Odds makers already have the Miami Heat as the favorites to win the NBA championship again next year — 2-1 odds at Bovada online.
But if the Heat thought this title run was like climbing Mount Everest, wait until next year. The Bulls get Derrick Rose back. The Pacers are not going to get any shorter over the summer. And if the Heat get out of the East the Thunder will have Russell Westbrook again, or maybe it will be these Spurs or an improved Clippers team waiting for them.
Miami won the title but their flaws were exposed in the process — they need more size (at least off the bench) and they need some depth to do things such as rest Dwyane Wade’s knees more during the season.
The Heat are going to have to adapt and improve this summer if they want to three-peat.
And with the full force of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place now, improving is not going to be easy for Miami to do.
Even with the less-than-max salaries that LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade took, the big three still have a cap number of $56.8 million next season — that gets them almost to the salary cap already. With the other guys that are locked in (Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and others) the Heat are committed over the tax line and over the apron ($76 million even if every option were rejected, and that’s not going to happen). They will be limited in what moves they make.
After back-to-back titles and with limited options, don’t expect Miami to blow this thing up and trade Chris Bosh this summer. That said Pat Riley and the Heat brain trust have to be thinking now about what this team looks like in three years. He needs to be thinking about how to restructure around LeBron (he’s not bolting, sorry Cleveland), but don’t expect the drastic changes to come this offseason.
Miami will enter next year with roughly the same overall strategy as the last two seasons — LeBron, Wade and Bosh and try to put enough inexpensive pieces around them to get the job done.
There are clear areas that need to be improved.
First, they need to get bigger and have more toughness inside. The Pacers are only getting better and teams will try to go big against the Heat. Bosh defended Tim Duncan fairly well in the finals (Duncan scored because he is really good and has a plethora of counter moves). But the Pacers and even Bulls showed that size can be an issue for the Heat. Miami has to get bigger.
Chris Andersen helped fill that role somewhat this past season, and he came in on a 10-day contract — the Birdman is going to get a pay raise. The Heat would like to keep him but the most they can offer him is the roughly $3 million taxpayer’s mid-level exception (that’s the most the Heat can offer any free agent). The Birdman is going to want that money, but another team under the tax line can offer more and could snatch him.
To me, the Heat need to go after free agent Samuel Dalembert — a veteran, defense-first center who doesn’t take a lot of shots but is efficient when he does. He’s battled some injuries and he’s not young, but the Heat are not going to do better finding a fit than with him inside.
Other guys such as Jermaine O’Neal and Elton Brand are also out there. Or they could snag Spurs bench rider DeJuan Blair and give him more minutes (but there is a reason he rode the bench in San Antonio).
Next the Heat need to add some depth on the wing, guys that maybe can contribute minutes and will lessen the load on Wade but will play for the minimum. They have Ray Allen on the roster with a player option, it’s his call if he comes back and most likely he will. Certainly his game slipped this year (lowest PER since his rookie season) and he will be 38, but are they really going to find someone better for a minimum salary?
Could they lure Chauncey Billups to join their veteran core? What about a younger player like Xavier Henry?
The Heat also have a Mike Miller decision — they can amnesty him and save his $6.2 million salary, plus the tax. But if they do amnesty him it will not get their salary down to the point they can offer a larger mid-level to someone else, all he does is save them some money. Can they replace his production with a minimum player?
At some point in the next couple years Pat Riley and the Heat are going to make some bold decisions to keep winning. Wade is starting to show his age and Bosh is becoming marginalized in the Heat system.
But don’t expect that to come this summer — the Heat will come back next year with the same strategy that won them back-to-back titles, they just hope with some more depth and size to help out.
We’ll see if that is enough to get the Heat a three-peat.