5 Burning Questions for Miami Heat During 2013 Offseason
You can only celebrate and savor for so long.
For NBA champions, the next season starts just after the last one ends. And so, after the Miami Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in seven games and held another outdoor parade and indoor rally, the questions quickly turned to the 2013-14 season.
Can the Heat three-peat?
It won't be easy. Not with Derrick Rose returning for the Chicago Bulls and Russell Westbrook returning for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not with San Antonio still a threat and the Indiana Pacers rising up the ladder.
Not with their financial limitations, over the salary cap and the luxury tax, without many quality young players in the system and without much of a trade market for some of their past-prime veterans.
And not in light of history.
Pat Riley never even did it when he coached the Showtime Lakers.
Dwyane Wade put that in context:
Magic’s never done it, right? That’s Magic Johnson. He’s got five rings, he’s never won three in a row. That shows how tough it is. But we’re going to throw our hat in the ring and see what we come out with. We’re going to be back next year, hungry again to try to continue to place ourselves in history.
Their 27-game winning streak put to rest most questions about the Heat's motivation. They care. They also have the person whom Wade calls "the best (bleeping) player on the planet" in LeBron James.
But the Collective Bargaining Agreement is working against James, Riley and the Heat.
They have work to do to stay at the top.
All quotes for this piece were collected through the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post.
Can They Afford Chris Andersen?
The third-loudest cheers of the Miami Heat's championship celebration consistently went to the NBA veteran with the shortest Heat tenure.
Why do the fans love Chris Andersen so much?
"I don't know," Andersen said. "Crazy ass white boy."
That, of course, doesn't completely explain it.
Andersen, as all of his teammates consistently note, played a major role in Miami's latest title.
The Heat were in a rebounding and energy funk in the middle of the season. Even before he got into decent shape, Andersen shored up those deficiencies, brought life to the locker room and helped catalyze the 27-game winning streak.
"He was a tremendous boost for us," said Udonis Haslem, whose minutes were cut upon Andersen's arrival. "We’re probably not sitting here without the addition of Birdman this year; he was huge for us."
Miami, however, doesn't have huge money to throw at him now that his contract has expired.
The most the Heat could offer as a tax-paying team? The entire mini mid-level exception, starting at $3.183 million.
Will they do that for someone who is turning 35 in July and has a history of off-court and knee trouble?
“The most important part is both sides want each other,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said.
That answers one part.
What about Andersen? Does he want to return?
"Let's try to get the three-peat next year!" Andersen shouted to the adoring Miami crowd.
That probably answers that, too.
Will Ray Allen Stick Around?
As Ray Allen spoke to the media in the aftermath of his second NBA championship—his first with the Miami Heat—his father, Walter, massaged his shoulders and bounced up and down.
"I told him he should have come to Miami two years ago," the elder Allen said.
His son came to Miami last offseason, leaving a better financial offer from the Boston Celtics to join their hated Eastern Conference rivals.
It worked out rather well.
Allen struggled some on the road, especially early in the season, but he made plenty of clutch shots. None were bigger than the one he made from the right corner to tie Game 6 of the NBA Finals with 5.2 seconds left in regulation.
"That was the biggest shot I've ever made in my career," Allen said after a couple of days of reflection.
Will he keep making them in Miami?
Allen has an option for $3.2 million next season and was noncommittal when asked in the champagne-soaked locker room whether he planned to exercise it and stay with the Heat.
He was no more revealing with his teammates, as Udonis Haslem explained:
I mean, I put the bug in his ear in the shower, after the game. I told him I’m not going to put no pressure on you. I’m not going to ask you what I’m going to do. But just know I’m thinking in my head about what you’re going to do. He (didn't) say nothing. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Chris Bosh was more confident, saying, "He's coming back. There's really nothing else to think about."
That seems likely after all of Allen's talk about his comfort level with the Heat organization and his teammates. The only hitch is if he decides to take a shot at starting somewhere else before his career comes to a close.
If he leaves, it will save owner Micky Arison some money but will leave a hole since Miami may need to use its mini mid-level exception on Chris Andersen.
Should They Keep Mike Miller?
When the Miami Heat signed Mike Miller to a five-season contract in the summer of 2010, they were expecting quality long-range shooting, aggressive rebounding and slick passing.
