You can’t blame the Heat front office for only seeing the six inches in front of its face while LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were in town. It was a special time for a special group, one that made history by being the first team since the mid 80s to make four straight trips to the Finals. There was little time to plan for the future in a present so full of promise.
After James dropped the bombshell of the offseason (and who can blame him for getting his soon-to-be-born daughter out of Miami?), priorities have shifted. The Heat may still contend in the East, though if Kevin Love joins Cleveland or Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose revitalize Chicago even getting out of the East may be too lofty a goal. Beating someone from the loaded West? If they couldn’t do it with LeBron, they aren’t going to now.
But they can learn something from the team that beat them in June. Over the course of the 2013-14 season, the San Antonio Spurs started seven different players who had been in the league fewer than five seasons. Now, that’s cheating a bit because that includes Tiago Splitter and Aron Baynes, who are both old enough to have been in the league longer. But it’s still impressive compared to the Heat, who started just three such players all season — and that’s counting Toney Douglas and Michael Beasley.
Really, Norris Cole was the only Heat contributor who wasn’t already in the league when James joined the Heat. Cole is a nice role player who can really help when a defensive matchup warrants extended minutes, but he’s already 25 and unlikely to progress into a starting caliber point guard. Miami also returns Mario Chalmers, who, despite being the Big Three’s collective little brother, is actually 28 and in the midst of what you would call his prime. The Heat didn’t just draft Shabazz Napier to make LeBron happy. They need more dynamic guard play.
Of course the problem with developing young players is that you have to develop them. It takes time. It’s a risky investment the Heat were not willing to make. Instead, they chose low-risk, relatively low-reward options like Rashard Lewis. They prioritized veterans who could shoot, and make big threes in clutch moments. Battier, Allen, Lewis all fit the bill.
So far, it’s unclear whether Pat Riley and the Heat are willing to spend time and resources on bolstering the roster with young talent now that James is gone. Josh McRoberts is entering his athletic prime at 26 and Napier, who is 23, should be relatively prepared to contribute. Snagging 29 year-old Luol Deng at a reasonable price (two years and $20 million) helps too, but these moves are stopgaps.
Signing Chris Bosh for five seasons is another sign that the Heat have no intention of resetting without James. The Heat paid Bosh’s current market value, but Bosh will almost certainly be grossly overpaid by the end of his five-year deal. In the last 30 years, only six power forwards have posted a PER better than 20 after turning 33: McHale, Nowitzki, Duncan, Garnett, Karl Malone and Moses Malone. Many would argue those are the six best power forwards of all time.
The Heat have Bosh on the books for two and half more seasons once he’s 33. Bosh is a Hall Of Famer, but I’m not sure he’s on the same level as the legends listed above. The Heat are happy to back up the money truck for Bosh now, but the front office would likely balk at paying 34 year-old Bosh upwards of $25 million.
Miami’s other major offseason investment will likely be Dwyane Wade. There is no question that Wade is a valuable player, but he is also a depreciating asset if there ever was one. His points per 36 minutes have declined for six straight seasons, as has his PER. His shooting efficiency was outstanding next to James, but declined without James on the court in every season they played together. (Bosh averaged six more points per game when LeBron was out of the lineup.)
Wade’s inability to hit three-pointers could cripple his late-career effectiveness, and the Heat should be concerned about Wade and Deng sharing the court for long stretches unless Deng can recover the three-point touch he lost after 2011-12. If Wade gets a longterm deal, perhaps as thanks for winning Miami’s first title while making $3 million on his rookie contract, you’re looking at a future where the Heat have at least two aging players making big money.
For the next few seasons, the Heat should have plenty of talent to get by in the East — to win a few playoff series and routinely hold home court advantage in the first round. But eventually they’ll need to support their big names with big values. They’ll need to invest in draft picks and overseas free agents, in finding young players who can perform above their contract value. Once seen as the polar opposite of the patient Spurs, the future of the Heat now rests in whether they can uncover their own Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard.
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