The Miami Heat enter their 2013 training camp with one less shooter, one more big man and a core group of players that are a year away from becoming free agents.
While most of 2014's offseason hype is centered around the goings of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it's worth noting that every player currently on the Heat roster will become a free agent next offseason. For all we know, this 2013-14 Heat team could end up looking nothing like the 2014-15 Heat.
But that's for another day and for another season. The focus of the Heat is now on a fourth consecutive championship run and a third consecutive championship. The Heat will be looking to not only become the first team since the 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers to win three consecutive titles, but to also become the first team since the 1982-85 Lakers to reach four straight NBA Finals.
It's a tall order, but if any current franchise is capable of such a feat, it's going to be the Heat. They bring back nearly the same roster from last year's championship run with the exceptions of Mike Miller, who was a victim of the amnesty clause; Jarvis Varnado, who will likely end up in the D-League; and Juwan Howard, who retired to become an assistant coach for the Heat.
Greg Oden was the only free agent to be given a guaranteed deal by Miami. Those with non-guaranteed deals and looking to make one of the two spots on the final roster include Varnado, Michael Beasley, Justin Hamilton, Eric Griffin, Larry Drew II and Roger Mason, Jr.
Include Oden on the growing list of players who decided to take a paycut to join the Heat. Despite larger offers from elsewhere, Oden decided to join the Heat on a veteran's minimum deal that will only last a season.
In terms of player development, Oden is the most interesting case to watch during Heat training camp. A succession of injuries, surgeries and setbacks have deterred Oden's career at every turn, resulting in the former No. 1 pick having played only 82 games in the NBA since being drafted in 2007.
Oden hasn't played a game since hurting his knee on Dec. 5, 2009. Since then, he has continued to have surgeries and setbacks from surgeries, but Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk reports that Oden is the healthiest he's been in a long time and is bearing a resemblance to the player he was out of high school, before injuries began to get the best of him.
Excitement is high, but expectations are low for Oden. The Heat are plenty aware of what they have gotten themselves into by signing Oden. They recognize that he's a project for the year, but a valuable one who could play a heavy role once the postseason rolls around.
Oden was brought in for the sole purpose of combating the scoring bigs of the Eastern Conference, such as Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert, if the Heat end up in a seven-game series facing a dominant scorer at the five position. Miami experienced such problems in its conference finals series with Indiana last year when Hibbert averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds against the Heat's smaller frontcourt.
Problems also arose with Joakim Noah and the Bulls, as well as Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Noah's influence on the boards, averaging nine boards and leading Chicago to an offensive rebounding advantage of 66-37 in their second-round series with Miami, played a key role in Chicago managing to keep games close, despite having a significantly undermanned staff.
Miami wound up giving Indiana a 90-74 advantage on the offensive rebounding front before allowing Tim Duncan to grab over 12 rebounds per game in the NBA Finals.
Surrendering rebounds, especially offensive caroms, has long been a nuisance to the Heat and it was brought to a blistering light in last season's postseason when the height of teams began to play a significant factor. The Heat were better than teams like Chicago and Indiana, but surrendered a great deal of points on easy put-backs that came after solid defensive possessions.
Oden was brought on to possibly fill that void. Although the Heat threw out the likes of Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen last season, neither their height nor size could play enough of a factor to throw off the likes of Hibbert or Noah. Miami needs height, and they needed height coupled with athleticism and an ability to rebound.
That's where Oden comes in. He's not going to be expected to start anytime soon, but he will be expected to share minutes with Andersen down the road. Once the postseason comes around, Oden's role will fluctuate depending on how much he is needed against whichever opponent the Heat are playing.
If it's against Indiana, Chicago or Brooklyn, which is more than likely, then you should expect to see plenty of Oden in the rotation.
With Oden set to split minutes with Andersen, it'll be interesting to see how the Heat use Chris Bosh this time around. They've been using him as a center, but he struggled significantly throughout the 2013 postseason on the defensive end against the likes of Hibbert and Duncan.
Bosh, who finished with a PER of 20 as a center last year according to 82games.com, was manhandled on the boards and it led to Noah, Hibbert and Duncan having those previously mentioned big games. The addition of Oden would lead one to believe that the Heat are beginning to feel a little more reluctant when it comes to using Bosh at the five.
If Oden's health isn't in serious question, Bosh could be moved back down to his natural position at power forward. It seems that it would almost be a necessity to keep Bosh happy following three consecutive seasons of a regression and decline in his numbers and overall role. That has reduced him to becoming the world's tallest shooting guard.
With this being a possible contract year for him, perhaps the Heat would find it wise to keep Bosh happy and in a position and role that better suits him. It would lead to more Andersen and Oden, and possibly even some Joel Anthony, at the five while Bosh continues to stretch the floor as a power forward.
Speaking of members of the Big Three, it's going to be of significant interest to see how in shape Dwyane Wade is for the upcoming season. This may well be the most important year of his career because of the looming 2014 offseason and his need to become a reliable No. 2 guy.
Wade came up huge time and time again in last year's postseason, but struggled for the most part and put up the lowest numbers of his playoff career. He shot less than 37 percent on his jumpers in the playoffs, including a paltry 33 percent on 85 attempts from 16-to-25 feet, per Basketball-Reference.com.
It's going to be expected of Wade for him to begin making the jump shot a consistent part of his game. While nobody is expecting him to begin integrating a three-point shot into his repertoire, as devastating as it would be for the rest of the league, he does need to become a consistent jump shooter in order to keep injuries at bay.
He can still attack the rim at will, but it needs to be saved for the postseason where it will matters. Wade needs to be able to prove that he can be a reliable number two to LeBron, especially if the deal they offer him extends deep into his 30's.
The most effective way in keeping the Big Three in tact, however, will be a third consecutive championship. It'll be tough to see the band breaking up following a third straight NBA title.
It'll also be interesting to see how motivated Michael Beasley is. He's been met with criticism for his lack of focus and commitment to winning throughout his career, but may have turned a page when he gave the Heat the idea of receiving a non-guaranteed deal that he would have to make good on in order to make the final roster.
It shows maturity on Beasley's part. He almost seems to recognize that this is his last chance to make an NBA roster. A non-guaranteed deal is the flimsiest contract you can take, as it doesn't guarantee any sort of roster spot. It shows that he realizes the weight of the situation.
If Beasley's overall mentality changes, then his game is subject to change, too. His versatility as a combo-forward who can finish inside and shoot from the perimeter was a heavy selling point to a Heat team that is lacking athleticism off of its bench due to the high amount of veteran shooters nearing retirement they currently have occupying it.
Miami is loaded with 13 guaranteed contracts—two shy of the maximum of 15. There have been rumors of the Heat not adding any more players and staying at 13, but that is subject to change depending on how well Beasley performs. The same could also be said for veteran Roger Mason.
Outside of Oden, Beasley will be one of the most heavily talked about players this training camp. Because his ceiling is still high—don't forget that he's only 24 years old—there's a possibility he could work his way into the rotation and contribute on a consistent basis.
It's unlikely, however, with the Miami rotation already set, and the likelihood of Oden being healthy enough to take away some of Andersen's minutes. Even with Mike Miller departed, his role on the team wasn't a big one and it's not a necessity for the Heat to fill his void.
If he does make the final roster, Beasley would most likely compete with Rashard Lewis and James Jones for minutes off the bench. But with the careers of Shane Battier and Ray Allen winding down, as well as the always important rest for LeBron James, there could end up being a need for Beasley and his versatility to play a role.
Don't expect working out in the Bahamas to make training camp any easier. The Heat will be running too many two-a-days to actually explore the islands.
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