The Miami Heat signed Greg Oden in effort to strengthen their center position, a position that remains the two-time defending champions’ biggest weakness.
You’ve heard it plenty of times by now.
That’s for sure.
What isn’t for sure, however, is just how big of an impact Oden is going to be able to make in Miami as the Heat make a run at a third straight title.
Let’s take a look at what the Heat are going to look like at center this year and discuss just how important the position will really end up being to Miami's success.
The 'Sure Things'
If truth be told, Miami doesn’t have a true “sure thing” when it comes to center. Oden is as close as it gets, but as everyone knows, the uncertainty of his health leaves too big of a question mark hovering over whether or not he will return to form.
As it currently stands, it would be a groundbreaking development if Oden were to see any amount of significant floor time in a Heat uniform before the all-star break.
And even when Oden's playing time does begin to increase, the Heat still aren't going to be asking much of him. If he can at least temporarily contain the damage opposing centers are wreaking on Miami, the Heat will be happy.
With this in mind, Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen are the only two other players on the Heat’s roster who can both be classified as a center and make a considerable impact on the outcome of the game.
But neither Bosh nor Andersen are true centers by definition, as they are both listed as forward-centers on the official roster and have played far more minutes at the forward slot than anywhere else over their careers.
And yes, they may be able to give Miami what it needs as far as their small-ball scheme is concerned, but last year’s postseason, especially the series with Indiana, did make it evident that teams around the league may be figuring out how to finally crack the Heat’s code.
To put it simply, Bosh and Andersen will almost always make a considerable impact whenever they are in the Heat’s lineup, but it won’t always be an impact like that of a true center, and it could result in Miami facing a mismatch on one or even both ends of the floor.
There are the “sure things,” and then there are the possibilities—guys like Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and even Jarvis Varnado.
These are all individuals who could fill in at center for Miami, but they most likely wouldn’t be the best long term remedy for the Heat at the position.
Haslem has the ability to play the five, and we’ve seen Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra place him there before. In all reality, there will be various times when Haslem is asked to play the role of center throughout the upcoming season.
He’s tough, he can rebound, he’s a solid defender and if his jump shot is on, he can provide spacing for Miami.
Perhaps most importantly, Bosh can slide back into his comfort zone of power forward if someone like Haslem temporarily takes the reins at center.
Joel Anthony is another option for the size-challenged Heat, and he is listed as a true center.
But at 6’9’’, Anthony is hardly a suitable matchup for bigger bodies like Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and the other elite centers around the league.
Anthony will give Miami blue-collared rebounds and a great defensive effort, but his lack of size and offensive presence make it too risky for the Heat to rely on him by any means at center.
Jarvis Varnado won a ring with Miami last year and had a solid showing in this year’s summer league. Much like Anthony, he’s a rebounding and shot-blocking machine.
Unfortunately, he’s also like Anthony in that he’s offensively challenged and stands at just 6’9’’.
It’s also not guaranteed Varnado has a roster spot come November, but even if he does, the overall impact he will have on the Heat’s body of work this season will be minimal.
While the basis for concern regarding the Heat’s center is tangible, the reality is the position won’t be the reason Miami does or doesn’t pull off the three-peat.
Yes, the Indiana Pacers may have pushed Miami to the brink last year with their size advantage.
But that was when the Heat were dealing with a severely hobbled Dwyane Wade and a Chris Bosh that happened to be suffering one of the worst offensive slumps of his career.
In other words, health and the overall fluidity of Miami’s system will be factors that play much bigger roles in the Heat’s conquest of a third-straight title next June than that of center.
After three years together, the whole world has seen just how good LeBron James’ Heat can be when they’re fully healthy and more importantly, when they want to be.
Center or no center, there has still yet to be a team that has proved they can beat Miami’s small-ball method the organization adapted after the crushing defeat of the 2011 NBA Finals.
Until then, the Heat will remain the overwhelming favorites to win it all.
And rightfully so.