LeBron James, Miami Heat Need Role Players, Not Another Superstar

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LeBron James, Miami Heat Need Role Players, Not Another Superstar
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Entering the 2014 NBA offseason, the Miami Heat find themselves in unfamiliar territory, facing a series of questions that, for the first time since 2010, cannot be answered with one flashy player.

LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were enough in 2010, and have remained enough up until now. Household names in the twilight of their careers have been sprinkled in since then—from Shane Battier to Ray Allen to Rashard Lewis—but for the most part, it's been the Big Three's show. 

This summer, after falling in five games to the San Antonio Spurs, that must change. They need to undergo the closest thing to a cosmetic overhaul there is.

In 2010, that meant scouring free-agency ranks for superstars. This time around, it means probing the pool of available talent for superstar support—not superstars themselves.

 

Another Superstar? Really?

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Shirking the opportunity and desire to acquire another All-Star implies two points: that there is merit to having too much of a good thing, and that the Heat have a chance to land one. 

The first issue is simple. Why shouldn't the Heat sign another superstar?

Because they already have three. 

Bosh, James and Wade can all become free agents if they opt out of their contracts. There's no telling if any of them will actually reach free agency, though. They can each opt into the next year of their deals, thereby delaying any decision another year.

Even if they do reach free agency, chances of them breaking up the band are slim. Wade has spent his entire career in Miami. He's not going anywhere. Bosh has also declared his intent to stay on numerous occasions.

"Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to go anywhere," Bosh said during an appearance on ESPN Radio's The Dan Le Batard Show, via Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post. "I like it here. It’s Miami. Everybody wants to come here."

King James would seem like the biggest flight risk at this point, if only because he has skirted inquiries related to his future for most of this year. Yet leaving would entail him forfeiting the opportunity to win a third title in the last five years. 

Opportunities like that don't come around often. Leaving will force him to start over. Staying with the Heat, even if he elects to hit the open market next summer, gives him a shot at successfully forging a dynasty.

That brings us here. Assuming the Big Three remain intact, can and will the Heat make a play for another superstar?

According to Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, yes they can. And yes they will:

The Miami Heat's immediate focus remains overcoming a 2-1 NBA Finals deficit to the San Antonio Spurs, but discussions have begun within the organization about trying to grow their so-called Big Three into a Big Four, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that Heat officials and the team's leading players have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony this summer in free agency.

Play this game with me for a minute.

Say Carmelo Anthony, James, Wade and Bosh are all prepared to accept unprecedented pay cuts—an unlikely occurrence in itself, considering all players must sign contracts that pay them under $15 million in the first year (though it must be noted Miami has no income tax). What then?

The Heat must decide whether or not they should even chase that fourth star. Which—spoiler alert—they shouldn't.

Pairing Anthony with James, Bosh and Wade sounds good in theory. It might even work wonders. But would this postseason have unfolded any differently with him?

No matter when, no matter how their season ended, the Heat always needed to make changes. Wade's regular-season maintenance program is an unavoidable hindrance, and beating the Spurs wouldn't have erased the difficulty with which their championship came.

Adding Anthony—or any other star—won't help that much

Depth has been their biggest problem to date. Creating a Big Four accentuates that flaw. Most, if not all, of their salary cap would be devoted to four players. Just chasing Melo could mean finding new homes for Norris Cole (guaranteed contract in 2014-15) and Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem (player options). 

On top of that, Mario Chalmers, Allen and Lewis are all free agents. So are James Jones, Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. Shane Battier is also barreling toward retirement. 

Whatever supporting cast they scrape together from there would be inferior to the one they have now. At best, it would duplicate the depth of their current rotation, which isn't good enough.

There's truth to the notion that Melo would strengthen their offensive attack. He's shown he can thrive playing off the ball as a spot-up shooter in the Olympics and All-Star games. He also drilled 44.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers this past season with the New York Knicks, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).

But offense isn't their problem. The Heat have never finished lower than sixth in offensive efficiency since the Big Three joined forces. With Wade missing 28 games this year, they still finished in a tie for the second-most potent offense.

Defense has been their biggest issue. Especially in the Finals.

Miami's Two-Way Attack
Off. Eff. Rank Def. Eff. Rank
2010-11 3 5
2011-12 6 4
2012-13 1 7
2013-14 2 11

NBA.com.

