Five Questions the Heat Must Answer This Offseason
The hype is over. Well, for about four months it is. All the back and forth regarding the Heat and their polarizing superstar Lebron James has come to a head and has settled into a "close, but no cigar" conclusion. At least such is the case for the 2010-2011 season.
With a 4-2 series loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, the Heat now have to spend the summer asking (and more importantly, answering) some key questions that for most teams would be simple building blocks for a chance to make the playoffs. For the Heat, any offseason moves, be they with personnel or philosophy, will be to do nothing less than become NBA champions. Here are five burning questions the Heat need to address this summer.
Who Will the Heat Get to Improve Their Bench?
It's no secret the majority of player salary for the Heat is taken up by the big three (Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh). This fact alone makes acquiring any quality free agents difficult. $48 million of the roughly $70 million in payroll is absorbed by those three studs. But scouring the free agent market shows some strong potential depth guys that would fit in well with the Heat.
Depth is important for any team, but more so for a group like the Heat that truly rely on three guys to take up the bulk of the scoring. If just one of them is off their game, losses can come in bunches. A lack of quality bench scoring certainly helped the Heat lose to the Mavs. In their four losses to Dallas in the Finals, the Mavs bench outscored the Heat's bench 126-86, including a 43-20 advantage in Game 6.
So who are some potential targets for the Heat that can provide some solid minutes, but also come at a low price? The first name that comes to mind is Leandro Barbosa, a former Sixth Man Award winner. This past year he played 58 games for the Raptors, averaging 13.3 PPG coming off the bench. He could be the ideal fill-in for Dwyane Wade when he needs a breather. His price tag of around $7 million isn't unreasonable either. Another inexpensive option for the SG spot is Chris Douglas-Roberts. Playing for the Bucks this season, CDR averaged 7.3 PPG, and has enough size to float over to a small forward spot if necessary. With teaching from Wade and Lebron, CDR could turn into a valuable asset, much like he was in his college days in Memphis.
As for big men, how's this for a possibility? Glen "Big Baby" Davis. A free agent after this season, Davis has been a pivotal sixth man for the Celtics the past few years. He's got plenty of weight to throw around, despite questions of his toughness. In just under 30 minutes per game this year, he had just under 12 PPG and over 5 rebounds per game. Making just over $3 million, Davis could add a big boost to a team lacking in post game depth.
What Should They Do with Mario Chalmers?
Every Super Bowl champion needs a quarterback. Every NBA champion needs a point guard. He doesn't have to be the best at his position. Just good enough to know his role and give proper support to the players around him.
Mario Chalmers seems to have proven himself well in adapting to the NBA. Despite being somewhat displaced by Mike Bibby, Chalmers has shown flashes of what made him such a hot commodity coming out of Kansas. Despite minutes per game shrinking in each of his three seasons, the Heat seem to like his presence. The question will be if he's chosen as the true starting point guard for the team, or just a partial starter that is, more often than not, called upon as a spark off the bench?
Chalmers averaged 6.8 PPG this year, with 2.5 assists per game and just over one steal per game. His defense proves to be effective as well. In his rookie season he ranked in the top five in the league in steals, averaging two per game.
There are some quality free agent point guards out there, most notably Aaron Brooks and Rodney Stuckey, should the Heat decide they want to go elsewhere. Their best bet, however, may be Chalmers, who shows he can fit in with big egos and still thrive in the expectations placed on him.
Is Erik Spoelstra Still the Right Guy for the Job?
How hot can the seat get of a guy working as a young coach for a team with three of the best players in the NBA when he doesn't win the NBA title? Not as hot as when you add all that to working for a guy who lead the same team with fewer star players to a title just five years earlier.
Pat Riley has five NBA titles as a coach. Erik Spoelstra has won just three playoff series as a coach. You can't really characterize his brief career to this point as a failure. He has taken the Heat to the playoffs in each of his three seasons as coach. However, questions (and expectations) are more numerous now than ever with Lebron James and Chris Bosh being added to the mix. Is Spoelstra thick-skinned enough to handle the egos of the team? Or will it become painstakingly obvious that a more experienced coach such as Riley should be in charge? Riley has be known to be fickle at times in the past regarding his coaches, and a slow start to next year like the Heat experienced this season could find Riley back on the bench and Spoelstra in the unemployment line.
Can the Big Three Thrive Together?
The all-star cast that was assembled last summer in Miami had its share of ups and downs throughout the season. The playoffs showed that this is a trio that can be dominant and win games on their own. It also showed that when one of the three fail to live up to the hype, the team as a whole falters.
The crushing defeat to Dallas in the Finals seems to be raising more questions about the Big Three. Most of them are revolving around the idea that perhaps only two of the three should remain, the other traded off for key role players who can provide valuable minutes at a lower cost.
But each of the big three are in their prime, not one over the age of 29. Ideally this team is set up for a solid five year run at consecutive titles. But are three superstars too much for one team to really handle? Are the expectations placed on these guys overwhelming the team as a whole? Ultimately, unlike other sports, basketball truly is a team sport. Sure, the NBA is a star driven league, but that doesn't always win titles.
Whose Team Is It?
More debate is centered around this question: is this Heat team Dwyane Wade's team, or Lebron James' team?
The logical choice is Wade, who has been a Heat member since his rookie year. He carried the team to the 2006 title. But with the melodrama of Lebron's "Decision" last summer as well as the hype over his skills since his junior high days, Lebron isn't the type of player that can take a backseat to anyone.
In some subtle way, however, the Heat need to distinguish who their "go to guy" is. When the game is on the line, who's taking the last shot? Who is going to be counted on to develop younger players that join the team or get drafted?
Think of the superstar title teams in the past: the 90's Bulls were Jordan's team. The 80's Lakers were Magic's team. The 80's Celtics were Larry Bird's team. The early 00's Lakers team was split, but that was okay because Kobe and Shaq played very different roles on that team. The Spurs? Tim Duncan's team. This year's Mavericks? Dirk Nowitzki.
But Lebron and Wade both have such similar standing among the NBA public that determining just which one is better is next to impossible. Sheer numbers don't help. Clutch performances would dictate Wade is the best, but overall athleticism begs Lebron to take the superficial title.
The true leader of the team boils down to this: the guy who truly puts the team first. The one who cares more about the team as a whole than their own shoe line, Twitter feed, or what Skip Bayless will spew about them the following day. The true leader is the one that humbles himself.
And if they both do that, watch out. This team may even exceed expectations.