Biggest Needs for Miami Heat During 2014 Offseason
The Miami Heat's season didn't end as hoped.
After waltzing its way into the NBA Finals, Miami was unceremoniously dethroned in five games by the San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio won each of its victories by at least 15 points, sending a message to the two-times defending champs in the process.
Now it's time to decode that message.
Did Miami simply need to play better, or are changes in order? Some changes will be inevitable. With Shane Battier retiring and Ray Allen potentially following suit, there's little doubt Miami could use another shooter or two in the rotation—especially coming off the bench.
There are other areas of need that aren't necessarily news. Miami could use another big man to protect the rim. An upgrade at the point guard position certainly couldn't hurt, particularly after free agent Mario Chalmers disappeared in the Finals.
Much as some change may be needed, this is no time to blow things up. This is a team that's made it to four-straight Finals, twice emerging victorious in the process.
Their offseason priorities should take that monumental success into account.
More than any independent need, the Heat just have to maintain as much of the status quo as possible. That starts with the Big Three.
After Game 5 of the Finals, there wasn't much in the form of commitment. Asked about returning, LeBron James told reporters, "I haven’t even really thought about that just yet."
James furthered, "You guys are trying to find answers, and I'm not going to give you one."
You'd have to think James will find his best title opportunity in Miami, but that may depend on another sales pitch from team president Pat Riley. That could mean adding some talent.
It could also mean keeping some of the current talent in place.
With so many free agents, there's a chance that the 2014-15 Heat look fairly different from the current iteration. To whatever extent the organization can control that, it should look to keep the current squad together as much as possible.
The obvious argument for doing so is that this team has already had so much success together. There's no reason to make changes for the sake of making changes.
More importantly, though, there's chemistry to think about. So long as the core remains intact, collective synergy shouldn't be a problem. There will still be seamless fast breaks. There will still be smooth ball movement.
But Erik Spoelstra's recipe success also requires a supporting cast that's in step. In other words, it would be really convenient if Ray Allen and Shane Battier didn't retire. Even at their respective ages, they know Miami's system, and they know how to do their jobs. It's hard to replace that. Even if Miami didn't have cap concerns, it's still hard to replace that.
Though less essential, having Rashard Lewis back would be nice. He's had his moments and could be even better after another summer with the team.
Maybe it's not the most exciting prescription, but it's an important one. Teams this good don't need to reinvent the wheel.
A Starting Big Man
Successful as the Heat have been with Chris Bosh in the middle, this team still needs an answer for the Roy Hibberts of the world. For a minute there, it seemed like Greg Oden would be the solution.
Oden played in 23 games during the regular season, averaging just 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per contest. He never got into much of a rhythm, and his future with the organization is unclear at best. He'll be a free agent this summer.
On the one hand, Oden is a big body with the potential to be an impact defender. He'll never live up to the high hopes that made him the first-overall pick in 2007, but he could still become a serviceable big man in theory.
On the other hand, Miami may not be the best opportunity for Oden's reclamation project. When the team doesn't need a big man in the lineup, it likes trotting Bosh out at the 5-spot. That limits opportunities for a marginal player like Oden to get his feet wet.
Additionally, Chris Andersen is under contract with the Heat for another season. He's proven more than capable of playing 15-to-20 minutes a night.
The Heat could try to acquire a power forward instead of a center. With Bosh and Andersen used so often at the 5, it may make more sense to find a replacement for the aging Udonis Haslem (who has a player option to return for the 2014-15 campaign).
Haslem played just 14.2 minutes per contest this season. His role has declined as Miami looks to space the floor using LeBron James, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis as power forwards. A replacement or upgrade for Haslem could be in order depending on how much he has left in the tank.
The Heat have proven you can win without an elite, traditional center. Bosh has become more of a perimeter player, and that's what works for Miami. Nevertheless, it would be nice to have some additional lineup options.
The Miami Heat have built their empire by surrounding LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with plenty of shooters. Floor spacing is critical to opening up lanes for penetration, and it certainly doesn't hurt when the threes themselves start falling.
Miami may be able to retain some of its firepower, but it appears some degree of turnover is inevitable.
Shane Battier is retiring, taking one of the club's best two-way players out of the rotation. The 35-year-old averaged a career-low 4.1 points this season, but he remained an integral part of Miami's attack thanks to his ability to play either forward position and capably defend.
