Blueprint for Miami Heat to Exceed Expectations During 2013-14 Season
"Great Expectations" could have been the Miami Heat's theme once LeBron James and Chris Bosh arrived, but with three NBA Finals appearances and two championships, it's almost time to hang up the "Mission Accomplished" banner.
While the Heat are the early favorites to capture the 2014 title, according to Las Vegas sportsbooks, there's a very strong probability that Miami won't be able to pull off the hat trick. The "three-peats" pulled off by the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s (and later by the Los Angeles Lakers in the following decade) are the exception rather than the rule: Winning three straight Larry O'Brien Trophies is a hard thing to do.
And with that knowledge, the expectations for Miami this year can (and will) be scaled down a bit. James turned the Heat into Public Enemy No. 1 as a result of his post-Decision boast of "not one, not two..." titles. Yet after taking home the crown in both 2012 and 2013, there will be a little less vitriol aimed in his (and his team's) direction if Miami is forced to abdicate the throne next June.
There is also a very reasonable chance that the Heat can prove the doubters wrong and hold their third championship parade in as many years. To do so, they'll have to follow a very specific blueprint...or hope that James can single-handedly lead the team to glory.
1. Control/Limit Dwyane Wade's Minutes Throughout the Season
Much like the Boston Celtics have done in recent years with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Miami Heat need to make a conscious effort to limit Dwyane Wade's minutes in 2013-14.
Despite issues with both of his knees, Wade averaged 34.7 minutes per game during the regular season last year and an even more exhausting 35.5 MPG during the playoffs. He logged more minutes per contest last season than Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Blake Griffin.
A rotation in which Wade plays 30-32 minutes per night is the optimal solution for the Heat going forward. And while that may force more of the burden on LeBron James and Chris Bosh, it will (ideally) keep Wade healthy for the team's inevitable postseason run.
2. Hope That a Viable Reserve Center Emerges from the Summer League
At 6'10", 228 pounds, Chris Bosh simply isn't a natural center. Roy Hibbert had his way with Bosh in the paint during the Eastern Conference Finals, and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was all but powerless to stop it.
Life would be so much better for Miami if the team were able to find a solid big man in either the Orlando or the Las Vegas Summer League. 2010 second-round pick Jarvis Varnado had a decent showing down in Florida (10.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG), but at 6'9", 230 pounds, he lacks the ideal size and strength for the center position.
If the Heat can't find someone capable of manning the 5-spot for 10-12 minutes per night, they have no choice but to retain backup center Joel Anthony, who was (and is) a candidate for the NBA's amnesty clause.
3. Keep the Band Together
Standing pat isn't usually a good thing in the NBA. However, with the flurry of moves that we've seen so far this offseason, Miami has a clear advantage over the competition in that there's no need to integrate any significant pieces into an already well-oiled machine.
With the recent re-signing of Chris Andersen, all 13 players who appeared in 10-plus games for the Heat last season are under contract for 2013-14. And as long as Miami passes on using the NBA's amnesty provision, there will be virtually no change to the team's core group—a smart move in the wake of the Heat's second consecutive title victory.
"I want to try to keep this team intact as long as we can because we have a championship basketball team here," said Heat president Pat Riley, in an interview with the Miami Herald. "I would hate to break it up."
4. Use the "Mini Mid-Level Exception" on a Shooter
With Ray Allen's shot becoming more erratic than usual, and with Rashard Lewis and James Jones devolving into virtual non-factors, Miami would be wise to use its taxpayer's mid-level salary exception on a pure shooter.
Dorrell Wright and Anthony Morrow would have been ideal fits, but they decided to take their talents elsewhere (Portland and New Orleans, respectively). There aren't too many options left out on the market, so the Heat will have to work quickly or else hope that they strike gold with an undrafted free agent.
Thanks to two straight Larry O'Brien Trophies and the unwavering allure of South Beach, it won't be hard for Miami to land a wing player of some consequence before training camp rolls around.
5. Have Fun
On the surface, it may seem silly, frivolous or downright nonsensical. But the Miami Heat's ability to loosen up every now and then is one of the keys to the team's recent run of success.
It's no mistake that the Heat filmed their infamous "Harlem Shake"-themed video while in the midst of an impressive 27-game winning streak. This, of course, is the same bunch that had no problem being the life of the party at Shane Battier's karaoke event in January.
Chemistry is built both on and off of the court, and when a group of guys share the same set of experiences, the bonds that form between them are hard to break. The 2005-06 Miami Heat referred to themselves as "15 Strong": The current iteration of the franchise just might want to adopt that moniker as well.