The NBA playoffs are well under way, with only one series remaining before we see the final four competitors. With the Miami Heat long gone after a 4-1 first round defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics, the mindset has shifted to the approaching 2010 free agency bonanza.
While the American Airlines Arena locker rooms are lifeless and Heat players are watching the playoffs from home, the Miami front office is furiously preparing for July 1st, when the free agency period begins. And although this is the proper time to start planning for the offseason, Pat Riley and Co. have been eyeing this moment since the Heat's season opener against New York.
The wait for the offseason and the future of superstar Dwyane Wade dominated the 2009-2010 Miami Heat season and gave this year a rather meaningless feel to it. Although the upcoming offseason is primed to be the most influential offseason in franchise history, the '09-'10 season still had many memorable moments and was somewhat successful.
Miami notched their seventh best record in franchise history with a respectable 47-35 finish, attaining the Eastern Conference's 5th seed and reaching the postseason for the sixth time in the last seven years.
The Heat faced a more experienced and much deeper Boston Celtics squad in the first round, loosing to the 2008 champions in five games in a rather lopsided series. Wade put on one of the most amazing performances in Miami Heat playoff history with his Game 4 outing. He willed his team to victory with a 46-point effort, 30 of those points coming in the second half (both Miami Heat playoff records).
With his team down 0-3 and facing elimination, Wade told his teammates “I ain’t going out like this.” He single handedly carried the Heat, taking over the game in the second half, nailing five-of-six three-pointers and outscoring the Celtics on his own in the fourth quarter.
It was a truly astonishing performance that showed his heart and the determination of a warrior. Although Miami lost the series, Wade’s Game 4 presentation will go down in the Heat record books.
Despite the early playoff exit, Miami had a really good season considering their lack of depth and head coach Erik Spoelstra did an excellent job maximizing the talent on the roster.
Miami started the season on a tear, jumping out of the gates with a 7-2 record. However, the next few months would be marked by inconsistency and frustration.
Miami had a unique start to their schedule, with 18 of their first 30 games at home and nine of their 16 games coming against non-playoff teams. Unfortunately, they failed to capitalize on the easy schedule, going 16-14 after two months of basketball.
The inconsistency carried over to the new year with an 8-9 record in January that saw the start of a five-game loosing streak and Miami plummet in the East playoff race. The Heat dipped under .500 and was in danger of missing the playoffs in early February.
But, as was the story of the season, the inconsistency continued and the team bounced back with five straight victories, including a blowout win over the Atlanta Hawks right before the All-Star Break.
Dwyane Wade represented Miami in the East with his sixth All-Star appearance as the starting shooting guard. And Wade sure did deliver by putting on one of his finest displays, posting 28 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, and five steals, en route to guiding the East to the victory and being named the All-Star Game MVP.
Heat youngsters Michael Beasley and Daequan Cook also represented Miami on All-Star Weekend. Cook appeared in the three-point shootout to defend his crown, but he failed to make it past the first round as Paul Pierce took the title. Beasley played in the rookie-sophomore game, turning in a strong performance with 26 points and seven rebounds.
Miami finished the month of February with a mediocre record and were barely clinging to the eighth and final spot in the East.
After all the inconsistency that the Heat endured in the first four months of the season, a breakthrough finally occurred in March. Miami took advantage of a weaker schedule and a tuned defense to steamroll through the month, going 12-3 in the March and climbing all the way back up the standings to recapture the fifth seed. They also had impressive wins over the Lakers and Hawks.
Overall, Miami finished the season as the hottest team in the NBA, winning 18 of their final 22 contests, including 10 of their final 13 home games and enjoyed their longest winning streak in over two years at nine consecutive games.
Over the season's final couple of months, the team began to utilize their stellar defense and realized that their defense-first mindset was what won them ball games. It was certainly a major accomplishment of the season and something the team can be proud of.
The Heat finished as one of the league's best defensive teams. They limited opponents to 94.2 points per game, which ranked second best in the NBA. They also limited opponents to a 43.9 shooting percentage from the field, which was tied for best in the league. They also boasted one of the best perimeter defenses, only allowing 34.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc, good enough for fifth best in the NBA.
The Miami defense was truly remarkable and a major part of their success this season. Coach Spoelstra preached his defensive mentality that was instilled from his predecessor Pat Riley and made the Heat one of the fiercest defensive teams in the NBA.
Other story lines of the Heat season were the struggles of former second overall pick Michael Beasley, the semi reemergence of center Jermaine O'Neal, the point guard battle, and the success of Udonis Haslem in a reserve role.
