Before we get started, feel free to enjoy some of the best moments of last season’s Miami Heat (above).
Okay. We now have only seven more days before we can begin making this season’s highlight reel. Hallelujah. LeBron, Dwyane, Chris, Ray and the rest of the team are back. We’ve missed you. For NBA junkies like me (those of us who’ve watched more NBA TV than NFL football this summer), it’s been a summer of prediction and analysis overload. If you’re just the average NBA fan and have avoided the off season speculation, get ready for the talking heads. There are a lot of them, and they are really, really good at saying basically the same thing from slightly varying points-of-view.
Don’t blame them (us?). With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, easy access to most media sites and even the NBA itself tossing in opinions, it’s hard to really create an original thought. But I’ll give it a shot. If what follows is rehashed, I apologize, I haven’t quite finished reading the Internet, yet. It’s a long season, so let’s focus on things to look for in the beginning.
Evolution has been a theme with the Miami Heat since the big three came together in 2010. Thanks to some really out-of-the-box thinking, the Heat have transformed not only how professional basketball is played, but also how it’s teams are managed. The debacle that was the 2006 championship season follow up has remained fresh in the minds of those who lived through it. And not repeating that complacency has been a theme these past two off seasons.
Listening to an Erik Spoelstra interview generally produces more Tony Robbins-like catch phrases and cliches than it does insight. However, within those phrases the word evolution keeps appearing.
Look for this year’s evolution to come on the defensive end of the court. The Heat have not used preseason games as much more than a chance for the team to get their legs back under them. So, since training camp and preseason practices have been dedicated almost exclusively to defense, it’s not a stretch to think the change will occur on that side of the court.
The Heat have relied on the freakish speed and athleticism of their roster to pressure opponents in the half court. The main focus of this helter skelter defense has been against the pick-and-roll. With the players coming into camp in such phenomenal physical condition, we’ll see more instances of hard trapping in situations other than pick-and-roll from the Heat this season. Probably on the sidelines, and possibly even in full court situations, where the team can use it’s speed to cause opponents chaos. There is no team in the NBA better at turning live turnovers into points than the Heat. It only makes sense that the team would try and maximize those opportunities.
Early Season Rotation
While Coach Spoelstra has proven that he will make drastic changes if necessary, he prefers the stability of a set starting line up and player rotations. It appears that the starting line up will be unchanged from last season, and it’s not much of a stretch to believe that Ray Allen and Shane Battier will be the first two off the bench. Also, Norris Cole has been the first point guard off the bench for the Heat since he joined the NBA, and Chris Andersen will provide energy in his first full season with the team.
However, two new additions to the team, Roger Mason and the returning Michael Beasley offer interesting skills. Mason offers a smart, reliable option at the point or two spot. He is a player that can consistently hit the three, and will offer solid, if unspectacular defense. Look for Mase to crack the point guard rotation if Chalmers or Cole struggle early.
Beasley is potentially the more interesting option. While it may still be a long shot that he cracks the rotation, Beasley offers the Heat something hard to find in the NBA. A player that can make his own shot. The Heat have two of the best in Wade and James, but with this being the fourth consecutive long season, the Heat might be looking to have more time with neither of those two on the court. Ray Allen has struggled when asked to make his own shot, and it really isn’t the game for any of the other veterans off the bench. He may never see the court with the Heat, but it is something worth looking out for, especially early in the season.
Then there’s Rashard Lewis and James Jones. Jones has played big preseason minutes, and Lewis looks to be in great shape. Do either of them warrant some regular rotation time? We’ll look at Greg Oden later in the season.
Losses That Will Be Termed Bad
Whether its the new collective bargaining agreement or the potentially star-studded 2014 draft, there are a lot of teams that dumped talent this off season. This is shaping up to be a real have and have not season in the NBA. Already, many experts are predicting teams winning 10 to 20 games for the entire season. These same experts are predicting that the “haves” may achieve unprecedented win totals. The Heat have even been brought into the 70 win conversation.
Don’t buy into that. Even if the pundits are right and there are teams that win only a few games, you can bet that some of those wins will be against the Heat. There is a lot of young talent out there, and while they may not know how to get it done in the NBA on a nightly basis, you can guarantee they will be bringing their best game against the Heat.
Beating the Miami Heat may well be the highlight of some team’s seasons. A small thank you to their fan bases which are having to deal with their GM dumping legendary players for a better position in the draft. Miami will give effort all season long, but these losses should be expected, so please don’t panic.
Dwyane Wade’s Minutes
This could be the final year of the James, Wade and Bosh big three. On the other hand, it may be the first of three or four or five more years together. What happens with Wade will be the biggest determining factor regarding the Heat’s future. Wade had a great regular season last year. His PER was first among all shooting guards, and amazing statistic considering how great a year Kobe had. Unfortunately, Wade’s knees did him in during the playoffs, again.
Although at 32, Wade is certainly not to the point of being on a maintenance minute plan, it may be a good idea to start him early. For the big three to remain together, Wade needs to show that he’s got a few good years left in him. Watching how many minutes he plays early in the year will be interesting.
Animosity Towards the Heat Players
Keep an eye on the personal dynamics between LeBron and Wade and Bosh and other NBA players. When the big three made their way to Miami, all three of them left money on the table. This is NOT how professional sports has worked. Occasionally, you may see a player give a “home town” discount, but most of the time where the biggest check is offered is where players go.
I believe there will be a lot of quiet pressure, especially on LeBron, to go after a max contract this off season. If the best player in the game is willing to take less than the max, the system may fail. If LeBron takes even 10% less than maximum, it will change the expectations of fan bases across the NBA.
It may not be an issue, but it is something to look for pre-tip off on game nights.
#LET’S GO HEAT