Rare is the NBA champion that enters the season of their title defense while still. To stand idly by as a new season commences without upgrade or renovation is to doom any chance of a championship repeat, as even the best in the business demands all kinds of improvement to remain worthy of another title.
The Miami Heat knew what they were doing when they bombarded unrestricted free agent Ray Allen with pleas for his services; even after a convincing win in the NBA Finals, the Heat recognized their own room for growth and sought to add another shooter to help the team broaden its horizons. The addition of Allen alone may not seem like a radical change, but when coupled with Miami's own strategic development, such slight changes will likely alter the workings of the Heat's rotation in the coming season.
Re-imagining the center position
Before we even begin to understand the ramifications of incorporating Allen into a crowded group of viable wing players, we first need to come to terms with how the new orientation of the Heat bigs should impact the rest of Erik Spoelstra's lineups.
For the bulk of the last two seasons, Spoelstra was largely reluctant to play LeBron James as a power forward and almost as reticent to consistently use Chris Bosh as a nominal center. That all changed when the matchups and circumstances of the 2012 playoffs forced Spo's hand, and given what we all know now, the Heat would be crazy not to utilize "small-ball" lineups on an incredibly regular basis.
Behind the versatility of both stars, Spoelstra has all kinds of rotational options. James is quick enough to defend any position on the floor, and Bosh has developed into a tremendously effective defender. That tremendous cross-matching ability—in tandem with incredible offensive flexibility—makes a James-Bosh frontcourt tandem more than mere possibility.
Ronny Turiaf is no longer in Miami, and Joel Anthony's utility has taken a dive with this new development. James should and likely will be a power forward for the Heat, in the process allowing Spoelstra to put more shooters on the floor and take best advantage of his team's tremendous athleticism.
Bosh (and James) will cede minutes here and there to Udonis Haslem, but those three should make up for the entirety of the Heat's rotation of bigs. The days of clumsy finishers are gone, and the Heat have an opportunity to improve substantially based solely on rearranging incredibly talented pieces.
Balancing the wings
With Allen deserving of ample regular minutes and James no longer a full-time small forward, Miami's allocation of minutes at the wing positions should be decidedly different than in years past. Dwyane Wade would get a bulk of the playing time at shooting guard, but Allen—who has traditionally played the 2 over the course of his career—has to slide in somewhere.
That's why distributing minutes by position in the case of the Heat gets incredibly tricky. Wade, Allen and Shane Battier all figure to get significant minutes at one slot or another, each carrying out their respective roles regardless of their ordained position. Mike Miller—who will likely be more effective in the coming season as a result of an overdue turn in his health-related fortunes—will likely get regular/semi-regular minutes filling in as necessary and could conceivably be a part of the no-PG lineups that Spoelstra has demonstrated a willingness to employ.
James and Wade scramble the designations on the wing so severely that they're unrecognizable. All that remains is Spoelstra and his staff sorting out minutes and responsibilities to best reflect the balance that the team hopes to embrace. Battier's defense will need to be weighed against Allen's offensive benefit, and their playing time should be adjusted accordingly based on specific matchups. Managing Miami's wings will require diligence and committed attention throughout the regular season and playoffs as Spoelstra and Co. rifle through the plethora of options afforded them.
The need to develop
The enduring weakness of the Miami Heat is their nonexistent developmental system. The Oklahoma City Thunder had the luxury of drafting elite talent and cultivating it within a strong framework. The San Antonio Spurs found their stars and churn out quality rotation players through system-specific training and education.
The Heat signed stars and picked up aging supporting parts, but thus far, have yet to really grow a player into a role the way that the NBA's most successful franchises so often do.
Enter Norris Cole. He's unlikely to ever be a star, but Miami has a pretty decent prospect with room to develop and an opportunity for playing time. In the coming season, we can expect Spoelstra and the Heat to give Cole a greater slice of the available minutes (at the expense of Mario Chalmers) and more pronounced developmental attention.
Chalmers hasn't played at a level that necessarily demands replacement, but given the Heat's lineup luxuries elsewhere and the potential in Cole's skill set, Miami should capitalize on the opportunity to finally work to expand the game of one of its young players.