The NBA trade deadline will fall on February 21. Teams across the league will surely pull the trigger on major and minor deals, vying to improve their rosters. The Miami Heat, who currently top the Eastern Conference with a record of 36-14, have not been involved in any reported discussions.
Yet it does not prohibit speculation.
As previously noted, the Heat have one of the best win-loss totals in the NBA right now. The organization is in no rush to make any sort of deal, as any slight tweak would alter their already-stellar chemistry. However, the team could certainly do with a better level of consistency.
Miami's major contributors outside of the Big Three are Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Norris Cole. While the trio of Heat veterans has shown flashes of regular contribution, Allen and Cole are the most inconsistent.
Allen, who had ankle surgery before signing with the Heat, has been up and down this season. After a strong start averaging 12.9 points on 49.1-percent shooting to start the season, Allen dropped to 9.5 on 43.9 percent in December. He returned to his usual self in January, scoring 11.5 points per game at a 47.7 clip, before plummeting this month to a dismal six points and 25-percent shooting.
It should be noted that Allen injured his shoulder in late December; however, it does not explain his increased efficiency through January.
While it hasn't been released, it is a possibility Allen is battling the same injury that bothered him towards the end of last season. A report from ESPN.com's Michael Wallace, back in October, told of the lingering soreness the 6'5" guard will experience throughout the season.
Allen's offense, as any casual NBA fan would tell you, comes from his ability to shoot the ball. His mechanics are predicated on his ability to jump and release quickly, which would be severely limited if Allen cannot receive the proper lift on his shot.
Moving Allen at the deadline is extremely, if not completely, unlikely. It wouldn't be in the Heat's best interest to trade the all-time leader in three-pointers either.
Thus other players need to step up.
Cole has never been a solid outside shooter, averaging just 0.3 three-point field goals per game for his career. His 27.1-percent shooting clip from deep isn't especially good, which makes it difficult to place him in the Heat's offensive system.
In addition, he's shooting just 36.8 percent outside the paint. With players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who all make their living in that area, the rest of the Miami roster needs to be capable of knocking down long-range shots.
According to 82games.com, the Heat average 8.3 more points per 100 possessions with Cole on the bench. While much of this statistic is due to the starting lineup having a rare prowess on that side of the ball, it also points to the stop the offense comes to with Cole in the game.
The second-year guard has improved his shooting percentages every month this season; however, his outside stoke needs much more consistency. As just noted, Cole's lack of experience may serve as justification for this.
Who should the Heat try and deal?
However, merely inserting another player when he struggles cannot be an effective solution.
With injury always a risk, and Allen obviously struggling, the Heat need a guard that can seamlessly step in and sink open jump shots. Moving Cole wouldn't be out of the question, but his rookie-scale contract doesn't benefit from a tax perspective, which is an issue Miami will face down the road.
Nevertheless, having Cole on such a deal does help when considering trading the point guard. There is a mass of veteran backcourt players on minimum deals; therefore, shipping Cole and his $1.1 million contract wouldn't be overly difficult.
Chalmer's offense seems to have come back to him, as he's made over 40 percent of his three-pointers in the last two months. His turnovers have also dropped, down to just 0.8 per game in comparison to the 1.6 he averaged to start the season.
The long-time Heat point guard has been criticized for his decision-making at times, yet Chalmers is handling the ball well and making the right choices on offense. His defense remains essential to the Heat on the perimeter, thus saving him from any trade consideration.
Haslem and Battier had so-so starts to the season but have returned to form as of late. The latter suffered a hamstring injury that limited his production, as Battier ended January shooting 17.9 percent from the field and 18.8 from beyond the arc. He's since shot 50 percent from both areas this month.
The veteran swingman is a superb contributor, as Battier's three-point-shooter/defensive-specialist role is a much-coveted combination in the NBA. His ability to defend almost every position, save for center, makes his value to the team unquestioned.
UD is currently battling a bruised right leg and missed Miami's last contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is probable to return Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks, as the Heat will need his rebounding and interior presence.
The concept of the Heat trading Haslem isn't even worth mentioning, as Miami's franchise-leading rebounder is the heart and soul of the team. He may have lost a step or two the past few seasons, but he remains a decent player in the paint.
LeBron's historic season, in addition to the team's excellent defense, has overshadowed Miami's inconsistencies at times. The Heat certainly have one of the best chances if not the best at taking home the title this season, despite this.
While Cole is seemingly the only regular player the Heat could consider moving, Mike Miller's $18.6 million contract over the next two seasons makes him a candidate. He's seeing just 13.9 minutes per game, which is an enormous contrast to what his salary merits.
Joel Anthony's $11.3 million through this season and the next two is a vastly overpaid deal, which will certainly become an issue as the luxury tax looms for the Heat.
While Anthony is a much-appreciated contributor, as are Miller and Cole, a combination of inconsistency and salary makes the trio expendable at this point.
It is an unfortunate situation for Miami, as keeping the championship roster together for another run would be encouraged by most. The possibility to riding out this season and dealing with such issues in the offseason is available, but the sting of moving some of these players is less at this point than it would be after a back-to-back-title run.
As aforementioned, the Heat do not need to make a deal. It would be beneficial, both short term and long term for the organization, but the team is talented enough to obliterate such shortcomings.
It all comes down to Pat Riley and the rest of the Heat management, and whether or not such decisions are necessary.