Man, does it feel good to finally post some pictures of the NBA that aren't from the 2010-'11 season or from a random event during the offseason.
It's also making us all anticipate the arrival of the NBA opening day which is set to begin on December 25th. A number of impressive matchups are set to occur with none bigger than the one between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks in an NBA Finals re-match.
Everyone knows how that series ended and the Heat will be looking for revenge as the Mavs will be attempting to start off on the right foot towards defending their crown.
The Heat won't be sporting too new of a roster with only three new players added and two lost, but they will be showcasing the NBA's top big trio as well as a formerly injured player who could have played an integral part in the team's championship run. The NBA's most entertaining, electric and exciting team is back for another chance at glory and they might just have the pieces to complete it.
What we bestow upon you is the preseason checklist of what issues were addressed and what issues are still prevalent. Not only that, but we showcase just what happened in the offseason to the team's most important players as well as which free agents came back and which ones departed.
Take a look at this Heat team because they could be the team raising the trophy come June.
Someone in that picture put on a little weight and it sure isn't LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.
It's been a long lay off for the big three who are all coming off of the greatest disappointment of their careers when they suffered a six game series loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat took Game 1 by a handsome margin and even won Game 3 by way of a game winner in the final seconds, but Games 2, 4, 5 and 6 were ugly as the Heat blew a huge lead in Game 2, while struggling their way through the other three.
That was a series they should have won. Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller hampered by injuries, that was the Heat's series to win. The big three ran through much tougher defenses than the Mavericks' zone defense by defeating the physical defenses of Boston and Chicago in only five games. The Heat could have won the physical game, but they lost the mental game as Wade and Bosh were the only ones to show up.
After an overextended period to think about their stance as a team following the loss, the big three are back and ready to help lead this Miami Heat team back to their primary destination of the NBA Finals and then to accomplish their primary goal of winning an NBA championship.
After the NBA Finals came to its conclusion, it became obvious that Dwyane Wade is the true leader of this team. LeBron James is arguably the better physical player, but his mental game doesn't compare to that of a champion like Wade, who is one of the league's top performers in the clutch. He's hit a series of game winners and crucial shots, including a number down the stretch in the Heat's 2006 Finals win as well as this past postseason run.
Not much is said about Wade's performance in the 2011 NBA Finals because of LeBron taking up all of the attention, but it was legendary to say the least. Dwyane averaged 27 points per on 55 percent shooting, which led all scorers, including Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki.
The problem in the Finals was that the ball was force fed to James when he wanted no part of it. Rather than forcing the issue and continuing to live under the assumption that he's going to come alive eventually, Wade should have strictly become the number one while Bosh should have taken over at two to help relieve some pressure off of James.
It shouldn't be too much of a worry now, as the Heat have made sure to learn their lesson.
It's funny. I actually just began watching serious tape of the NBA Finals recently and it brought back a lot of painful memories of just how dismal LeBron James was. A player that was far and away the greatest athlete and basketball player in the world only a few weeks prior had suddenly lost all of his super powers and became this mere mortal that was frightened of the stage he was at.
James made all the right moves this summer. He said all the right things whenever he spoke out, attempted to improve flaws in his game, and mainly stayed out of the media's always judging eye. The most impressive aspect of James' offseason was the fact that he got help in his postgame from Hakeem Olajuwon and is said to have already shown signs of improvement.
I'm not going to go through the usual "LeBron's coming back with a vengeance" deal, but I will say that we will never see the LeBron James from the 2011 Finals again. That was an extremely painful time in James' life, including the week after, and I doubt that he wants to plan on living it again.
James is going to have to overcome these personal demons on his own. He'll be in the Finals again, as well, which means that he'll have to face them head on when he reaches that point once again.
If we expect to see significant improvement out of anyone in terms of a mental and physical standpoint, it's going to be Chris Bosh. The former Toronto Raptor dealt with a lot of unnecessary criticism last season as most of it was directed at him for the sheer fact that he was on the Heat and not much more. Bosh didn't have a decision like James and it was pretty well known that he was leaving the Raptors, which makes it questionable as to why there were so many critics of him.
That "soft," finesse player that was the subject of ridicule last season now looks like a completely different player as he has returned with an incredible amount of muscle added to his arms. No longer the wiry forward that he's been since 2003, Bosh is now taking a stand and is looking to make a statement this season by even throwing his hat into the pool of who wants to take a shot at playing center.
