Is the Miami Heat Era Reaching Its End or Just Getting Started?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 14: ***Shot in Black and White*** LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat speaks to the media during practice and media availability as part of the 2014 NBA Finals on June 14, 2014 at the Spurs Practice Facility in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Hard as it may be, forget about the 2014 NBA Finals for a moment.

It's never been about just one run for the Miami Heat. It's been about constructing a dynasty, and a long-lasting one at that. Consider this installment a status report on said construction. Is the Miami Heat's experiment in superstar amalgamation running its course, or is this just the beginning of something beautiful?

At the moment, a resolute answer to that question requires information that no one is privy to just yet. Until we know with any certainty whether the Big Three will be back, projections for the future require some degree of speculation.

For the purposes of conjecture, however, let's assume they will be.

That seems to be the safe bet, anyway. It's hard to see LeBron James and Co. giving up on this team as things currently stand. Chemistry has been developed. A first-rate coach is in place. And after four straight trips to the NBA Finals, the empirical record has plenty of good things to say about how things have worked out.

Abandoning the Heat would be a risky move for any of the Big Three. Even if comparable star power awaited elsewhere, there's no guarantee everyone would mesh. There are never those kind of guarantees in this business, so when something works, it usually reasons to stick with it.

The assumption that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh remain together doesn't in and of itself mean the Heat will remain successful—or at least as successful as they have been.

That will require some additional pieces to fall into place.

If they do, this dynastic project will continue on relatively unabated, at least in the near-term.

The big long-term question is Wade's health and vitality. For the most part, he's been reliable throughout the postseason. The 32-year-old was especially solid against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. He averaged 19.8 points during the series and managed to get his offense from all over the floor, looking spry and well-oiled in the process.

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 12: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat goes to the basket against Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the 2014 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 12, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Pool/Getty Images

Predicting whether he can keep that up is a tricky venture. There's ultimately no telling how his long-troubled knees will hold up. 

It's not so much a question of age as it is one of health. Wade isn't old, but his injury history mars an otherwise sterling career. And it raises doubts about his future as well. 

If Miami's future is in jeopardy, it's principally because Wade remains an injury risk. He's learned to succeed with less reckless play, but that's precious little promise of an injury-free career trajectory. If Wade goes down—or is even hampered—the Heat cease to be a contender in any meaningful sense.

But while we're making optimistic assumptions (like the Big Three sticking together in the first place), let's further presume that Wade continues to be effective for another three to four years. With a little luck, that's not especially unrealistic.

Bosh (age 30) should remain steady. His body doesn't take much of a pounding on account of his move to the perimeter, so there's no reason he should slow down any time soon. If anything, expect him to become an even more consistent threat from three-point range.

Do we even need to talk about James' longevity? His athleticism will begin to wane ever so slightly at some unknown point, but this is a one-of-a-kind physical specimen. James also has an incredibly diversified all-around game that will prolong his effectiveness even when he loses a step—if he ever loses a step.

James should be a force with which to contend until he's 40. The only thing governing how long he plays is his interest in playing. His body won't be stopping him anytime soon.

So far, so good.

The Big Three shall remain pretty big for the next several years. Count Wade's status as a potential caveat, but don't be at all surprised if these guys remain plenty effective for a long time to come.

The bigger unknown is everyone else. Some change on this roster is inevitable. Even if a stud like Carmelo Anthony never comes around, Miami will need to import some talent around the margins at the very least.

Ray Allen and Shane Battier's days are numbered, and retirement may be in their very near future. Battier intimated that the chances of him retiring this summer are very high, and Allen recently suggested the decision would depend on where his body's at. Though that body seems to be fine at the moment, it's hard to imagine the soon-to-be 39-year-old playing more than another season.

Udonis Haslem is only 34, but he's virtually worked himself out of the rotation and probably won't be around much longer, either. He has a player-option to remain with the Heat for another season, but a replacement may already be in order. Haslem averaged just 14.2 minutes per contest this season, and that playing time receded even further during the playoffs.

Mario Chalmers and Rashard Lewis will both be free agents this summer. Though it's easy to imagine Lewis returning for at least another run, Chalmers' status may depend on his asking price.

The more sparingly used Michael Beasley and Greg Oden will also be free agents, and there's no telling whether the organization will continue to pursue what amounts to a couple of reclamation projects.

In short, then, Miami's supporting cast is due to undergo substantial overhaul—beginning this summer. The extent to which new faces are required depends on retirements and free-agency decisions, but there's little doubt that new blood is needed one way or another.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 18:  Shane Battier #31 and Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat gets ready before Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers on May 18, 2014 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN.  NOTE TO USER: User ex
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

That hardly means Miami is doomed, even if its financial flexibility is somewhere on par with Oden's knees.

Miami is a preferred destination among veteran ring-chasers of the world. If Chalmers bolts, there's always a good chance someone like Andre Miller or Kirk Hinrich will show up ready to take over. 

Need a tweener to fortify that front line? How about 36-year-old Shawn Marion. 

And while a shooter of Ray Allen's caliber won't come along every summer, there will be any number of decent enough replacements. 

Aging vets will always be there for the taking. The downside is that Miami will forever be a pretty old team. The upside is many of the veterans signing up will have one thing on their minds: winning a title.

So while the faces will change a little bit, the fundamental makeup of this team could remain virtually the same for quite some time. That may not excite Heat fans looking for another premier addition, and it may not reassure fans who fear the end is nigh.

But in reality, it should be good enough. So long as the Big Three are around, the rest don't have to be great.


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