Miami Heat Mailbag: Addressing the Biggest Questions for the Defending Champs
With the Olympics now underway and LeBron James due to play heavy minutes out of position as a result of Team USA's lack of an inside presence, many questions loom for the Miami Heat as they prepare to defend their title.
Therefore, given the relative silence at the moment in the free-agent market, here are some of the most pressing questions surrounding whether Miami will be able to duplicate its success next season:
Did the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis re-establish the Heat as the heavy front-runner going into next season?
The short answer is yes.
Ever since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together, the Miami Heat have become the prohibitive favorite every season. But the addition of two shooters on a team that has changed its formula to suit its two best players should be more than enough to put Miami over the top, especially considering that Ray Allen remains one of the deadliest shooters in the league.
The question, however, is health. Will Wade's injury problems continue to linger despite his umpteenth surgery on that left knee? Can LeBron and Chris Bosh sustain their health throughout an 82-game season despite the reality that they will each be playing out of their natural position most of the time?
Will the number of games that LeBron played all of last season and these Olympics eventually take a toll on his body? Will Ray Allen's knee problem rear its ugly head again as it did last season given his age and Boston's eagerness last season to trade him? Will Rashard be healthy enough and does he even have anything left in the tank?
Assuming health does not become an issue, there is no reason to believe Miami can't repeat as champions.
Which team currently poses the biggest threat to the Miami Heat's ability to repeat?
A lot of people will be inclined to say the Boston Celtics since they were the only team to take the Miami Heat to seven games in the playoffs. Also, they have added a lot of nice pieces during the offseason, headlined by former Heat killer and consummate sixth man of the year candidate Jason Terry.
But I still say it's Oklahoma City, and I'll tell you why. In the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston could do nothing but watch as LeBron James essentially took over the series. They simply don't have enough firepower to keep up with Miami once LeBron or Dwyane Wade gets going; Oklahoma City does.
Ultimately, what Boston lacks in youth, OKC lacks in experience. Two of the Celtics' new big three are heading into the downside of their primes, while the Thunder's big three are still only scratching that surface. It's no coincidence the Heat have eliminated the Celtics these past two seasons.
At the end of the day, the only real advantage the Celtics ever had on Miami was a mental edge on LeBron. But after this season, that has all but gone out the window.
By the way, don't think for one second that Ray Allen isn't one hundred percent motivated to make the Celtics pay for: a) trying to trade him twice during last season, b) giving his starting role to Avery Bradley, c) signing Jason Terry (and to a longer deal at that) before he made his decision and d) pinning his decision to go to Miami completely on him without taking any accountability for it.
So, in summation, it's definitely the Thunder.
Which team could pose the biggest threat to the Miami Heat's ability to repeat?
The Lakers, if they get Dwight Howard. To clarify, I'm not saying that the Lakers will beat the Heat if they get Howard; I'm just saying that they will have the best shot. Getting Howard will not only help the slow footed Lakers with a heaping dose of athleticism, but it will also make up for the defensive deficiencies of their new PG, Steve Nash.
And, without stating the obvious, the Heat would have no answer down low for Howard, which could pose a very serious problem. Don't forget—Miami lost two of the three games against the Orlando Magic this past season that Howard played in. Furthermore, some could argue that the Heat benefited as much from Howard being sidelined for the playoffs as the Celtics did with Derrick Rose.
I don't care who you are—if you don't think Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Nutcase, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are a devastating lineup, then you don't know basketball.
What's the biggest question surrounding the Heat next season beyond, perhaps, health?
Who will be the biggest x-factor for the Heat next season?
This may come as a surprise to some, but I'm going to say Mario Chalmers. Keep in mind—x factors are the biggest unknowns on a team who could also make the biggest difference. The Heat know what to expect from LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and even Ray Allen despite the fact that he has yet to play a game for them.
Chalmers, however, can be inconsistent, and he never really came alive in the NBA Finals until his backup, Norris Cole, started upstaging him. From that point on, the Heat went from going toe-to-toe with the Thunder to completely shifting the series in Miami's favor. He actually was the single most underrated reason why the Heat won in only five games.
If Chalmers can continue to improve and show more consistency, he could quickly turn the Heat's "big three" into a "big four".
What is the last signing the Heat should make to cap off the summer?
The Miami Heat are loaded at the perimeter and would be wise to save their last roster spot for a center.
I have been supportive of the Heat signing Greg Oden given his interest in signing with Miami and the numbers he's been able to produce when healthy. But he would be a project, and with Dexter Pittman, Mickell Gladness and either Justin Hamilton or Eddy Curry already in tow, the Heat may want to add more of a seasoned, reliable veteran like Joel Przybilla.
In any case, as Mike Miller proved during the NBA Finals, it's not about how many minutes you play in the season but when you're asked to play those minutes that can really make or break a team. With a reliable vet down low, the Heat would at least have something to throw at guys like Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert and Andrew Bynum.
In other words, just because the Miami Heat have decided to go with a "position-less" lineup next season doesn't mean that having balance on their roster is any less important.
What is the biggest question surrounding the Heat going into next season?
Beyond the usual concerns any team will have regarding the health of its players, the biggest question surrounding Miami, by a wide margin in fact, is whether they can sustain the kind of success they found in the NBA Finals with a "position-less" lineup throughout a full NBA season. Will LeBron again grow weary of guarding power forwards as he did during the playoffs last season?
Will it cause Chris Bosh to get into early foul trouble given the size deficit that he was never really exposed to in the Finals because Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are offensively limited? Will rebounding become an issue against bigger teams like the Lakers or Knicks? Will playing out of position on a regular basis make LeBron, Battier and Bosh more vulnerable to injury?
How will this affect Udonis Haslem's role with the team given his limited range and documented struggles for the better part of the season? Will this end up expanding or tightening a rotation that was often labelled inconsistent and invited chemistry problems.
Although many expect this formula to help Miami excel, the limited sample size of teams which it has proven successful against makes it the most noteworthy dynamic going into next season, especially considering how central it became to Miami's free-agent blueprint.
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