It looks like the Miami Heat won't just serve as a distraction for Dolphin fans in Miami this year.
Still, the Heat may be worth watching. They're going for their third consecutive championship and—if successful—would become the first team since the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000-02. They are also attempting to make the the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive time, a far more rare event that hasn't taken place since the mid-1980s.
Plus, all your favorite characters are back.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are possibly three of 14 free agents—yes, 14 free agents—the Heat will have going into the 2014 offseason, making this 2013-14 campaign one of the more significant in franchise history.
Before they get to that point, they have to continue penning this narrative of the experiment the Miami Heat have gone under since 2010. James will be going for a fifth MVP and a third championship, Wade will be competing for a fourth NBA title and Bosh will be going for three while, most likely, attempting to find a larger role in the offense.
Joining these three are Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, James Jones, Michael Beasley, Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis, Jarvis Varnado, Eric Griffin, Chris Andersen, Joel Anthony, Greg Oden and Justin Hamilton.
Only 13 of these 17 players are guaranteed, per HoopsHype. Beasley, Griffin, Varnado and Hamilton are all signed to non-guaranteed deals and will have to play their way onto the final roster of 15. Draft pick James Ennis is currently stored away in Australia, where he is already making a name for himself.
Oden is the only player the Heat added who was signed to a guaranteed deal. Mike Miller (amnesty) and Juwan Howard (free agent) are the only Heat players to have departed since the conclusion of the Finals.
We take a look at the Heat's roster and grade each position based on how much of an advantage, or disadvantage, it provides for the Heat.
All statistics via basketball-reference.com.
Projected starter: Mario Chalmers
Backup: Norris Cole
The Miami Heat don't need their point guards to be All-Stars. What they want from Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole is consistency in the form of keeping their mistakes low, making shots when the defense is focused elsewhere and keeping LeBron James off of defending the opposition's point guard.
It's worth noting how far both of these floor generals have come over the past two years. It was only in 2010-11 when Mario was fighting for a starting job with the likes of Carlos Arroyo and Mike Bibby. The campaign was the worst of Mario's career by far, as he shot less than 40 percent from the field and averaged 6.4 points.
Two years after Miami's crippling loss in the 2011 Finals, Chalmers is the inarguable starting point guard for the Heat after shooting a career-best 40.9 percent from three and averaging only 1.5 turnovers per game. His 17.1 turnover percentage, the amount of turnovers per 100 possessions, that he had last season comes a year after posting a career-worst 20.7 percent.
It's exactly what the Heat want to see from Chalmers: making open shots and keeping the turnovers to a minimum.
It's safe to say Mario doesn't have to worry about his job anymore, even if Norris Cole has developed into a strong one-on-one defender and three-point threat—although that is still liable to change. It's tough to say whether or not Cole has developed a three-point shot: He was on his way to a second sub-30 percent season from three but suddenly came alive at the end of the season and the postseason.
Cole finished the regular season shooting 35.7 percent on 98 attempts, but it doesn't compare to the 53.1 percent he shot in the postseason. He went through a stretch of three games where he shot 8-of-8 from three in Games 2 to 4 against the Chicago Bulls.
He was a 27.6 percent three-point shooter in his rookie season. We'll need a larger sample size to say if Cole has truly added a three-point shot to an arsenal that already includes a strong mid-range jumper.
Projected starter: Dwyane Wade
Backup: Ray Allen
Here we thought having LeBron James would slow down the rush of Dwyane Wade's body catching up on him.
Wade has limped into the past two NBA Finals, and although the Heat have won on both occasions, it wasn't nearly as easy as it would have been had Dwyane been even close to 100 percent. He's coming off one of the worst postseasons of his career, achieving numbers that he hasn't seen since his rookie season, averaging 15.9 points on 45.7 percent shooting to go along with 4.8 assists and 4.6 boards.
Before the NBA Finals, Wade had as many games scoring less than ten points as he had scoring 20 or more points. One of those 20-plus point performances came in Miami's Game 7 blowout win over the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
He also dropped at least 23 points in three of the Heat's final four games in the NBA Finals, including a glimpse at vintage-Wade when he dropped 32 points in a critical Game 4 win over the Spurs.
