The Miami Heat ended all speculation of a failed project when their "Big Three" captured their first of many possible championships last season. With the league's reigning regular season and NBA Finals MVP LeBron James in his prime, this is going to be a scary team for years to come.
However, while things look great in Miami now, that can change based on a few obstacles standing in the way of the defending champions. Some are more crucial than others, but if the problems do happen to build in Miami, this won't be easy cruise to another NBA Finals appearance for the Heat.
Dwyane Wade's Knee
Wade has always been a player to take bumps and bruises and get right back up. However, it was recently announced that Wade would withdraw his name from the Olympic Games and opt for knee surgery.
This isn't Wade's first surgery on his left knee, but it's questionable as to just how long the aging superstar can keep his hard-nosed playing style going. He can destroy you with his quick step and ability to get to the line, but more bumps and bruises will only cause further damage to the battle-tested Wade.
Nursing the knee was the obvious right choice, but it will be interesting to see how long it takes Wade to regain his ability and contribute to full potential on the court. Keeping him healthy for the playoffs should be a major priority for Miami, but if the depth on the wing holds up that shouldn't be a problem.
Miami looks to be at the top of the mountain as we speak, but there are a number of teams looking to knock them off and become NBA champions.
With the recent acquisition of Steve Nash, the Lakers could be primed to make some noise out West and return to the NBA finals. While Kobe won't keep his superb play up forever, he is on a mission for a sixth championship ring and should know time is running out. If Nash can mesh with the other All-Stars in purple and gold, this could spell trouble for many contending teams.
Then, of course, you have the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder. While their biggest downfall last year was youth and inexperience, this all changed with one trip to the NBA finals. Durant is the second best player in the league today and brings a stellar cast including an All-Star point guard and the 2011-12 Sixth Man of the Year. While gaining experience, it will be no surprise to see a championship rematch next season.
Other teams like the New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks are continuing their pursuit of improving to get in solid contention. While they don't seem like drastic threats now, a few good moves and lucky bounces could make them potential surprises in the near future.
Little Room for Movement
Miami's biggest obstacle is...
With Ray Allen signed and delivered, consider the offseason for Miami to be pretty much over. This is a team that no longer has a mid-level exception or any contracts that are likely to move this season. While Miami did sign their main target for the signing period, it would be an asset to have the necessary capabilities to make a needed move mid-season.
Barring no injures this shouldn't be an issue, but this is an aging team who were completely beat up going into the NBA Finals. The best counter for this is limit minutes and make health a main focus all season.
The Amnesty Clause Issue
Miami could opt to rid themselves of some mid-sized contracts by using the given amnesty clause. A few names that pop into mind are Joel Anthony and NBA final's hero Mike Miller.
Anthony is set to make $3.7 million next season alone, but doesn't bring much to the table for Miami. Sure, he is a hustler on both ends of the floor, but he played a total of two minutes in the NBA finals. The people of Miami seem to love him, but it could be best for the organization to let the undersized center go.
While Miller had the performance of a lifetime in Game 5 of the finals last season, his injury resume continues to build up. With the aspect of retirement looming, Miami might be able to squeeze out one more solid year out of the veteran. Miller is set to make $5.4 million next year, but that doesn't seem to fit the worth the sharpshooter has earned over the past two years.
Miami doesn't plan on using this clause this year, but it could be a useful tactic if the proper situation arises.
The Center Rotation
Interested in seeing Miami's possible options to fill the center role next season? Well how do the names Eddy Curry, Justin Hamilton, Joel Anthony, and Dexter Pittman sound?
Icky to me...
However, Chris Bosh could fill this role if Miami decides to go with a smaller, more scoring based offense.
Miami hasn't been known lately for their strong inside post play. This is a team that flip-flopped centers throughout the playoffs, but continued to find ways to win even without Chris Bosh. If Miami is set on keeping Bosh at the center than this will not be a problem, but having that physical presence available if needed would never hurt.
The Heat received some stellar play from role players all throughout the NBA Finals, but they could face trouble if they meet an elite big man in the playoffs. While there are a limited number of candidates, it has to be noted that a major mismatch could be likely if it happens.
None of these obstacles necessarily spell doom for the Miami Heat next season, but a combination could result in a bitter end to the season. This team should be favored to win the NBA championship again next season, but it will be interesting to see what other teams do to keep up with the competition.