Miami Heat: How Coach Erik Spoelstra Should Utilize Each Offseason Addition
The Miami Heat, like most defending champions of the past, know that the key to repeating is not in making wholesale changes to the roster, but rather adding some nice pieces that complement the ones they already have. That meant there would be no dealing of Chris Bosh for Dwight Howard, or any other pipe dreams Heat fans may have entertained.
And what could make the task of roster-tinkering any easier than having a contending team?
Veterans in need of a first career championship (or second) could find refuge in the Heat's stacked roster and possibly add the ring(s) their resumes have been lacking.
This M.O. found operation in Rashard Lewis, who was amnestied by the Washington Wizards and set up the way for the Heat to sign the aged gunner to a veteran-minimum contract. They also added sharpshooter Ray Allen by using the mid-level exception.
For the mere price of $4.3 million total, the Heat added two players with 12 All-Star appearances between themes—and yes, I realize 10 of those 12 belong to Jesus Shuttlesworth. The duo also played a role in keeping the Seattle SuperSonics relevant in the years before the arrival of Kevin Durant and subsequent departure to Oklahoma City.
The Heat didn't do much in the draft, but that was more out of fiscal conservativeness than lack of draft potential in this year's loaded crop of rookies. By avoiding the addition of a first-round pick, the Heat retained roster flexibility and were not forced into tendering a guaranteed contract to a player who may not make any impact at all.
The result was that the guy they did draft at No. 27 overall, Arnett Moultrie, was dealt to the 76ers for a future first-rounder and the rights to second-rounder Justin Hamilton, a center out of LSU. It's the kind of move that caused Heat fans to roll their eyes on draft night, as it is one of the more exciting nights of the offseason, but those eye rolls and yawns will be replaced by Kool-Aid grins if the Heat repeat again this year.
So, the Heat made two major additions to the roster and picked up a second-rounder who may or may not even make the roster. The question, of course, is, how will coach Erik Spoelstra incorporate those additions to the roster?
What Does Ray Allen Bring to the Heat?
Boston fans were mortified to see the NBA's all-time, career-leading, three-point shooter depart for South Beach. In Allen, the Celtics had lost the first of their "Big Three," severing the ties to their championship team of 2008. Boston GM Danny Ainge is hardly rebuilding, but felt that an easy replacement could be found—one such replacement was Jason Terry.
But this isn't about what the Celtics lost; it's about what the Heat gained.
In Allen, the Heat have the court spacing and veteran leadership they lacked last season with only designated gunners such as Shane Battier and Mike Miller out launching threes. Allen also is an above-average defender, even at his advanced age, so when Dwyane Wade goes to the bench, the Heat won't have a gimpy Miller half-heartedly chasing people around screens.
I'm hardly calling Allen a lock-down defender, but it is an improvement, nonetheless.
What else does Allen bring? Fanfare. He's had a celebrated career, and Heat fans will be excited to see another big name on the roster. Expect to see plenty of Allen jerseys in the stands as Heat fans celebrate the addition of a 10-time NBA All-Star.
What Does Rashard Lewis Bring to the Heat?
Like Allen, Lewis is a deadly three-point shooter whose shooting ability will stretch the court and open things up for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to enable the slashing superstars to penetrate with greater ease.
Lewis also can play both forward slots. That means greater lineup flexibility (more on that later) and a chance for Erik Spoelstra to experiment with some different looks that will frustrate opposing coaches.
What Lewis doesn't bring is health or work ethic.
At this point in his, career Lewis has stopped taking it to the basket and has given up on rebounding the ball. He's still a valuable shooter, but even if he wasn't ring chasing, no team would have signed him for more than the veteran minimum.
So Lewis is not a bargain, but that doesn't mean he doesn't add significant value and experience.
What Does Justin Hamilton Bring to the Heat?
This one is pretty easy: nothing.
Justin Hamilton was an acquisition to balance the scales on the draft-day trade that sent the Heat's first-round pick away.
It's highly unlikely he makes the roster and that he is even an upgrade from Dexter Pittman. Heat fans sighed a collective ho-hum in frustration on draft night, a night when fans expect their team to improve the roster with an exciting rookie or two.
The difference here is the Heat didn't need one, so they didn't go out of their way to acquire young talent when the time to win is NOW.
Will Either Ray Allen or Rashard Lewis Start for the Heat?
Although, off-hand, the quick answer to this would be yes, it's important to remember that neither is the player we remember from the days with the Sonics, or even the later years with the Celtics and Magic, respectively.
Moreover, how can Allen start when he is behind one of the best shooting guards in the game in Dwyane Wade? Barring a Wade injury, Allen will not start, but that doesn't mean he can't be one of the most deadly sixth men in the league and embrace this new role with open arms.
For the first time in his career, Allen will not be a primary offensive option, and he should be able to focus on providing bench scoring. Still, the added depth behind Wade immensely helps since Wade is injury-prone due to his hard play, and that will give Spoelstra a bit of a crutch if he needs it.
Lewis couldn't start on most teams in the NBA at this point in his career, but the Heat lack depth up front, so anything could happen here. I don't think he is necessarily better than Udonis Haslem,—at all—but he brings things to the lineup that Haslem simply can't—namely, great three-point shooting, as we've said.
Lewis will spread the court, and while he doesn't offer much else, that's a valuable enough trait for the Heat to make use of him.
So, the short answer is neither Allen nor Lewis will start; the long answer is, yeah, they could—in the right situation.
Is There a Lineup That Could Utilize Both Allen and Lewis?
Yes, yes there is.
Should the Heat need a lot of three-point shooting, either in a game situation that requires a three or when the team is down by a lot and needs to launch them in volume (doesn't happen often in Miami), a lineup using both Allen and Lewis could help.
Consider these lineups:
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Dwyane Wade
PF: LeBron James/Lewis
C: Chris Bosh
While I realize that both lineups likely would not feature both Allen and Lewis on the court at the same time, what we're not taking into account is the fact that if one of the Heat's "Big Three" is in foul trouble, it could become much more plausible that both see the court at the same time.
Reasonably, Spoelstra is always going to want to keep at least two of the "Big Three" on the court at once, if not all three. In the right situation, though, it would make sense to sit Wade or James since they are not as good at shooting threes as Lewis and Allen are.
What Will the Second Unit Look Like?
In the second unit, a lineup featuring both Allen and Lewis becomes far more likely:
PG: Norris Cole
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Shane Battier
PF: Rashard Lewis
C: Joel Anthony
In this likely backup lineup, Allen and Lewis will keep the court spread for Joel Anthony to post up and dominate inside, as he usually does.
Okay, so that never happens, but between the four other players on the court, all can score and provide shooting.
It won't be a lineup that will blister opponents, but Spoelstra is usually smart enough to leave at least one of the "Big Three" on the court anyway to facilitate things and keep the Heat competitive. It's not like they have a world of depth.
Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are not the type of players who can be built around anymore, but they once were.
Still, just because they have both lost a step (or many steps, to be accurate), doesn't mean they can't provide a lot of value and help to a team that already won a championship this season.
Championship teams don't usually make wholesale changes, and the Heat are no different. But they did get better, and Heat fans will be happy to have two players who once were among the best in the league.
Even an aged and broken Allen is better than Mike Miller or James Jones, and Lewis brings an entirely different dimension to the team at either forward slot.