Beasley was the brunt of a lot of criticism this season as he was torn apart for not maturing into his full potential. The second year forward still looked out of place and suffered through a painful year of inconsistency as he struggled to find his identity in his first full year as a starter.
Beasley slightly increased his numbers from his rookie season, averaging 14.8 points and 6.4 boards per game in 29 minutes a contest. The Kansas State product was often found on the bench in the fourth quarter and during decisive late game plays. The coaching staff and Heat fans are frustrated with his lack of development and basketball IQ.
Although Beasley isn't maturing as fast as fellow draft class mates Derek Rose and Russell Westbrook, he still had a solid year. At times, Beasley looked brilliant and showed flashes of the dominance he had in college.
He looked impressive when he would drive to the basket, showcasing an outstanding athletic ability with his mid-air maneuvers and he also portrayed a decent jump shot. He was able to draw fouls when he was aggressive and was a good rebounder. He also improved on defense this season, coming up with key steals and blocks in several games.
He hustled a lot more on defense and showed a better ability to guard bigger opponents this year.
But, as much as Beasley had his benefits, he had his downfalls. He looked confused in the fourth quarter and often settled for jump shots, a product of being timid to go to the rim. He also lacked confidence, which affected his game immensely this season.
Hopefully, Beasley will make the necessary changes in the offseason that will make him more attractive to be a part in the Heat's future and look like the player that made him a second overall pick. Otherwise, Beas might be used as trade bait in order to make more cap room.
Fellow frontcourt partner Jermaine O'Neal also had an inconsistent year, but made major improvements from the previous year when he was derailed by injuries. The former All-Star averaged 13.6 points, seven boards, and 1.4 blocks in 70 games this season. He also posted a career-high 52.9 percent field goal percentage.
O'Neal was a solid center for Miami, but his age and injuries have clearly caught up with him. He was reliable at times, but will probably be remembered for his atrocious performance in this year's playoffs. He shot 16 percent in five games against Boston and was pretty much a no-show for the entire series. With O'Neal's contract expired, he is not expected to be resigned by Miami.
Another headline of this season was the constant point guard battle that Miami had. Mario Chalmers began the season as the team's starter after a successful rookie campaign, in which he started all 82 games at the position. However, he quickly lost his title after inconsistent play and poor defense.
Carlos Arroyo took the reigns for the next part of the season, but didn't meet expectations and was on the verge of being released before his contract became guaranteed. Miami responded by signing former Heat guard Rafer Alston and hoped he would be the answer for a playoff run.
Alston was very unsuccessful in his second stint with the team, eventually being indefinitely suspended after conduct that was detrimental to the team.
Arroyo regained his starting position and finished the season as the team's unquestioned starting point guard. He had a much better second half of the season and was a key part of the run the Heat had in March.
The other major story of the season was the demotion of Udonis Haslem to the bench. He was asked to move to a reserve role after holding Miami's starting power forward position for the last six years and the length of his career.
Haslem took the demotion with pride and thrived in a reserve role. He fueled the second unit and turned in numerous double-doubles, while continuing to be a pillar of the Heat's defense and an emotional leader. He maintained the same hustle that always made him successful and averaged 10 points, eight boards, and shot almost 50 percent from the field.
Haslem is a free agent and will be one of Miami's top priorities in the offseason. He is one of the Heat's co-captains and should be resigned.
Now that the season is over, the Heat are surrounded by question marks. They only have two players under contract next season-Beasley and Cook-and have plenty of holes to fill. They also face the biggest fear in franchise history with the possibility of Wade departing. Miami's face of the franchise and the success of the team's future hinges on Wade decision.
Once he reveals his future, the Heat can begin to make their offseason moves and build a contender around Wade. Miami possesses the second most salary cap space in the NBA and has the potential to sign two All-Star players to surround Wade.
Wade will be one of the highest pursued free agents after another exceptional season. Flash averaged 26.6 PPG, fifth best in the league, to go along with 6.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. His supremacy landed him All-NBA First Team honors as well as All-Defensive Second Team. He had multiple 30-point performances and a variety of highlight reel plays.
If Wade did play his last season in a Heat uniform, he gave us quite a spectacular finale. From his posterizing dunk over Anderson Varejoe to his game-winners to his 46-point effort against Boston to save Miami’s season, he did it all. Wade has hinted he will stay with the only franchise he’s known as long as they can build a contender. He has repeated that his heart is in Miami and that his only stipulation is being in a situation where he can compete for rings.
Until the July 1st free agency madness commences, the Heat will just have to anxiously wait to see what the future holds for the franchise. Hopefully, Wade resigns and Miami becomes title contenders for years to come.