The Miami Heat are trying to join the exclusive club of NBA three-peaters—a fraternity consisting of only five members: Minneapolis Lakers 1952-54; Boston Celtics 1959-66 (yes, that’s an eight-peat); Chicago Bulls 1991-93 and 1996-98; Los Angeles Lakers 2000-02. But for all of those members (other than the insane Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics), that third championship banner was where it ended.
The nature of the NBA cycle means that by the time you’ve developed the young talent, been scarred by the necessary postseason battles and developed enough chemistry to win three rings in a row, you generally have to move on thanks to fatigue (physical, mental and emotional) and the increasing age of your core roster.
Whether the Heat can actually complete the three-peat remains to be seen, but the contractual status of the “Big Three” (all three can opt out of their contracts this offseason) means there is a chance of serious roster turnover in South Beach.
Even if some or all of the trio remain in Miami, Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole (and Justin Hamilton with a team option) are the only other members of the Heatles that are under contract for next season. We could see a whole new supporting cast and some key role players move on—like Shane Battier (retirement), Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers.
As such, here are a few options that Pat Riley and Co. should be considering to fill in the roster at every position (with the disclaimer that these free agents are candidates to surround LeBron James).
There has been a lot of chatter about the possibility of LeBron James leaving the Heat but that hasn’t been factored in here. Firstly, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Secondly, Miami can reload a contending roster as long as LeBron is there (even without Bosh and Wade) with some of these pieces.
If LeBron is gone, however, Riley will have to start thinking about a rebuild—which would mean a totally different type of free agent would be coveted.
You can peruse the whole list of impending NBA free agents at ESPN.com, but here are the ones that caught my eye as good fits in Miami.
Note: All players listed here are unrestricted free agents unless noted otherwise; (RFA) = Restricted Free Agent, (PO) = Player Option and (TO) = Team Option.
Point Guard: Mario Chalmers, Steve Blake or Kirk Hinrich
Since LeBron James is one of the best facilitators and offense-initiators in the league, the requirements for a Heat point guard are different than most other NBA situations. You can see that quite clearly with these three players that would fulfill similar roles.
Mario Chalmers would be the ideal option for the obvious reason that he’s very accustomed to the organization, the coach and the pressure of intense playoff basketball. Furthermore, he’s the youngest of this group, which naturally means that he has more upside and less chance for an age-induced drop-off in production and defensive ability.
Furthermore, Chalmers has shown throughout his career (dating back to his days at Kansas) that he isn’t afraid of the moment. And there should be plenty of “moments” if you’re playing with LeBron James.
The next two guys are very similar players: Steve Blake and Kirk Hinrich. Both bring tough, gritty defense to the table while boasting the ability to knock down open threes and move without the ball.
Blake has been the better three-point shooter over his career, so we can give him a very slight edge, but either player would be a solid fit for the roster and a veteran leader.
Shooting Guard: Jodie Meeks or Jimmer Fredette
This position is dependent on whether Dwyane Wade is on the team (and the state of his knees), but there aren’t any players on the market that would be noticeable upgrades and good fits.
Lance Stephenson could be an upgrade but he’s not a great fit for the roster in terms of style or personality. Alan Anderson (RFA, PO) and Avery Bradley (RFA) are possible options and Ray Allen is definitely in the mix, but I’m trying to avoid listing current Heat players unless they truly are the best options available.
But there are two players that would be nice additions, although in different roles and stages of their careers.
Jodie Meeks quietly had a very solid season, albeit for a terrible Los Angeles Lakers team. He averaged 15.7 points per game, played solid defense and shot the ball very well (46% FG, 40% 3P, 86% FT) despite being one of the primary options on an awful roster.
Slot him next to LeBron James and he could do some serious damage from beyond the arc, but he’s also an underrated scorer and creator off the bounce. He won’t change defensive game plans, but he’s a solid two-way player that could start if needed (preferably with an upgrade made at another position).
Then there’s the dark horse: Jimmer Fredette. He would be a low-risk, high-reward signing since the market isn’t particularly hot for him. He hasn’t looked like a lottery pick so far in his career, but nobody doubts his ability to shoot the ball from deep.
If Ray Allen leaves, Fredette would be a nice, cheap option that can come in off the bench and space the floor.
Small Forward: Francisco Garcia (PO)
Since we’re assuming that LeBron stays, this spot is as a backup. The Heat need to replace Shane Battier—who is still a very valuable rotation piece despite his advanced age, declining athleticism and hot-and-cold perimeter jumper.
Francisco Garcia brings a lot of the same traits to the floor. He’s a willing and versatile defender that will take the punishment of defending power forwards to spare LeBron. He’s also a very reliable three-point shooter, knocking down 36 percent of his long-range attempts for his career.
He’s tough, intelligent and is a good leader on and off the court, so he would be a very nice replacement for Battier and could be used in a similar manner.
Power Forward: Channing Frye or DeJuan Blair
Two very different types of player depending on what happens to Chris Bosh and which path the Heat want to pursue.
Bosh’s presence on the roster would make Channing Frye redundant, but Frye’s perimeter shooting would be a nice replacement if the Heat have to face life without the videobomber that also knocks down threes with great proficiency.
Frye has long been one of the best shooting big men in the game, connecting on a pretty ridiculous 38.5 percent of his treys.
On the other hand, the Heat could opt to try to get tougher inside by signing DeJuan Blair. He brings nothing in the way of rim protection, but he isn’t afraid to bang down low and cleans up on the glass.
The lack of defensive skills by both players means they would be best suited to bench roles, but they would be valuable rotation pieces and give the Heat some frontcourt depth that they sorely lack at the moment.
Center: Jordan Hill
Jordan Hill bears a resemblance to Chris Andersen on the court, but it wouldn’t hurt the Heat to bring in more big bodies to spare LeBron the punishment of playing extended minutes at the 4.
Hill is a very good athlete who offers rim protection, rebounding and finishing around the rim. The pairing of Andersen and Hill could be very effective with the energetic duo swatting shots at the rim and fueling the Heat’s transition game.
It would be nice to add some offensive firepower at the position (think someone like Spencer Hawes, also a free agent), but it’s more important to add a defensive presence to shore up the back line.
The Heat aren't going to sign all of these players, but they should be targeting some of them depending on what happens with their Big Three this summer. Change usually follows an extended run of success like Miami has experienced, and these are some of the pieces that can keep the Heat in title contention while rebuilding on the fly.
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