The Miami Heat have come as close as you can to winning a second consecutive championship without having to even play a single game.
Only a month after the Miami Heat dominated the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to secure their second title in franchise history, the front office went out and picked up sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
Although their age and health issues from last year could lead to doubt, these two, especially Allen, have put the Heat in prime position to go back-to-back with a title next year. Both have been some of the league's most productive players over the past decade and each contain some of the purest shooting strokes you'll see in the NBA.
Allen joined the Heat after reaching a three-year deal with the team. Lewis signed for the veteran's minimum.
Of course, the Heat will have stiff competition. The Boston Celtics are still a huge threat as long as they have Rajon Rondo, the Oklahoma City Thunder will only continue to get better through experience, and the Los Angeles Lakers just picked up arguably the best passer in league history to play with arguably the best scorer in league history.
It won't be a cakewalk by any means, but the Heat just put themselves as substantial favorites to win next year's title and here's five reasons why.
Pat Riley didn't make it a secret when he spoke of the Miami Heat and their intentions.
He let it be known that spacing the floor and opening up driving opportunities for his three stars would be essential for further success. Despite the team's apparent need for a presence down low, the Heat thrived so well on "small ball" throughout their postseason run that it may just transcend past this past season, which explains why they added two shooters instead of possibly one post presence.
Contrary to what you saw in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Heat aren't one of the league's top three-point shooting teams, as they finished 10th in three-point percentage and 20th in three-pointers made last year. Mario Chalmers supported the team from the perimeter for the majority of the season, while Shane Battier struggled with his shot, James Jones struggled to get minutes and Mike Miller struggled to stay healthy.
Those players are essential to the Heat's success on the offensive end. It is an absolute necessity for the Heat to have at least one perimeter threat for the offense to work as well it's projected to. Those perimeter shooters are the players who stretch the floor, which allows LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh more space to work within the perimeter and near the rim.
That's as complex as the Heat's offense gets. This team is extremely reliant on its three stars attracting attention and kicking out to the wide-open shooter. In turn, the perimeter shooters will need some respect from the defense, which will then allow the 'Big Three' to perform more efficiently without the traffic of the opposition packing the paint.
Ray Allen is going to become what the Heat hoped Mike Miller would be—an elite, consistent shooter who could knock down the open shots his superstar teammates gave him.
Miller never came to be due to injuries, so now the Heat will have no choice but to rely on the NBA's greatest three-point shooter. Allen has shot 40 percent for his career and most recently shot a career-high from beyond the arc at 46 percent, despite having injuries keep him out for 20 games.
Allen is a special type of player. His shot is pure and makes the net snap in a way you've never seen before. He has shot this well over a 16-year career because he relies heavily on a rhythm that he's established. No matter what type of defender is on him, Allen preaches to shoot the same way every single time.
With Ray on the court, defenders will have no choice but to guard him. He's too consistent and has too large a reputation as an elite shooter to allow to be left open. Because of the aura surrounding Allen, defenses will find it considerably more difficult to throw double-teams at any member of the 'Big Three.'
Allen knows how to get open, and he'll have no problem doing so in the Heat's offense, which is specifically designed to either allow shooters, like himself, to get open or for members of the 'Big Three' to have less resistance on their way to the rim.
Remember that first 'Big Three'-led Miami Heat team? The one from last year?
I know it seems like a long time ago, but that 2010-'11 team looks absolutely pathetic compared to what the 2012-'13 team will showcase. Not only does it feature a more well-rounded LeBron James and a repaired Dwyane Wade, but an extremely deep bench compared to what this team was forced to work with then.
The first two players off the bench were originally supposed to be Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. That's solid help off the bench had the two players been healthy; Miller suffered an injury in preseason and Haslem tore a ligament in his foot in November that kept him out until the Conference Finals.
Because those two were out of the equation, the Heat were forced to rely on the likes of Eddie House, James Jones and Juwan Howard far too often. The loss of Haslem hurt especially, as the team was forced to go through a revolving door of centers that included stiffs such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Jamaal Magloire.
Take a look at the Heat bench as of right now. Assuming that Mike Miller won't return for the start of next season, Miami will roll out Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Udonis Haslem, Norris Cole and Shane Battier. That is quite the improvement from what they were attempting to pass off as a bench last year.
Instead of relying on Mike Bibby's missed jumpers, they can now look forward to the shooting prowess of an actual consistent threat.
Allen adds some needed depth to the Heat bench, especially if Miller ends up sitting out the entire season or retiring. He should find himself thriving in the Heat's lineups at the end of the quarter, which primarily feature LeBron James as the ball-handler while Dwyane and Chris sit the bench.
Ray as the sixth man allows the Heat to have some consistent points off the bench, as well as a threat in those LeBron-centered lineups, which had varied results. Allen on the perimeter will keep defenders off James, and it will add a second option on the floor that could actually contribute without LeBron having to do overexert himself just to get two points.