It's also possible that 38-year-old Ray Allen will retire, dealing a serious blow to the Heat's second unit. Allen has made 40 percent of his career three-point attempts and remains a dangerous sixth man. Should he move on, it would become imperative for Miami to find another spark-plug who can light it up off the bench.
The team is already without Mike Miller, who was amnestied in 2013.
There are certainly some veterans who might be had on the cheap in this free agency class. One that comes to mind is Richard Jefferson, who made 41 percent of his three-point attempts this season with the Utah Jazz. He's the kind of guy who's made a lot of money in his career and might make sense with the Heat.
Depending on how much money Miami has to spend, someone like Jodie Meeks might also be a nice fit.
Three-pointers are an important part of the Miami Heat identity. James and Wade are masters of kicking out to the perimeter, and they've made everyone from Miller to Battier look like pretty expert marksmen. Now's the time to grab some replacements.
The fate of Miami's second unit hinges largely on what becomes of veterans like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Their contracts are up, but the bigger question is whether they'll want to retire. If they don't call it quits, a return to the Heat seems probable.
But if Allen and/or Lewis retire (or go elsewhere), the bench is suddenly in need of another crafty veteran or two.
The good news is that veterans of that sort are always interested in playing for the Heat. Miami represents one of the league's very best shots at a title for aging ring-chasers. There's a good chance one or two vets decides to fill the shoes of whoever decides to depart this summer.
The Heat could also look to get a little bit younger. That seemed to be the idea behind acquiring Michael Beasley this season. Unfortunately, Beasley's decision-making and lack of commitment on the defensive end made him an afterthought come playoff time.
For the season, Beasley averaged just 7.9 points in 15.1 minutes per game. He'll be a free agent this summer, but the Heat might be willing to give him another shot if the front office is convinced he'll keep working to improve. Given the organization's limited financial flexibility, giving someone like Beasley an opportunity makes sense.
It's a low risk gamble with decent upside.
And it may be one of the few options Miami has when it comes to maintaining depth.
Point guard Norris Cole is under contract for another season, so the Heat can at least count on a young, up-and-comer in the backcourt. Cole averaged 6.4 points and three assists per game this season. More impressively, the scrappy 25-year-old played a career-high 24.6 minutes per game.
He could be in store for an even more prominent role in the event Miami loses Chalmers to free agency. Cole isn't as good of a shooter as Chalmers, but he fights hard on the defensive end. That will continue to earn him minutes one way or the other.
Just how much refueling Miami's bench needs remains to be see. Much depends on whether the older veterans stick around. Either way, it wouldn't be surprising to see a slightly different looking second unit next season.
Stability at Point Guard
If the Heat are ever going to improve upon Mario Chalmers at the point guard spot, now may be the time. The 28-year-old is a free agent this summer and is probably in store for a slight raise after having his best all-around season.
Chalmers made an even $4 million in 2013-14. If he's willing to return for a similar rate, Miami might not be able to do much better. They don't necessarily need a world-class playmaker with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade around to handle most of those duties.
For his part, Chalmers has been a pretty reliable shooter and relatively averse to making to mistakes. Keeping him around wouldn't be terrible. But his disappearing act in the Finals could give Miami second thoughts about re-signing him to a deal.
As ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood-Strauss notes, the Heat may be able to live without a premier point guard thanks to LeBron's playmaking ability:
The Heat also learned the extent to which they could trust Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole -- not a whole lot, it turns out. Erik Spoelstra’s starting lineup with Ray Allen at nominal “point guard” might be a window into the future. A team with LeBron doesn’t necessarily need to be playing 6-foot tall guys. They have a big guy with point guard skills. There’s little reason to play a little guy if you’re not getting the offensive punch many smaller players bring.
This could be an opportunity to improve the team at an important position, but there are a couple of obstacles.
First, Miami is well over the salary cap, leaving it with only a midlevel exception to acquire additional talent. That exception may be better-used restocking the bench by acquiring a shooter or two.
Second, there aren't very many good free-agent point guards available, especially if you're looking for someone who's actually a step up from Chalmers. Mo Williams may be on the market. Ramon Sessions could probably be had on the cheap. But it would be hard to argue either of those guys is a clear improvement over Chalmers.
With Cole returning as a backup (or potentially starting) point guard, there's at least one known commodity in the backcourt. Keeping Chalmers around would make two. It's not the best one-two punch in the league, but it may be the best Miami can hope for.