Bosh will still be featured along the mid-range, but we should expect to see a more aggressive player who's willing to bang with the trees in the middle. If he's able to do so, it would mean that a canyon-sized hole would be filled as the team is still on the quest for finding the player to serve the purpose of playing productively in the post.
The Heat dealt with a number of critical injuries last season that happened to occur to both of their projected leaders off the bench. Whether it was losing their top perimeter threat or their best rebounder and post defender, the Heat dealt with struggles all year long and especially in the Finals when both of their services were desperately needed.
Aside from the injuries, the Heat also had a number of issues to address in terms of free agency. The team sported a number of free agents with none of them being too critical. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem were the two most significant injuries last offseason and they easily overshadow the cast of free agents that the team had this offseason.
Who's coming back
Udonis Haslem: The Heat's iron man is back and finally healthy after dealing with a torn ligament in his foot that would keep him out from November 20th until Game 2 of the Conference Finals. It was the first significant injury of Haslem's career and it had to have been serious because it's hard to imagine that a player with as much tenacity as Udonis would reluctantly sit out nearly an entire regular season and the majority of the postseason.
Haslem deemed himself 100 percent a few months ago and is now ready to begin hitting the mid-range jumpers, grabbing rebounds and doing the dirty work that no other player on the Heat could possibly replicate. Joel Anthony attempted to fill in, but came up well short of providing the offensive influence that Haslem carried.
Mike Miller: At least somewhat. Miller's thumbs have healed up, but he is now recovering from a sports hernia surgery that is set to keep him out until at least the end of January. This is just another setback for a player that dealt with injuries all year long and caused him to shoot 36 percent from beyond the arc.
While a hernia surgery doesn't carry as much significance as thumb injuries to a shooter, it's still another setback in his development and adjustment with the team and will cause the Heat to scramble looking for answers on where to find their perimeter shooting.
Mario Chalmers: Projected to be the starting point guard for next season, Chalmers is coming off of an impressive NBA Finals where he averaged 11 points per game. Mario hit a number of key shots during the series and was hitting from beyond the arc at a solid rate as well.
This may be Chalmers' last chance to prove himself as the team has given him a number of opportunities to prove he's the starter over the past three seasons.
James Jones: The Heat's leading three-point shooter, shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc, Jones will be set to, once again, momentarily replace Miller as the team's number one scoring option from the perimeter as Mike recovers from hernia surgery.
Jones hasn't had much of a chance to prove himself over his time with the Heat, but he had a breakout year last season in replacement of Miller. He doesn't have too many intangibles, but he's still a valuable threat to have from outside.
Juwan Howard: Purely here for inspiration and not much else, we shouldn't expect to see as much Juwan Howard as we did last season. The 39-year-old saw himself on the floor because of the injury to Haslem and he should be featured in garbage time appearances and not much else.
Howard's years as an NBA player are coming to a close and this just may be his last season to win an NBA title in a career that will stretch over 18 years.
Norris Cole: The Heat's draft pick out of Cleveland State University, Cole is a point guard that should help facilitation duties if Mario Chalmers starting at the point doesn't pan out.
Cole is undersized at only 6'1", but he makes up for it in quickness, agility and athleticism.
Jamaal Magloire: Signing with the Toronto Raptors, Magloire wasn't too large of a contributor in the three years he spent with the Heat. He was sluggish, could barely get off the ground, and was mainly utilized as an enforcer and not much else.
Still, the Heat are sure to miss the "big cat" and his elbows.
Mike Bibby: Good riddance, if you ask any Heat fan. Bibby gave the team the illusion of being the starting point guard they needed as he was consistent throughout the regular season, but would then lay an egg in the postseason and would only score 19 points in the Finals, with 14 of them in one game.
He signed with the New York Knicks and will get an increased role there as the team is greatly limited at the point.
The Miami Heat dealt with a series of issues last season. Despite having three of the league's top players, the Heat had too many glaring issues outside of those three that would offset the accomplishments of the big three and the other players who provided a positive impact.
This offseason was meant to be utilized to address those issues and while there are still a number of problems, the team did manage to fill in some holes and close up some gaps in the few signings that they managed to accomplish.
Consistency Off the Bench
With Mike Miller's 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc gone and Udonis Haslem's mid-range game vacant, the Heat were left without a consistent touch from any player. James Jones provided any sort of consistency that the team had with solid shooting from beyond the arc, but would usually fade into obscurity during crucial moments.