Wade may not have been his usual self throughout the duration of the postseason, but he came through when he was needed most. His 18 points in Miami's Game 5 closeout win over Chicago were imperative, he had 21 points and nine rebounds in the Game 7 win over Indiana and finished with 23 points and ten boards in the Game 7 championship clincher over the Spurs.
Consider the 2013-14 season as one of the biggest of Wade's career. With attractive options showcasing young cores and rotations that may be appealing to LeBron, who could be opting out in the summer, Wade needs to begin adding consistent dimensions to his game outside of his ability to finish at the rim.
Wade's jump shooting last season was less than convincing, as he shot 39 percent on jumpers and 25.8 percent on three-pointers. What is convincing and encouraging, however, is the fact that Wade has supposedly lost weight this summer, providing hope that Dwyane turns into the "Flash" of 2006.
Playing the role of sixth man for a second consecutive season will be Ray Allen, whose 2012-13 season with the Heat can be whittled down into a single play. His desperation three-pointer in the final seconds to tie Game 6 at 95 points apiece will go down as one of the single most significant shots in NBA history.
With the option of opting out for a larger deal this offseason, Allen instead opted in and took less money to remain with the Heat. He's coming off his first season where he was featured as a sixth man and played extremely well, meeting expectations with a 41.9 percent completion percentage from three in the regular season and a 40.6 percent conversion rate in the postseason from three.
The future remains wide open at the shooting guard position for the Heat after the 2013-14 season. Going into the upcoming season, however, the Heat still possess a shooting guard that is one of the top-five players in the NBA when healthy, as well as the greatest shooter in NBA history.
These two are the types of veterans you want to have on your team when you need a last shot to be made.
Projected starter: LeBron James
Backup: Shane Battier
Reserve: James Jones, Michael Beasley
The Miami Heat still have LeBron James. Is there anything else that needs to be said?
James has put together two of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history the past two years, taking home league MVP and Final MVP by the season's end of both years. His 2012-13 season, however, was one to truly remember, as LeBron asserted his dominance over the league with a career-high 56.5 percent overall shooting percentage and a 40.6 percent three-point conversion rate.
LeBron also shot a career-high 42 percent on all types of jumpers, continuing to dispel the ignorant idea that he would somehow not be as effective as he was with the athleticism of his younger years. Instead, he's posting up career-high shooting-percentages, dropping a career-high rebounds per game at eight, and putting up a PER of 31.6, which was good enough for the top ten in PER of all-time.
The only other players to have a higher PER? Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and LeBron himself in the 2008-09 season.
It's safe to say that the starting small forward position is set for Miami. There's LeBron James and then there's everyone else. The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls can get all the players they want through free agency or get players back from free agency, but it may all be futile efforts, because the Heat still have LeBron James.
Playing the role of the reserves include Shane Battier, who may be a year from retirement with his contract coming to an end next offseason, James Jones and the recently acquired Michael Beasley. The former Heat draft pick was released by the Phoenix Suns a month ago, following an underwhelming 2012-13 season that was capped off by a marijuana possession arrest in the offseason.
Beasley is still a long shot to make the Heat roster, even with the team currently employing only 13 players on its roster. He was signed to a non-guaranteed deal and will have to play to make it on the roster, meaning that he'll need to impress in training camp and preseason just to earn a spot as the Heat's 14th or 15th man.
If Beasley can turn it around, it'll be a hugely significant deal with the likelihood of Battier, as well as Allen, retiring by the start of the 2014-15 season. He was signed for his versatility, potential and youth, the same reasons why he was drafted second by the Heat in 2008, and Miami is hoping to be the team that can squeeze out some talent out of the combo-forward.
Projected starter: Udonis Haslem
Backup: Rashard Lewis
Reserve: Jarvis Varnado, Eric Griffin
The power forward position will continue to be a conundrum for the Heat as they continue to experiment with the perfect starting lineup for their needs.
