The Miami Heat were too old last season.
It’s why they won 12 fewer games than they did in the previous campaign, outscored their opponents by three fewer points per contest and absolutely imploded defensively during their 4-1 series loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. They weren’t just old, they were the oldest team in the NBA. And they often looked it.
So pundits and fans would be forgiven for considering all this and concluding that—next to retaining LeBron James and his two amigos this offseason—the real thing the Heat have to do is get younger. They would be wrong, but we’d forgive them anyway.
Here’s the thing. The best players on the free-agent market this offseason—the players who are the best fit in Miami from the standpoints of both need and scheme—are relative geezers.
One player who springs to mind is Shawn Marion. The Matrix didn’t have his best season in 2013-14, but he was plenty good enough. At 36, Marion logged 31.7 minutes a night for a feisty Dallas Mavericks team. He played his typically excellent defense and, according to Boxscore Geeks, paced the Mavs in wins produced.
Vince Carter, Marion’s teammate in Dallas, is another interesting elderly option at 37. Carter shot 40.6 and 39.4 percent from three-point range in his last two seasons in Dallas—a necessity in Miami’s space-contingent offense—and according to Basketball-Reference.com, he posted above-average marks in both win shares and player efficiency rating. The late 30s have been good to Carter, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe detailed in December 2012:
Carter reinvented himself in Dallas as a solid two-way player willing to work on both ends of the floor and fill whatever role the Mavericks asked of him on offense. ... The praise out of Dallas is unanimous, to the point that it doesn’t seem possible the Mavs are talking about the same Vince Carter — the malingerer who exaggerates injuries, loafs on defense, and pouted his way out of Toronto, devastating a franchise and costing several higher-ups their jobs.
“I can’t say anything but great things about [Carter],” Mavs owner Mark Cuban told Lowe. “He brings it every night. He will take on any role coach asks of him. He is even taking a charge now and then.”
Both Carter and Marion would be tremendous fits in South Beach, and according to Sean Deveney of the Sporting News, the Heat are considering just such a pairing:
Another pair of graybeards is also on the Heat list: Shawn Marion of the Mavericks and teammate Vince Carter. Both players have expressed interest in the team, and the feeling is said to be mutual.
There’s a risk, of course, in building around older players. It’s a risk the Heat chanced and were burned by last season. They—old players, that is—can and often do get really bad really quickly. By measure of both win shares and wins produced, the average NBA player peaks in his mid-20s, declines as he approaches 30 and then falls off the proverbial cliff after his 32 birthday.
As Miami learned the hard way this past season with Shane Battier, this tumble can come with dizzying speed.
Ernest Hemingway once described bankruptcy as coming slowly at first, then all of a sudden. He may as well have been writing about the conclusion of NBA playing careers.
That said, The Heat didn’t lose this spring because they were too old. They lost because their old guys weren’t good anymore. The solution is to get better ones.