Balance hasn't been too large of an issue between the 'Big Three.'
What we were being led to believe when everyone first came together was the idea that the three couldn't coexist because they would not adjust to the balance they would be forced to take on. Only Dwyane Wade for the early part of his career had to share the ball, while LeBron and Chris were the primary scorers and facilitators.
Achieving a respectable balance between those three is exactly why they ended up winning a title. LeBron held the primary scoring duties, Dwyane played the role of second scorer and Chris has adjusted extremely well to becoming a third option. Although some more touches should be given to Bosh, it's tough to argue with the team that's holding the trophy.
While those three have thrived playing together, sometimes the role players are left out and searching for ways to incorporate themselves into the offense. Many times they are relegated as bailout options in case whatever play the 'Big Three' was trying to run failed to execute. The players aren't allowed to get into a particular rhythm, as a result, and end up missing shots that they should make.
Ray Allen eliminates this idea because he is a legitimate player who can get himself into a rhythm on his own accord. He doesn't always need the ball in his hands to gather a feel for the game because he's so reliant on his mental abilities than his physical attributes. Allen can be thrown into the game and immediately start hitting shots, which is huge for a Heat team that will need his shooting touch.
Because Allen is a step-ahead of your average role player and a rung lower than superstar status, he'll receive the ball on more occasions and possibly even create a 'Big Four' of sorts. He's one of the league's most reliable and consistent players, and it shouldn't come as a surprise if he can average somewhere between 10 and 15 points per, as a result of the looks he'll receive.
With Allen on the floor taking shots, it takes some more pressure off the 'Big Three,' adds another threat to the floor and allows the team to possess another player who can consistently produce—something that is occasionally missed in Heat losses.
The Miami Heat do their best to stay low key.
Although you may look at that pre-preseason celebration back in 2010 as evidence against that, this team actually does its best to make its presence felt solely on the court. They use their talent to silence their doubters, instead of using the words that every media figure hopes to hear. The Heat, especially their 'Big Three,' will even duck questions that bait them into creating some controversy.
For example, LeBron James has ducked answering a specific question that many interviewers have asked him on his media tour. The question being—"What do you have to say your critics now?" It's an attempt to bait James into bragging and boasting, but he's taken the higher road by avoiding a direct answer and not giving away any soundbites he'd like to have back.
Ray Allen fits into the Heat culture. He's an extremely quiet figure that does his damage on the court and hardly ever gets mixed up in sticky situations on or off the floor. Allen has seen so much success in his career because he's devoted his entire career towards perfecting his silky smooth jumper and not allowing any outside distractions that would end up putting himself in a negative light.
The atmosphere the Heat have created fits in perfectly with a personality like Allen. He plays at a controlled tempo, doesn't force anything and simply knows how to play. Even though it took him joining up with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to finally win a ring, Allen has seen consistent success from an individual standpoint since the late 1990s.
Allen doesn't have the capability of leading a team anymore, but he's perfectly content with the idea of being relegated as a role player on a Heat team that wants to win. Ray is a smart player and he knows the better opportunity when he sees it. Miami is an organization that stays loyal to their players, and the players return the favor because of the success they see that comes out of it.
Ray wanted a place that felt like home again. He found his retirement spot after potentially winning a few more titles if all the cards fall into place.
Besides three-point shooting, there is one aspect of Ray Allen's repertoire that strikes fear into the hearts of his opponents.
The opposition does its best to prevent Allen from getting a shot off near the end of close games. You don't think their coach realizes that the Boston Celtics, or whatever team Allen is on in your scenario, are going to do their best to get Allen open for a shot along the perimeter? Every defense plans for that, but it only works on occasion because Ray always finds ways to get open.
Even if he doesn't, he can still hit shots like this.
Allen lives for 'The Moment.' You know what I'm talking about; that special moment every aspiring professional basketball player strives to be involved in years down the road. The mere seconds where the ball is in your hands and you have the opportunity to achieve that glory of making a crucial shot for your team.
It's not always the best player that lives for those moments and takes those shots. Ray Allen wasn't nearly the best player on the Boston Celtics since 2007, yet he was a key reason why the team constantly had deep runs into the postseason; because he could consistently make those shots that occur in 'The Moment.'
In fact, Allen has lengthy highlights of his game-winners and other crucial shots he has made over his 16-year career. 'The Moment' doesn't matter to a player like Allen because he lives in whatever moment he's currently in. No time is different from the other, and it explains why Ray is able to coolly hit incredible shots at the end of games.
Obviously having a big-time shooter like Allen aids the Heat in those types of situations. It takes some of the pressure off LeBron and gives the team arguably the scariest player you could possibly play against. While the Heat have shown that they have no problem whatsoever in those situations, Allen still adds another threat that could be utilized in a big way.
Most of all, he emits confidence that tends to rub off on teammates. That's the effect of having a player as significant as Allen—pressure does not exist in his eyes and he treats every second as if they were all the same.