Hey look at that, they’re pretty good. In the three seasons since The Decision and the Welcome Party, LeBron and co. have won 74 per cent of their regular-season games and been to the Finals thrice, winning twice. LeBron James has won two straight regular season and Finals MVPs, and last year Miami strung together 27 consecutive wins — the second-longest streak ever.
All that said, though, think of how much different this off-season could’ve been for the Heat. Let’s say Ray Allen simply fails to make the second-chance, step-back corner three with 5.2 seconds left in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, likely giving the Spurs the series. Suddenly the talk is less about a potential threepeat, and more about how LeBron choked — he missed the three attempts that preceded Allen’s — for the second time in three years, and lost in the Finals for the third time in four trips. It’s about Dwyane Wade’s failing body. It’s about Chris Bosh’s sub-par post-season performance (12.1 points per game), and how he doesn’t have what it takes to match up against true NBA centres.
More than anything, the talk surrounding the team would be about the outright necessity of trading one of the Big Three (which was a big topic of discussion when Miami was down 3–2 to San Antonio).
But Allen did hit the three, and the Heat successfully turned the tenor of the conversation in their favour, quelling calls for the heads of the talented trio at the team’s core and leaving them alone to do what they do — contend for the title.
Additions: Greg Oden, Michael Beasley
Departures: Mike Miller, Juwan Howard
The No. 1 pick in 2007 and the No. 2 pick in 2008? On talent alone, this is a huge haul for the Heat. In reality, it’s more like an interesting gamble. Wade was banged up and looked severely limited at times last season, and could use a Tim Duncan–like minutes limit to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Getting some scoring help off the bench (Beasley, if he can keep it together) would go a long way to help with that.
Similarly, the Heat struggled against Roy Hibbert and the size of the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and a rejuvenated Oden would be a perfect antidote. They’ll bring him along slowly, but this move is more about the playoffs than the regular season anyway.
- Is Wade the guy we saw in Games 1 through 3 of the Finals (14.3 points, 1.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, with 44.2 percent shooting) or the guy we saw in Games 4 through 7 (23.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.75 assists per with 49.4 percent shooting)? Or is he both of those players, suddenly at the whim of his body on any given night? Because Bosh haters have been joking for a while about how the Heat are more like a Big Two — if it turns out they’re really more of a Big One, then the path to a third title gets a lot rockier.
- Does Greg Oden have anything left? And, if so, what? This is a guy who notched 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in the NCAA championship game against a Florida frontcourt featuring future all-stars Joakim Noah and Al Horford. Then again, this is a guy who also forces us to look all the way back to his college days for benchmarks because he simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy in the NBA. Since he was drafted in ’07, he’s played a grand total of 82 games — a single season. But he put up fantastic per-36-minute stats in those games. If the Heat’s training staff can get him and his surgically repaired knees on the floor and keep them there, he could be a huge boon to Miami’s interior play on both ends. But that’s a big if.
- Is LeBron better than Jordan? (Heh. Just kidding. We’re not scheduled to write that piece again until March.)
- The Decision 2.0. Next off-season James, Wade and Bosh can all exercise opt-out clauses in their contracts and test the waters of free-agency. Wade will be 32 and playing on increasingly achy knees, so it’s unlikely he bolts — win or lose. But LeBron and Bosh are a different story. The Heat are capped out and there’s little flexibility here, and if things break the wrong way in the playoffs, exposing a suddenly lowered ceiling, either or both could bolt for greener (if not warmer) pastures. Several teams, including L.A. and Cleveland, will have lots of space for a max signing.
Nobody. This is an old roster (second-oldest in the NBA last season with an average age of 30.2) with established roles and very little upside on the fringe. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole will continue to split time at the point, but neither is about to see a major jump in his career averages.
Scale of Decency
Mad decent. While the playoffs showed us a few more cracks in the Heat’s armour than we’re used to seeing, Miami rated in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating last year (per Basketball Reference) and head coach Erik Spoelstra has them all on the same page—and thanks to the lack of turnover relative to teams like the Nets, the Heat will hit the ground running. Plus, they’ve got LeBron for at least one more season, and he’s enough to make a team mad decent all on his own.
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