The roster that the 2014-15 Miami Heat will try to win a fifth straight Eastern Conference championship with is coming into focus. And while it’s not a disaster by any stretch, if the Heat intend to make the second part of the previous sentence look anything north of ridiculous, Pat Riley and company have their work cut out for them.
So far, they’ve gotten off to a fair start. Most of the roster building the Heat have done this summer has centered around convincing incumbents to stick around. While the results have been, um, mixed, on this front, Miami has enjoyed some successes.
Dwyane Wade is back, agreeing to terms on a two-year deal with the only franchise he’s ever known, the second year of which is a player option, multiple outlets are reporting. Chris Bosh is likewise is returning to South Beach, on a richer five-year, $118-million contract.
Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers, both key cogs, are also sticking around, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, among others. Norris Cole, the only member of the 2013-14 squad who entered the summer under contract, will of course be back too.
The Heat have also made some prudent, but probably insufficiently splashy additions. They brought aboard Josh McRoberts—who had a career season in 2013-14—as well as Danny Granger and Luol Deng, who did not.
At the moment, the Miami starting five probably looks something like this:
PG: Chalmers (With a healthy dose of rookie Shabazz Napier)
This is an interesting lineup, but one with some clear and problematic limitations—even in what will, again, be an inferior conference. Fortunately, there are some solutions on the free agent market the Heat could pursue.
The first issue is spacing. With Wade and Deng playing alongside one another at the 2 and the 3, Miami will have a hard time getting not just the caliber of looks it enjoyed during the LeBron James era, but it might even struggle to score above the league-average rate. Neither Wade nor Deng is a credible three-point shooter—Deng shot 30.2 percent from three last season, Wade just 28.1—which will allow defenders to sag on the pair, congesting lanes.
While this problem is offset in part by the presence of Bosh and McRoberts—who shot 34 and 36 percent, respectively, from three-point land a year ago, both tremendous figures for big people—it’s not mitigated entirely. Miami could still use a shooter.
One player who fits the bill here is Ray Allen. Allen seems a long shot to re-sign with the Heat—he’s received entreaties from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets, according to multiple reports (and according to Yahoo’s Marc Spears is mulling retirement)—but would be a useful contributor if he did.
Allen slipped some last season, posting a career low 4.1 win shares, according to Basketball-Reference, but the soon-to-be 39-year-old guard is still one of the league’s best sharpshooters. Even in a down 2013-14, Allen hit 37.5 percent of his triples for Miami.
Aaron Brooks is another who could help address this deficiency. Brooks averaged nine points in 21.6 minutes per game during 2013-14 while splitting the season between the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets. While Brooks isn’t an explosive player and, at 29, doesn’t figure to have much room to improve, he shot 38.7 percent from three last season.
A second issue Miami needs to address is defense. The Heat D was springing leaks last season—it finished 11th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, per ESPN, its lowest ranking of the LeBron era—and this was before its stingiest defender decamped for Cleveland.
The organization has already done this, to an extent, by adding Deng, but he’s probably not enough to keep Miami from slipping a notch or two further if it doesn’t upgrade elsewhere. Grantland’s Zach Lowe, surveying the wreckage after LeBron departed, recommended Miami try to land a sturdy center to solidify the D:
They could also try to find a traditional center, an element they never really nailed down with LeBron around. Miami made up for its lack of size by playing a frenzied trapping defense, but they began toning it down last season, and they may undergo a complete overhaul into a more conservative defense now that James is gone. Having a rim protector on the back line would be nice.
It would be. But it’s not clear where this player is. The free agent pickings at the position are disconcertingly slim. If Miami wants to land an anchor, its best bet is probably rolling the dice on damaged goods like Greg Oden—again—or, if they really want to tempt fate, Andrew Bynum. Yeesh.
The smartest move for Miami, if Pat Riley is intent on improving the defense, is probably to identify a non-big. Someone who can lead, be in the right place at the right time, and play consistently smart, effortful basketball. Somebody exactly like Shawn Marion.
The Matrix is 36 and is coming off what was probably the worst season of his career, but he can still bring it defensively, rebounds well for his position and shot 35.8 percent from three in 2013-14. He also led a good Dallas Mavericks team in wins produced, according to Boxscore Geeks. He would help.
That said, when the offseason answer is a fading star on the wrong side of 30, that generally means a team is in a bit of trouble.
“I have confidence in the Miami Heat organization and the team they are building,” Dwyane Wade wrote in a statement released after he re-upped with the Heat. Maybe he knows something we don’t.