The Miami Heat pulled off a stunning coup by uniting LeBron James and Chris Bosh with Dwyane Wade. There are countless angles to the story that are being explored, but the one I'm focused on is whether the Heat will be able to contend for a title in year one.
The Heat will have many challenges, from whether coach Erik Spoelstra can handle three big egos, to who will take the last shot in games, and whether there are enough touches to satisfy all three players.
But these are problems any team would love to have. The challenge that will immediate concern the Heat is getting a full rotation together.
After trading away Michael Beasley to Minnesota, the Heat currently have one player under contract, Mario Chalmers. The Heat also have a qualifying offer for big man Joel Anthony, as well as three second round draftees, Dexter Pittman, Jarvis Varnado, and Da'Sean Butler.
But the Heat don't want to depend on second round rookies to make the rotation. The problem of course is whether they'll have enough cap space to plug their remaining holes.
We still don't know how much of a pay cut James, Wade and Bosh are going to take, and we have to assume that most remaining signings will be at or near the veteran's minimum. So who can the Heat get to fill out their roster for the right price that will fill their needs?
Update: The Heat managed to sign Bosh and James to sign and trade deals, which allows them to give them a 6th year and bigger yearly raises. With this extra money, Bosh and James were willing to sign for a starting salary of $14.5 million.
It appears that Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem will be the primary beneficiaries of this. However, the Heat had to give up four first round draft picks in these two deals. Granted, these picks are likely to be low, but that means the pressure is on to use the money now to put together a quality rotation.
In the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the mid-level exception might be axed, so without future draft picks, the Heat really need to pick the right players now.
The shopping list starts with Mike Miller, who reportedly has accepted a five-year, $30 million contract, though there have been no official announcements yet. This is a great signing as it would be well below his market value and fills several needs for the Heat.
They need three point shooting to space the floor, and Miller is among the league's best, shooting 48 percent from downtown last year and over 40 percent for his career. He's a good passer, a passable defender and is only 30 years old.
He's been criticized for a lack of aggression the past couple years, but on Miami his role will be clear: use his passing skills to help the big three score, and hit wide open threes, of which there will be many.
As bad as the Nets were last year, they were at their best when Dooling was on the court. He's only 30, can defend well, and is a streaky shooter but has three point range. He's more of a combo guard than a point guard, but with Wade and James on this team, a traditional point guard is not really needed.
Dooling would be an ideal role player for the star studded Heat, and they just might be able to get him for a low enough salary. He grew up in Fort Lauderdale, 23 miles north of Miami, so the chance to come home and play for a winner might be enough to overcome the pay cut.
Prior to LeBron's signing, Bell indicated he'd like to sign with the Heat, Mavericks or Magic.
A scrappy defender and good shooter, his advancing years (he'll turn 34 before the season begins) and season ending injury (wrist injuries can certainly throw off shooters) are cause for concern. But it's those concerns that might allow his price to drop within Miami's range.
Bell grew up in Miami and went to college in the city, so like Dooling, their is a chance he might take a hometown discount, especially for a chance to get a ring.
The Mavericks have signed Brendan Haywood to a long term deal. Haywood was unhappy with his time share arrangement with Erick Dampier last year, and so speculation has been that the Mavericks will be willing to move Dampier's $13 million salary.
Since Dampier's salary is not guaranteed, teams acquiring him would likely do so as a salary dump and then cut Dampier before the season begins.
As an older player without a ring who already has made a ton of money, Dampier might be willing to join the star studded Heat, where he'd likely start at center. His game has limitations (he'll pretty much only score on putbacks) but he's a legitimate post defender who will block shots and hit the glass.
The Heat probably won't need him to run circles around people in the regular season, but if they want to get past Dwight Howard and the Magic and the Laker frontline in the playoffs, they'll need a player like Dampier.
The catch is that Dallas is rumored to only want to give up Dampier in exchange for a real piece and doesn't want to take on bad contracts. This could just be negotiation posturing, but if anyone is willing to pay a backup center $13 million for a year, it's Mark Cuban.
Scrappy and cheap, Amundson isn't very skilled or athletic, but he'll run the floor and play hard on D. His rebounding numbers aren't great, but that underestimates his impact on the boards since he fights hard for them and earns plenty of tips to teammates. If the Heat can get him for the minimum, he'd give valuable depth.
With Brian Cook and Matt Bonner signing today, big men who can shoot are in short supply.
Miller and Ilgauskas may be in their mid 30s and lack athleticism, but these guys are legit 7 footers who play smart and can still hit mid range Js.
