The Miami Heat took a step back this season.
This fact was most obviously on display during their historic thrashing at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs this June; when, according to ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton (subscription required), Miami’s once dominant D allowed the highest offensive rating in NBA Finals history, dating back to 1978. But Miami’s struggles were by no means limited to the championship road.
The Heat won 12 fewer games in 2013-14 than the season that preceded it. (Granted, the tumble came from a regular season that was bested by only 10 teams in NBA history.) Miami’s point differential, likewise, fell, from 7.9 to 4.8.
There’s plenty of blame to go around here. And the stars, surprisingly, aren’t exempt. Miami’s Big Three produced, according to Basketball-Reference.com, 29.4 win shares between them in 2013-14 after combining for 37.9 the season before.
But it’s clear that the nub of Miami’s problem was its bench. The Heat’s heralded supporting cast got very old, very fast. And if the franchise hopes to make a fifth consecutive Finals appearance this coming season—to say nothing of actually winning once it's there—Miami must make significant upgrades across the board in this area.
Fortunately, for South Beach denizens, it’s in a wonderful position to do just this. The Heat have an NBA-high 13 potential unrestricted free agents this summer.
Only Norris Cole is definitely under contract in 2014-15. And with LeBron and his two amigos, to all appearances, poised to return to Miami at a collective discount, the Heat should have the requisite shekels to return the rotation to something resembling the formidable units of seasons past. The salary cap is expected to be set at $63.2 million, with a $77 million luxury tax threshold according to USA Today's Sam Amick, and the Heat have just $1.4 million on the books before they (presumably) come to terms with James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Now, these aren’t the big ticket items we’re focusing on here—the Kyle Lowrys, Marcin Gortats or even the Trevor Arizas the Heat are said by Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski to (rightly) covet—but the smaller pieces. The sixth, seventh, even eighth and ninth men who fill out the bench and, surprisingly often, make an enormous difference come playoff time.