They have gotten some of that over the course of his first three seasons, but they have also gotten two things they didn't expect: injuries and comedy.
The comedy? That's been welcome, as he's become a local folk hero, as evidenced again during the championship celebration when his shoeless NBA Finals Game 6 three-pointer was fondly remembered. Heat staffers threw shoes at him while the crowd laughed.
Miller could have been so much more for Miami, however, if not for all the injuries and ailments.
Few body parts of Miller's have gone unscathed—from both of his thumbs to his shoulder to his midsection (hernia) to his back. Those setbacks led to last offseason's signing of Ray Allen, which kept Miller out of the rotation this season, even when he was reasonably healthy.
Even so, he has done enough when it matters to be a valuable commodity, whether it has been stroking seven three-pointers in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals or emerging as a floor-spacing starter in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Plus, his presence (and 15-2 record as a starter) allowed Dwyane Wade to get some regular-season rest.
What's that worth?
That's what Heat owner Micky Arison must decide. Miller makes $12.8 million over the next two seasons, but that will cost Arison even more due to the Heat's status as a luxury tax team.
Can Arison afford the multi-skilled Miller, who is well-liked in the locker room, or will Arison search for ways to let him go with James Jones and Rashard Lewis around and cheaper shooters on the market?
Can Dwyane Wade Get His Body Right?
Dwyane Wade has had plenty of nicknames, some better than others.
There was 'Flash," given to him by Shaquille O'Neal.
There was "D-Wade," which has stuck the longest.
There was "WoW," which Wade gave himself this season, a reference to his "Way of Wade" sneaker deal with Li-Ning, which even his teammates thought a bit of a stretch.
"Call me Three,'" Wade said.
That's been his number since his Marquette University days, the one he has always worn with the Miami Heat. It's also the number of NBA championships he has won since Miami drafted him in 2003.
"This one is special because I know the category this puts me in," Wade said.
It was special, also because of all the nine-time All-Star endured to achieve it.
He recovered from offseason left knee surgery to post his most efficient shooting percentage, only to stumble down the stretch—and for much of the postseason—due to bone bruises in his right knee. He was in such pain that he considered asking for reduced playing time and, after the right knee flared up, needed it drained prior to Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Still, he did enough by scoring 32, 25, 14 and 23 points in his last four games, respectively, as the Heat finished off the San Antonio Spurs.
At this point, it's unreasonable to expect Wade, who turns 32 next season, to play 80 regular-season games at a high level. Still, he needs to get in the best condition possible to avoid breakdowns.
After the championship parade, he said he planned to follow doctors' orders and take a month away from basketball. When he returns, he said he will take it slow:
Really focus on the strength of my legs, try to get my legs strong. Then after that, get back in the gym, and moreso work on my body before I work on the basketball aspect of my game.
Whatever he does, he needs to do all he can to be strong when it matters and to give himself a shot at four NBA titles, as well as a new nickname.
What Will LeBron James Improve Next?
LeBron James, husband-to-be for Savannah Brinson, has two children.
Now, he has two NBA titles, too.
Which of those titles, 2012 or 2013, does he like the best?
"I guess whichever one I'm talking to at that point and time," he quipped to the MVP-chanting crowd at the Miami Heat's championship celebration.
Like children, they are unique to each other.
In 2012, he needed to save the Heat from a 3-2 deficit against the Boston Celtics with a brilliant 45-point performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Then he needed to hold back the Oklahoma City Thunder by beating them down in the post and using tricks he'd picked up from Hakeem Olajuwon the previous offseason.
In 2013, he needed to keep his composure as the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers tried to bully him and then keep his confidence as the San Antonio Spurs dared him to flex his jumper, the same one he has practiced thousands of times in trying to remedy an early-career weakness.
He spit the strategy back in their faces, scoring 37 points—almost all from the outside—in a Game 7 victory.
So what's next?
Well, first, some rest for the first time in a while. Then there's the wedding planning.
But there will be work to be done on his post game so that he has more options. He also will need to work on his body so that he can withstand the grind again. He will probably need more work on that jumper, too.
"He'll be back in the gym doing something within 10 days," head coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He can't stay away."
So, his game won't stay the same.