Neither has won a title and both have made plenty of money in their careers so getting one for the minimum for a chance to win is conceivable.
(Side note: Ilgauskas has never played in the NBA outside Cleveland and holds the team record for most games played, so leaving to team up with James would be another gut punch to the city.)
He won a national title. He had a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. He's a good three point shooter. He's 6'5". He's got a goofy face in the picture I chose. What's not to love?
Ok, obviously teams are concerned about his athleticism, because if they weren't, he would've been drafted. But on a team with James and Wade as the elite perimeter defenders, Scheyer defense could be hidden guarding a non-scorer.
The Heat have invited him to join their summer league team, so if he acquits himself well, don't be surprised to see him land a roster spot. If nothing else, he'd come really cheap.
In all likelihood, the Heat will have to renounce their rights to all their current free agents. That doesn't mean they wouldn't like to have some back if they came for cheap.
Keep them if they could:
Udonis Haslem - He does all the little things, and the Heat would love keep him, especially given the lack of quality big men available. But he'll get paid several times more per year on the open market.
Update: With James and Bosh taking less year one money due to a sign a trade, a Haslem resigning looks increasingly probable. He was born and raised in Miami and has spent his whole career with the Heat, so it's nice for him to stay.
He defends the pick and roll well, is scrappy on the boards and has a decent if inconsistent mid-range jumper. However, the Heat have not fared well when he's been pressed into duty as a center, since he's already undersized as a 4. He's a quality player, but it's now even more important for the Heat to find a real center.
Quentin Richardson - His contract bounced around so much last summer due to how overpaid he was. But to re-sign for the minimum, he'd become very underpaid. He had a surprisingly effective season this year, hitting 40 percent of his three pointers (which represented almost two thirds of his shot attempts). Having more wing depth and quality shooting would be welcome, but I see him leaving for more cash.
Dorell Wright - He's young and athletic, with a still developing game. Last year he added a 3-point shot to his arsenal, hitting 39 percent. Like Haslem and Richardson, it's unlikely they'll be able to keep him.
Maybe for the minimum:
Carlos Arroyo - the Heat handed him the point guard job over struggling Mario Chalmers, and he'd likely be available for the minimum. But the Heat will probably look to upgrade.
So long, don't let the door hit you on the way out:
James Jones - He had only a partially guaranteed deal and the Heat cut him for cap space. They were able to work out his buyout to make it over three years to save even more cap room. So it would be rather strange to see him back.
Rafer Alston - After being suspended for the season by the Heat, I think it's safe to say he wore out his welcome.
Two names I've heard tossed around are Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson.
They say the best predictors of career length are height and shooting ability. Given that, it's not surprising how fast Iverson's career has faded.
Small and with declining athleticism, Iverson can't get to the rim anymore and has a shaky jumpshot. He's simply not an efficient scorer. He always was a gambler on defense, but now he doesn't have the speed to make the gambles pay off. He won't make the team better, and that's just purely an on the court assessment. We won't even get into off the court issues.
Shaq is a more intriguing option. While he's looking for a mid-level deal, he also wants to win (can't have Kobe ahead of him on rings). He's played with both Wade and James before.
But ultimately I can't see O'Neal being happy in the role he'd have with Miami. His ego is just too big. Also, the Cavs played better with him off the floor last year. He clogs the lane. He's old and slow. He can't shoot.
I think the Heat should only bring him on if he understands his role and comes for the minimum. And that's only if it becomes clear they can't get Dampier or another suitable big body.
(And as a random note, since he's only a 20 minute per game player now, can whoever signs him play him the first 5 minutes of each quarter? That way he'd help get the other team in foul trouble without having to take the free throws himself.)
Other big men options: Joe Smith, Shelden Williams, Rasho Nesterovic, Etan Thomas, Tim Thomas, Juwan Howard.
Other shooters: Roger Mason Jr. Keith Bogans, Rasual Butler, Eddie House.
Other point guards: Jason Williams, Earl Watson, Shaun Livingston.
And don't be surprised if the Heat pull off a trade. Mario Chalmers is their only player on contract, and the Heat somewhat soured on him. The Heat could cobbled together a trade with some combination of his $850K contract, Joel Anthony's likely $1 million contract, future draft picks and perhaps some saved cap space.
With all that (plus $3 million) it's possible the Heat could gain a young rotation player still on his rookie contract.
Update: The Heat gave up four first rounders to do sign and trades for James and Bosh. The plus side is they have more cap room now, but they can't be thrown in as trade sweeteners to get more players. Free agency now seems like the best bet.
Any other possibilities I'm missing here? Post your thoughts!