With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Can the East Hang With the Heat?
The Miami Heat pulled off the unthinkable in free agency, landing a dynamic superstar tandem and a go-to scorer on the blocks.
Pat Riley enhanced his legacy by convincing three superstars in the prime of their careers to take a substantial pay cut in the interest of winning multiple championships.
In the process, the Heat frantically dumped salary and forfeited depth.
The trade of Michael Beasley for a mere second-round pick was a reminder that sanity has taken a backseat in Miami along the way to assembling arguably the greatest triumvirate in league history.
Go ahead, crown the Heat NBA Champions on paper. Turn off injuries and fatigue in your video games and depart from reality while riding an incomplete roster to an NBA Title.
Tuesday’s news that Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard are taking their aging talents to South Beach means that the Heat's roster consists of just seven players.
Can an NBA team facing incredible pressure and lacking a capable starting center or point guard really win a title?
It's certainly possible, but the Heat will undoubtedly face some stiff challenges along the way.
Let’s take a look at how the Miami Heat, as presently constructed, matches up with the playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference heading into next season.
The Celtics aren't going away quite yet.
Danny Ainge has kept the majority of Boston’s aging roster intact in the offseason. The Celtics replaced the retired Rasheed Wallace with former Miami Heat forward Jermaine O’Neal and likely aren't done in free agency.
The Celtics have experience and savvy on their side, along with a physical front line that could create problems for Chris Bosh and the undersized Udonis Haslem.
And then there is the Rajon Rondo problem.
Slowly, Rondo has improved his jump shot and harnessed his game. Just ask LeBron James, who watched the budding star run circles around the Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals.
The current construction of Miami’s roster suggests that Mario Chalmers will be the guy to check Rondo.
The loss of Tony Allen in free agency certainly hurts the Celtics on the defensive end against the Heat, but experience and championship mettle still matters in crunch time.
Boston simply knows how to win ugly.
Thanks largely to a relatively quiet offseason, the Magic are flying below the radar.
That could change when Dwight Howard begins to exploit Miami's interior defense.
Despite his lack of polish on the offensive end, Howard has a history of absolutely dominating Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Howard’s presence on the defensive end will also force the Heat to make jump shots, something that could be a challenge throughout the immediate future.
The Magic signed former Heat guard Quentin Richardson and are reportedly considering matching the Chicago Bulls' three-year, $19 million offer to restricted free agent J.J. Redick.
Defensive specialist Matt Barnes is expected to walk, but Mickael Pietrus returns and has shown the ability to bother LeBron James during playoff battles in recent seasons.
As one of the more balanced offensive teams in the Eastern Conference, the Magic would be a difficult cover for the Heat.
After missing out on LeBron James and Dwayne Wade in free agency, General Manager Gar Forman scrambled to act and snagged Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver.
If the Magic matches the Bulls’ offer to J.J. Redick, Forman could target Matt Barnes, Josh Howard, or Antoine Wright in an effort to land a much-needed perimeter defender.
The Bulls' success against the Heat depends largely on the continued improvement of Derrick Rose and the health of Carlos Boozer.
Additionally, first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau’s ability to devise defensive strategies against superstars should help the Bulls against the Heat.
Rose is a tough cover for any member of the Heat and began to show consistent assertiveness on the offensive end last season.
Up front, Chicago has a huge advantage on the glass with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Taj Gibson.
The Bulls are currently an incomplete team, but the addition of at least one athletic swingman would make a potential Bulls-Heat playoff matchup very intriguing.
The Hawks basically gave everything to Joe Johnson, which could prove to be a mistake in a few years.
But for the moment, re-signing Johnson makes the Hawks an intriguing team in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks have a young, blossoming front line that has yet to reach its potential. Expecting Josh Smith to put it all together and Marvin Williams to resurrect his career might be a lot to ask, but it could certainly happen.
Atlanta is one of the few Eastern Conference teams with the athleticism and firepower to match up against the Heat.
At the same time, the Hawks have rarely displayed consistency in recent seasons and have a horrendous bench.
The Bucks have quietly gone crazy in the offseason, throwing huge money around to acquire Corey Maggette, re-sign John Salmons, and give Drew Gooden yet another home.
The results remain to be seen.
With Brandon Jennings still learning and Andrew Bogut coming off a gruesome elbow injury, the Bucks lack a true superstar.
Scott Skiles does have one thing on his side: balance.
In addition to Jennings and Bogut, the Bucks have proven double-figure scorers in Maggette, Salmons, and Gooden.
Michael Redd will be back, providing a steady shooter a veteran leadership to the new-look Bucks.
Skiles’ team is clearly overmatched against the Heat, but don’t expect the Bucks to go down without a fight.
The Bobcats were about to get a whole lot better on Tuesday when Michael Jordan had his latest puzzling player management revelation: He decided that he just couldn’t part ways with Tyson Chandler.
Jordan eventually authorized a trade that will send Chandler to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Erick Dampier, Matt Carroll, and Eduardo Najera.
Instead of Jose Calderon running the show next season, the Bobcats will turn over the keys to D.J. Augustin, with Raymond Felton moving on to the Knicks.
Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson return to anchor a feisty, temperamental roster that overachieved last season.
Charlotte has enough talent to compete in the Eastern Conference, but expecting the Bobcats to create problems for the Heat is a pipe dream.
New York Knicks
Thanks to a series of unforeseen events, the Knicks could actually contend for a playoff spot in 2010-2011.
Raymond Felton should be able to erase the memories of Chris Duhon clanking open jumpers and provide a solid playmaker for Amar'e Stoudemire, Wilson Chandler, and what is shaping up to be a decent roster.
The Knicks could be historically bad on the defensive end, but should be able to generate plenty of offense.
Chris Bosh can't guard Amar’e Stoudemire, but of course Amar’e Stoudemire can’t guard Chris Bosh, either.
The Knicks and Heat promise to have entertaining battles next season leading up to the summer of Carmelo. The games might not be competitive, but they will certainly be entertaining.
July 2011 will be here before you know it.