A lot of the offseason discussion has focused on what the contenders can do to usurp the two-time champion Miami Heat, but as the 2013-14 season gets closer it might just be time to look at the franchise aiming for an historic three-peat. As much as some of the NBA’s other top teams have improved, Miami once again should have too much talent and they may just have added that little bit of extra depth.
The offseason focus even in the Eastern conference has arguably been less on Miami and more on their rivals. Derrick Rose’s long anticipated return to the Chicago Bulls line-up finally looks set to become a reality and many have suggested that he now has a roster that is a legitimate championship contender. The Indiana Pacers caused plenty of noise taking the Heat to a Game 7 in the Eastern conference finals last June. Frank Vogel’s team are being tipped as a group that could go at least one step further. Even the Brooklyn Nets who loaded up this offseason adding Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have received attention as outside contenders.
None of that even takes into account a Western conference loaded with the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. Concerns were generally raised about Miami’s ability to make it three in a row during last year’s playoff run when both Indiana and San Antonio pushed the Heat extremely hard. Chris Bosh’s play was a concern throughout and Dwyane Wade’s injury troubles loomed ever so large. Analysts and writers are right to wonder whether Bosh and Wade really deserve their status alongside LeBron James in the ‘big three’ anymore.
Still, this Miami team, and probably James in-particular, will not mind entering the new season with more to prove. In fact, this is a franchise that will benefit from having more to prove.
A New ‘Big Two’?
Wade will always mean something special for this franchise. He turned his game on at precisely the right time during the 2013 playoffs and demonstrated that he has the talent to be a top 10 player in this league. The last couple of seasons have made it pretty evident that Wade’s knees simply are not strong enough to see him through a full regular season playing his best basketball.
Erik Spoelstra might be wise to consider building his team in a more focused way around two of his stars. Bosh enters his contract year with the possibility of leaving Miami and being ‘the guy’ on another team in 2014-15. There’s no question that his shooting and offensive game was below par both during the regular season and in the playoffs. He appeared a little over-matched without help on the inside against Chicago, Indiana and San Antonio. That’s got to be a concern heading into the new season. Still, a contract year should be a serious motivation for Bosh and some of Miami’s moves should provide a little more help at both ends of the floor for the 29-year old.
More importantly, this is LeBron’s team and the 2013-14 will be his chance to prove it. James the distributor consistently seems to loom his head, but the more his dominating and aggressive side emerges, the more success Miami are likely to have. Wade’s injury problems are obvious and Bosh enters the new season with questions to answer. This is James’ team to run and there is no reason not to do so. His game came on again in 2012-13 (which is pretty impressive considering what had preceded that season) and he can probably step it up again this year. There’s no question that James is the NBA’s elite player right now and there is a feeling that every success he enjoys just eases the pressure on him a little more. The 28-year old is a remarkable physical specimen and it is very possible that his championship winning career is only just getting started.
More Reliable Depth
Miami’s roster looks more assured in terms of its depth for 2013-14. There were questions about which roles different players were going to play last year and Spoelstra was forced to rely heavily on bringing shooters off the bench. The pieces sitting on the bench should compliment the star players a little better this year. On the front court Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis, Chris Andersen and Joel Anthony provide pretty decent cover and support particularly defensively. Meanwhile, Norris Cole really came on last season and should see an expanded role this year. Ray Allen still offers plenty and Mario Chalmers could play a larger role if Wade sees his minutes cut back or misses significant time due to injury.
Oden and Beasley
The two most intriguing added pieces for the Heat are undoubtedly a pair of former high first round picks in center Greg Oden and small forward Michael Beasley. The two have been added by Pat Riley at little expense costing a combined $1.9 million only.
It may seem amazing that Oden is being considered a possible impact player at all. The first overall pick from the 2007 NBA draft has suffered from unprecedented knee injuries. He played a combined 82 regular season games across two seasons and hasn’t played in an NBA game since 2009. Can he really make any difference whatsoever? Well, certainly not on the scale he was expected to when drafted. Still, there are genuine reasons for optimism on Oden’s injury problems and even a little bit of size, rebounding and inside scoring could make a huge difference for a Miami team that was out-matched in that area through the 2013 playoffs.
Beasley might be the player who has shown more concerning issues relating to maturity and who has actually wasted excellent opportunities in Minnesota and Phoenix, but he is also the player who has a greater chance of making an impact. He is never going to be the player who was drafted second overall by the Heat. He doesn’t play defense and isn’t really made for the small forward or shooting guard role. However, he does have the ability to score. If he listens to and obeys Spoelstra and Riley, then there is a good chance that Beasley can offer some offensive diversity from the bench and even help to spell James more, at least during the regular season.
The formula hasn’t changed drastically for the Heat, but some of Riley’s subtle re-tooling suggest that Miami might just have done enough to win a third title. If they do then surely the ‘big three’ will all remain with the hope of becoming that dynasty that they so famously promised.