The Heat's other shooters in replacement of Miller happened to be the always streaky Eddie House and the always inconsistent Mario Chalmers, both of whom lived up to their monikers.
Miami addressed this issue by signing Shane Battier, who not only provides offensive consistency but defensive consistency as well. Battier has long been one of the league's top perimeter threats on both sides of the ball and that's not only going to help make Miami an even stronger defensive team while also giving James and Wade a break, but it also assists in the consistency from three as he has shot 39 percent from deep for his career.
Size in the Middle
Let's not get too hasty now. The problem with filling out the paint is still an issue, but the team did at least manage to make a deal happen to momentarily ease the pain. The lone signing the team made was acquiring Eddy Curry, who didn't play a game all last season and only played in 10 games over the past three seasons.
Curry isn't the same out of shape player he was with New York or Chicago either. He dropped 70 pounds to join the team and is now reported at weighing in at 280 since he weighed in at 350 upon his initial workout with the team in March.
The team will also be able to utilize the issue by possibly giving Dexter Pittman significant playing time. With Jamaal Magloire, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and possibly Erick Dampier on the way out, Pittman should finally receive significant minutes after playing in only three games last season and acquiring two points.
Pittman is a huge body that can help clog up the lane and should be deemed ready to play after dropping some weight over the offseason.
Still, there are just so many issues that this team needs to work out. It shouldn't greatly affect the outcome of how this season ends, but it's going to hamper the team and result in a negative light nevertheless.
With injuries and a lack of moves being made in free agency, glaring holes and flaws are set to be a problem once again to what was originally believed to be a perfect team.
Size in the Middle
I only said that this issue was addressed, nothing about it being resolved. The Heat fan base grew loud in an uproar after hearing that Samuel Dalembert was interest in joining Miami next season, but quickly saw those feelings fade away after the longtime Philadelphia 76er claimed that it was going to be difficult because of the mid-level exception that the team would be offering to him.
Dalembert was out of the question, so the Heat instead set their sights on picking up Eddy Curry. The team signed him to the veteran's minimum, so not too much of a risk, but it's still disappointing that this may be the most the Heat come away with as far as a suitable center out of this offseason.
Dexter Pittman and his wide frame may provide some help as he is set to receive significant minutes, but he can only be the answer if he shows an unbelievable deal of improvement in his overall game. For the team to be relying on Curry, Pittman, Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh as their centers is quite the disappointment, as we expected so much more out of this offseason.
There were so many perimeter players that could have assisted the Heat this offseason.
With players like Rasual Butler and Anthony Parker on the block, the Heat could have at least attempted a stab at a player that could have proved to be beneficial along the perimeter. Even before the team found out about the current Miller situation, there should have been a signing made to assist in the offensive help along the perimeter.
Now the team must rely on the one-dimensional James Jones once again. Miller won't be ready until the end of January, which means that Jones, House, Chalmers and the newly acquired Shane Battier will be the momentary answers to replace Mike Miller.
Even when Miller does make his return, the team still has to be in high hopes that they end up receiving the player that they signed for $6 million per season last offseason.
Every team has their flaws. It's only magnified when you look at the Miami Heat. As many flaws, holes and issues that this team possesses, the Heat are still the league's top team at the moment in terms of the roster and talent.
Acquiring Shane Battier and Eddy Curry are significant improvements, even though many uneducated individuals will criticize the center for weight problems that he no longer has. Curry will at least help ease the pain of the dilemma at center, while Battier will add some consistency on both sides of the ball in terms of offense and defense along the perimeter.
Not only that, but Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller will be returning. Miller's return will be a little later, but Haslem will be ready come opening day and should be the same mid-range shooting, aggressive, blue collar worker that he's always been since joining the league as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Florida.
To go along with those players, there's also the young stars in players like Dexter Pittman, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole and the veterans in Juwan Howard and Eddie House to help provide the intangibles and give the team that extra boost. It may not seem like it, but every little point, rebound or assist that these players acquire mean a great deal to a team that focuses mainly on three players to accomplish most of the work.
Mostly, this upcoming season is riding heavily on the shoulders of the big three. The Heat's Finals loss came squarely on their shoulders and deservedly so as they were supposed to be the ones to lead the way to a championship. However, mental collapses would persevere and would eventually outweigh talent as the team would lose.
The big three now have a solid roster to support themselves and have worked out the kinks from a roller coaster ride of a 2010-11 campaign.
The 2011-12 campaign. It won't be a cakewalk, but it should be a much smoother ride than last year that should result in glory.