UPDATE: (8/27, 1:40 pm PST) Miami has agreed to terms with shooting guard Shannon Brown on a deal for one year worth $1.3 million, according to Sam Amick of USA Today. Brown should help provide a little more athleticism off the bench and insurance for Dwyane Wade.
The Miami Heat are not in recovery mode, not in a rebuilding period. Based on the decisions made after LeBron James bolted for the Cleveland Cavaliers, it's clear that the Heat have designs on contending even without James in the lineup.
While most of the pressure in that regard will fall in the laps of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng, who must lead the team and pick up their individual production, the Heat's potential Achilles' heel may not be all that different from last year's team.
Essentially, because replacing LeBron was such a massive undertaking, the Heat still failed to add the kind of depth that could make them less prone to falling apart after injuries or losing leads when their stars need rest.
The starting lineup, when healthy, is still one of the best in the league. The perception of Wade's deterioration has gone way too far, as he's still a very productive player when he's on the floor. The knees and health are rightly the main concerns, but he's still able to do a good portion of what makes him a great player.
The issue is that the options behind Wade, and many of the other Heat players, are less than ideal.
For what it's worth, though, team president Pat Riley doesn't feel the same way. Here's what he told Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel:
I feel very good about where we are right now, at this moment, with the 12 guys under contract. Unlike a lot of the prognosticators...I feel with all the conversations I’ve had with these players, that we’re going to be up to the challenge. ...
When it comes to Dwyane, we’re just going to see where we are with him. And we think with what he’s done this summer, there’s the possibility of Dwyane can return to where he was before he ceded a good part of his game to LeBron, and the same thing with Chris.
Let's assume that Wade misses at least 15 games. That's probably an optimistic prediction considering he missed 28 games last year and 13 the season before, but we'll go with it. Behind Wade are a group of point guards in Shabazz Napier, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, with Reggie Williams and James Ennis being the only real shooting guard options.
That's a problem, even if Ennis has flashed potential in summer league and overseas. Williams hasn't been a productive NBA player in years, and none of Miami's point guards have the size or skill set to come anywhere close to replicating Wade's production on either end of the floor.
It's not just Wade, though. Backing up Josh McRoberts, a player who has had major durability issues over the course of his career, is Udonis Haslem, who looks completely drained.
The same can be said for Luol Deng's backup, Danny Granger, who looks like a fraction of himself these days. Miami has big "names" off the bench, but they're blocking the path to playing time or holding roster spots that young, athletic players should occupy.
Here's Winderman weighing in on playing the young guys on Miami's roster:
Honestly, I'm not sure this is the time to do it. I think this season will be about (has to be about?) showing they can withstand the loss of LeBron James and remain competitive. It basically is what Micky Arison said in his letter to fans, and what Pat Riley said in his video to fans. Both said this would not be a time for rebuilding ("retooling" is as far as Riley would go).
So I think you might sees drips and drabs of younger players, but I think the core this season will be the starting lineup of Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts, Luol Deng, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, with Chris Andersen, Danny Granger and Norris Cole currently setting up as the first three off the bench.
The question from there is whether the next set of minutes goes to Udonis Haslem and Reggie Williams/Shawne Williams, or whether those minutes go to the likes of Ennis, Napier, Justin Hamilton or Tyler Johnson. What we're really talking about is whether minutes can be carved out for a young player as ninth or 10th man.
What's important to remember, though, is that Miami isn't the only team with depth issues. Just about every team has their question marks, and if you're going to have concerns, it's best that it's with the back end of the rotation.
It just seems like even though the Heat spent more money this free-agency period than any other team, there are still too many holes throughout the roster.
The good news is that Miami shouldn't have a hard time bringing in players who are waived or bought out during the course of the season. South Beach will always have a massive pull with prospective players, and Miami will still be a playoff team barring major injuries this season.
As of right now, the Heat only have minimum contracts to play with, which limits their ability to plug holes. With 12 players on guaranteed contracts, there probably isn't much of a rush to add much anyway. Players like Granger, Haslem and Reggie Williams will just have to do.
Will they be enough to keep the Heat afloat in the playoff picture?
If Miami was in the Western Conference (for some asinine geographical reason), the answer would probably be no.
But luckily for Miami, they're in the Eastern Conference. The Indiana Pacers may not be good enough to make the playoffs after losing Paul George and Lance Stephenson. The Brooklyn Nets lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston and saw their core players get older.
While you need to make room for the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year's race, there aren't any other non-playoff teams last year who are really jumping off the page this season. Who is going to knock Miami out of contention?
Here's Sam Richmond of Bleacher Report:
Forty-eight wins is all it took the Raptors to earn a No. 3 seed in these past playoffs, and that could again be all it takes in 2015.
Miami absolutely can make a push for that spot if Wade and Bosh have the type of seasons we're projecting for them here.
The Heat are obviously going to be a worse team in 2014-15, but that shouldn't stop them from making noise in a subpar conference.
Losing LeBron is obviously the big takeaway from this offseason, and the lack of depth and durability of this roster could rear its ugly head throughout the season.
Still, so long as they have fairly favorable injury luck with their starters, the Heat have more than enough to survive in the Eastern Conference and once again make a return to the postseason.
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