served as a fairly productive season for Blatche. Relegated to the bench, the former Washington Wizard put up increased numbers of 11.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 1 spg from a season ago. Additionally, he was farily efficient in scoring, with 47 percent shooting and a quality 74 percent from the strike. At almost seven feet tall, Blatche would give Miami the size they desperately need. What may be most interesting about Blatche is that he has the capability to be a starter alongside Bosh. Before he got injured during the 2011-2012 season, the center put up career numbers in 2010-2011, with 16.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 1.5 spg. However, the last two seasons, after recovering from his injury, he only played backup minutes. At only 28-years-old, he is also young enough to get some mileage out of, should Miami go this route. Unfortunately, with McRoberts making just over $5 million this season, it is unlikely Blatche will get much of a chance as a starter. He would be an intriguing starting center, if given the chance.
Emeka Okafor – Much like Blatche, Okafor is another free agent center who could, arguably, be a starter for Miami. During the 2012-2013 season, Okafor put up solid numbers of 9.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg and 1 bpg. What Okafor brings to the table is an old school mindset of being a true rim protector, which is what Miami needs, particularly since Bosh has changed his game up to more of a jump shooter. The problem that comes with Okafor, and most likely why he is still a free agent, is the fact that he missed the entirety of the 2013-2014 season due to serious neck surgery. Not only does he come with the risk of being injury-prone, but there is no guarantee Okafor will be able to overcome over a year’s worth of rust. Nonetheless, he is an interesting prospect as a potential center for Miami.
Ekpe Udoh – Udoh is different from Blatche and Okafor. For one, he has never been a starter, so he would be more likely to take a backup role. Secondly, he is a power forward at 6’10”, meaning that he would not be the best choice to play the center spot. What he does bring to Miami is a decent defensive forward off the bench. Last season, Udoh averaged 3.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 1 bpg. He is not going to be a difference maker. What Udoh will be is another player, alongside Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen, who can be a solid big man replacement that, more than likely, will take the veteran’s minimum.
Despite LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, Miami still remains an attractive destination for players in free agency. If Riley can afford to add Jordan Crawford and Andray Blatche or a healthy Emeka Okafor, at a veteran’s minimum, the Miami Heat could have the depth to take the Eastern Conference. If they are unable to get said players, it may mean the difference between contending and being little more than a playoff team.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey