The Miami Heat are sporting a 16 – 5 record, good enough for fifth overall in the NBA. A path to the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Indiana Pacers – and beyond that perhaps a third consecutive championship – seems clear barring a disastrous injury.
So why has Miami, as reported last week, been linked to trade rumors speculating a change is imminent?
Because an upgrade is needed in order to make the threepeat a reality.
Here are my reasons why Heat President Pat Riley should pull the trigger to shake up the current roster:
The Two-Man Race
Derrick Rose is done, despite flirting with the Bulls faithful more than a recent divorcée. The Brooklyn Nets are old, injured and only make headlines for incompetent buffoonery rather than basketball excellence. The Knicks…well, are the Knicks, struggling to live up to the irrational – and annual – hype that surrounds a team four decades removed from their last championship. And the rest of “Leastern” Conference realistically doesn’t have the pieces currently in place to be a serious contender.
Only the Pacers, atop the regular season standings at 18 – 3, stand as an obstacle in Miami’s road to historic greatness.
And what a barrier it is. The same Indiana team that nearly went on to face San Antonio in the Finals improved during the offseason and their second-best offensive weapon – All-Star Danny Granger – is still injured and on the bench. Miami has a roster that is deep, talented and experienced. They’ve also got the best player in the NBA (LeBron James) and three Hall-of-Famers that can still dominate despite age (Ray Allen), injury (Dwyane Wade) and inconsistency (Chris Bosh).
But in order to knock out an angry and focused Pacers team yet again, it might not be enough.
Really Good – and Not Great – Bench
Miami’s 2010 roster, the first year of the “Big Three” era, was not capable of picking up the slack for superstars James, Wade and Bosh. Over the last two years, that hasn’t been an issue. Mike Miller and Shane Battier shot historically-well in the 2012 and 2013 Finals, respectively. Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole all contributed during the last two title runs. And Allen’s last-second shot in Game 6 of the Finals has become an instant classic, a part of NBA history although it feels like only yesterday.
The thing about great memories like these, though, is they’re all in the past and the Pacers are obsessed with the future.
Miller is in Memphis now, and Battier’s shooting is at least temporarily gone, too. Allen’s another year older and Chalmers and Cole can shoot you in – or out – of a game. Michael Beasley, the surprisingly-successful reclamation project, might be the solution. Or his tendency to self-destruct might rear its’ ugly head.
Andersen, meanwhile, is the reason why a trade not only works but is necessary.
70 wins and only 12 losses. That’s Miami’s record since Birdman joined the team last season. He’s certainly not responsible for that many wins but his manic effort and continuous energy seemed to drag the Heat out of the regular season doldrums and onto the second-longest win streak in NBA history.
The Oden Conundrum
One can almost hear the backlash from the Heat faithful now, screaming, “What about Greg Oden?”
The response is, “Yeah, what about him?”
He might be the solution, an answer already available to save the Heat’s questionable roster. In truth, he’s stuck on the end of the bench, fulfilling a maintenance program under more guard than Fort Knox. If he gets inserted into the lineup at some point, averages an impressive 10 points and 5 rebounds per game and keeps Pacer Roy Hibbert from camping out in the restricted area, you can forget you ever read this.
But the fact is no one knows how he’ll play. And Riley is a master architect, designing basketball skyscrapers while other general managers seem to still live in log cabins. He can’t – and won’t – take a chance on Oden’s balky knees costing Miami the three-peat, and possibly, a chance at keeping James on the Heat roster.
So a change is coming, of that you can be sure. It might mean trading away complimentary pieces like Joel Anthony or James Jones. It might mean cutting erratic Roger Mason, Jr. Or Riley could just swing for the fences, shocking the basketball world with a Ruthian roster shakeup, as he has so often before.
But something is going to happen.
And, in order to enjoy another victory parade on Biscayne Boulevard, it just might have to.