It's likely that Miami ends up starting Udonis Haslem after a disappointing regular season was finished off with an impressive postseason. Haslem brought up memories of the player he was before he tore a ligament in his foot with two 8-of-9 shooting performances in wins over the Indiana Pacers, one of which came after Pacers coach Frank Vogel claimed Udonis wouldn't be able to do it again.
Haslem averaged a career-low 3.9 points on a career-low 18.9 minutes per game. The 9.9 PER was also a career-low as he found his role on the team effected by the Heat's use of small-ball lineups as well as the usage of Chris Andersen, who turned out to be a far more valuable threat in terms of rebounding, shot-blocking and scoring off of cuts to the rim.
Udonis will continue to be a necessity, however. His role as the team's "warrior" is indicative of his blue-collar work ethic and willingness to leave everything on the floor. The coaching staff will also continue to start and play Haslem because of the belief that his consistent mid-range jumper will return to the form it was prior to the foot injury he suffered in November 2010.
Playing behind Haslem will be Rashard Lewis, who will most likely be holding hope that Michael Beasley doesn't make the team and steals his minutes, as well as roster hopefuls in Jarvis Varnado and Eric Griffin.
Varnado, who added a decent-looking jumper over the summer, still leaves much to be desired following a mediocre summer league, and Griffin, a high-flying athlete out of Campbell University, is a rookie who will be a long shot to make the final roster.
If Beasley turns out to be disappointing, we should expect some time to come for Lewis, who played only 55 games last year and averaged 4.3 minutes in 11 postseason games. It was believed, with the absence of Mike Miller, Lewis and James Jones would compete for minutes, but that may be complicated now with the addition of Beasley.
Either way, Haslem may be the only power forward we see playing consistent minutes in the rotation, and even that is likely to change depending on how effective his jumper and rebounding is.
Projected starter: Chris Bosh
Backup: Chris Andersen
Reserve: Joel Anthony, Greg Oden, Justin Hamilton
Say what you want about Chris Bosh, he's one of the reasons why the Heat are the two-time, back-to-back NBA champions. His offensive rebound off a LeBron James missed three-pointer leading to a Ray Allen three-pointer in Game 6 enabled the game to go to overtime.
Not to be forgotten are his blocks on San Antonio's final two possessions of overtime, including a brilliant block on Danny Green's three-point attempt at the buzzer that would have tied it. Bosh may have dropped a goose egg in the point column in Game 7, but that is to be forgiven, just as we forgave Ray Allen for scoring zero points in the same game.
It also helps when you're the best mid-range shooter in the NBA. Bosh was a 44 percent jump shooter overall last year and shot a wildly impressive 49 percent in the range from 16 to 25 feet. Also of note was his new-found range from beyond the arc, where he shot 40.5 percent on 37 attempts in the postseason.
Bosh's role as the team's center, where he had a PER of 20 last season, is susceptible to change depending on the health of Greg Oden. Chris has proven to be more comfortable as the team's power forward but has played at center for Miami because of how small the roster has been. Poor performances against Roy Hibbert and Tim Duncan eventually led the Heat front office into re-signing Chris Andersen and signing Greg Oden.
Andersen, who also struggled against Hibbert and Duncan, will be playing with a lighter weight on his mind following an ongoing case against his character that was recently put to sleep. "Birdman" was wildly impressive last season, evidenced by the 80.7 percent he shot in the postseason, but he may find his minutes wane if Oden can remain healthy.
Oden is a 7', 285-pound titan of a center who will have his minutes heavily monitored throughout his comeback tour. He hasn't played since late-2009 and has played 82 games over a career, which started in 2007, due to constant knee troubles that have resulted in surgeries and, subsequently, in regressions.
It's a tad overzealous to say Oden could be starting, but he well could be if he's healthy and proves himself to be competent and capable of playing without getting himself hurt. The former number one pick was meant to be a cornerstone of the Portland Trail Blazers franchise, but it never came to fruition because of the nagging and prevalent injuries that plagued his career.
Bosh and Andersen will start out as Miami's main centers, but expect Oden and Andersen to begin sharing playing time once the medical staff deems it safe to give the former Ohio State Buckeye consistent minutes.