The Miami Heat have lost their last three games without Dwyane Wade, and a team that was expected to be improved over last year is lost without their perennial All-Star. The talent beyond Wade has been exposed for what it is: noncompetitive.
A 94-71 loss at home on Saturday to the Milwaukee Bucks was nothing short of an embarrassment. Both Heat owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley exited well before the fourth quarter buzzer, and avoided the final round of boos.
On Feb 17. Wade left a game against the New Jersey Nets after just over eight minutes with a sprained quad. The Heat were able to hang on for an 87-84 victory, and two days later won an impressive double-overtime game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Things were looking up after seeing Michael Beasley drop a career-high 30 points. But since then the Heat haven't shown much of a fight. The team appears to be crumbling without No. 3 and the losses are getting worse—97-91 in Dallas and 91-88 to Minnesota before dropping Saturday's contest.
With or without Dwyane Wade, a team featuring Jermaine O'Neal and Beasley should be better than it's been, losses like Saturdays can't be excused.
Mario Chalmers and Daequan Cook have regressed. Rafer Alston and Quentin Richardson have disappeared, and Dorell Wright has become the lone bright spot on a squad that isn't holding a candle to the '08-'09 season right now.
Wright will be a free agent after the season and if the Heat are trying to land a second max player to pair with Wade there might not be enough room to retain him. So with that said, where does this roster really stand for next season. The development of the team's young players hasn't happened and all the real vets are free agents in the summer.
At 29-30, the Heat are tied with the Charlotte Bobcats for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. With Sunday's visit to the Orlando Magic, baring a complete turnaround, Miami will be out of the playoff picture.
Last year the Heat went 43-39, finished fifth in the Eastern Conference, before losing in seven games to the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round of the playoffs. This year, the team would be lucky to avoid a sweep in a series against any of the big four in the Conference- assuming Miami even makes it to the postseason.
Eric Spoelstra doesn't look like a coach capable of handling the current roster, and might just end up being replaced after the season. Beasley, Cook, and James Jones—the only players under contract for 2010-11—don't resemble much of a core to round out a contending roster.
Coming into the year there was no guise about what the plan was in Miami; a major free agent acquisition has been Pat Riley's aim for the last two years. But what makes this roster appealing to LeBron James or Chris Bosh beyond Wade?
There are 23 games left in the season and that's more than enough time to turn things around. With Wade targeting a Tuesday return for the Heat's game against the Golden State Warriors, the team's record will likely improve. But the rest of the year needs to be about more than that. Beasley, Cook, and Chalmers need to step up.
Or it might be a whole lot harder to convince this year's free agents Miami is worth coming to. If things don't change, this roster won't look any more appealing than Chicago, New York, L.A.C., Sacramento, or New Jersey.
Without a slamdunk in free agency, Miami won't be in the conversation of championship contenders even if they do manage to resign Wade. The 2009-10 season has plenty to do with that outcome. The 23 games left will play a pivotal role in deciding it.