This is the first time during the Big Three era Miami failed to finish in the top seven of defensive efficiency during the regular season. Snagging 11th place is nothing to gripe about, but it doesn't make them elite. And you need an elite defense to win championships.

Not since the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers has an NBA team won a title while ranking outside the top 10 of defensive efficiency. Although the Heat were right there, we saw the dangers of their imbalanced attack cost them their three-peat.

Against the Spurs, they allowed 118.5 points per 100 possessions, almost 10 points higher than the worst defensive team during the regular season (Utah Jazz, 109.1).

Prying Melo out of New York wouldn't have helped. He's not known for playing consistent defense, so he stands to hurt, leaving the Heat with an even shorter rotation and weaker line of prevention.

That certainly doesn't make any sense.

 

Learning from Defeat

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Chasing another star implies the Heat haven't learned anything from the Spurs.

Never mind that landing Anthony is a long shot and likely a waste of time. The Spurs upended the Heat playing team basketball. Their stars, old as they are, didn't accept modest pay cuts to play with "equals." They're surrounded by complementary role players, not minimum-salary-paid fillers.

And look what happened. 

Look what they are capable of doing, as Bleacher Report's Howard Beck described following their Game 4 romping of Miami: 

The Spurs are built around a 38-year-old forward, a 36-year-old shooting guard and a still-spry, but undazzling 32-year-old point guard. There is no dominant scorer on this roster—no Kevin Durant, no LeBron James, no Carmelo Anthony—though Leonard might one day get there.

They pass to survive, to keep the elite defenses off balance, to create the open shots that otherwise wouldn't be there. They dutifully adhere to Popovich's mantra: to pass up good shots for great ones. And they do it better than anyone.

Systematic design is part of it. What coach Gregg Popovich preaches and implements is pure, unadulterated gold. The Spurs are selfless and smart on the hardwood, and they have built an off-court culture that personifies the same. 

But that's because they can. Not every role player on the Spurs followed a rags-to-riches path. Their supporting cast is the product of meticulous scouting, savvy drafting and brilliant free-agent signings. 

If the Big Three are willing to accept less money, team president Pat Riley should aim to mimic that same blueprint. 

Bill Baptist/Getty Images
To think bigger, Miami must think smaller in free agency and elect to chase role players like Carter and Marion, among others.

Bring back Allen and Lewis, two valuable shooters who catch fire on short notice. Keep Andersen and Haslem, and the interior energy they bring.

Then, instead of pursuing Anthony or another star, go after glue guys with dissimilar egos. Sign players who are accustomed to playing off the ball and not being alpha dogs. 

Trevor Ariza, Kris Humphries, Shaun Livingston, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Spencer Hawes spring to mind. The very Spurs Boris Diaw can hit free agency, too. Those are the types of players they need, the kinds of free agents who are more realistic targets.

Financial sacrifices would be involved for everyone, right down to the Big Three, depending on how aggressive Riley wishes to be this summer. But that's not any different from what has to happen if they go after Anthony. 

It's just a different, more sensible way of using their self-foisted means to improve.

 

Depth Over Superstars

Wedging open the Heat's title window isn't hard. As currently constructed, it's not even closed—it's just not wide open.

Acquiring Anthony—who, let's be honest, is really the only superstar free agent available this summer (my apologies, Luol Deng)—doesn't give the Heat more wiggle room. The same can be said of any NBA dignitary.

Margins for error are slimmer, because while the Heat would have four big names, their shallow supporting cast suddenly toes the line of depthless.

There's no reason Miami's bench should rank in the bottom 10 of scoring. Or that the Heat should have only three players averaging in double figures. They can have more.

They should have more.

What must the Heat do this summer, assuming they create more financial flexibility?

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When Wade Watch demands he miss 20-plus games every season, they must have more.

"We were fortunate that they came, but we also planned for it," Riley said of life after 2010, per ESPN.com's Michael Wallace. "There have been some deals that we've made that haven't worked, but they haven't really been deals that really cost us a lot or hurt us."

Choosing stars over depth again would hurt them this time.

Nearly four years removed from their 2010 free-agency coup d'etat, the Heat don't need superstars. They have them. Plenty of them. 

Running down another one gives them more of what they already have—ostentatious names, a glittery starting five and a championship-level team that has the potential to be so much deeper and, therefore, so much better.

 

*Stats courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted.  

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