Miami has to get bigger, better if they dream of a three-peat

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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.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.