Mark Deeks was born and raised in England, where he can be found writing about basketball or solving Countdown Conundrums.
Miami entered this offseason with most of the plan in place. As you probably noticed, the Heat did quite a lot of work last offseason; the question of Mike Miller’s potential amnesty notwithstanding, most of what they needed to be a championship caliber team was already in place. Almost all of it, in fact.
However, as you also probably noticed, Miami didn’t win the championship last year. It must surely follow that, whilst improvement must (and will) come from improved chemistry and cohesion amongst the incumbent players, roster upgrades were needed. Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven, but eight months later, it’s not clear whether they got them.
Mario Chalmers was retained at a cost of $12 million over three years to start at point guard, while draft night saw the Heat pretty pleased with landing Norris Cole, who will happily push the tempo (and who thus should not be paired with Juwan Howard). The still-twitching corpse of Mike Bibby moved on to New York, and the impeccably credentialed Shane Battier was brought in to provide defense, shooting, veteran leadership and impeccable credentials. And James Jones re-signed for three years and $4.5 million, ready to once again be more one dimensional than a Guy Ritchie film, an elite jumpshooter who knows his role and thrives within it.
However, in spending their MLE on Battier, Miami have used their best asset for improvement on merely upgrading the backup to the world’s best player, whilst also re-signing James Jones, a player already doing a pretty solid job backing up LeBron James anyway. Regardless of the strengths of the individual players involved, it is a bizarre determination of priorities for a team so close to winning it all. Battier will help Miami’s wing defense and three point shooting, but these were never weaknesses. The point guard position, however, was. And even more so was the five spot.
Joel Anthony returns, but few others do. Jamaal Magloire joined Toronto. Zydrunas Ilgauskas formally retired. Erick Dampier may as well have done, because his phone isn’t ringing. Miami’s center depth, and all of their size off the bench, was let go. And yet while none of them is any great loss — even the most favorable analysis must conclude that those three contributed as much last season as a bag of spanners (Ed. note: this means wrenches in England, apparently) — they needed to be upgraded, or at the very least, replaced. This has not happened.
Indeed, the opposite has happened. In signing Eddy Curry — who apparently will stick around — and retaining Dexter Pittman, the Heat somehow downgraded what was already one of the worst positional depth charts in the NBA. Their starting center cannot score, shoot, catch, rebound, pass, dribble or make layups, and yet he’s their best centre. This is a very tough thing to justify on a championship contender.
That is, of course, an observation using the benefit of hindsight. It is incredibly difficult to point to any one free agent this summer, or any realistic trade target given the limited variety of Miami’s trade assets, and say that they would have been the missing piece. Only if you knew before signing Battier that Chauncey Billups was going to be amnestied could you claim that, and not even Chauncey Billups himself knew that was going to happen.
It is also not true to say that Miami have done nothing this offseason. Battier betters any team he is on, Cole has a skill set to contribute what is otherwise not present on the roster and the return of Udonis Haslem gives Miami the rare and special gift of a big man who contributes on both ends of the court, while also defaulting Chris Bosh into playing a lot of center. That, in itself, is a sufficient Ilgauskas replacement.
Haslem’s return, though, seems to have been determined to be the extra piece that gets them over the top. Without any determinable key acquisitions to speak of, save for the solid but somewhat redundant Battier, Miami’s biggest offseason acquisition will be a guy they signed as an undrafted rookie eight years ago. That’s a lot of trust to place in a backup. If Miami is going to get over the hump, they’re going to have to do it with the team they already had, the one that wasn’t quite good enough.
The Heat entered the offseason with two major positional weaknesses. They still have them. And yet they might have enough anyway.
Mark Deeks owns and operates ShamSports.com, and doesn’t do much else with his time. He is even more not-Canadian than Trey Kerby, being born, raised and stuck in England. When not writing about basketball, he can be found either appearing on game shows, inventing character names for non-existent sitcoms, or Googling his own name.