(SportsNetwork.com) - Two and counting...
The Miami Heat won their second consecutive NBA title in a thrilling, seven-
game series over the San Antonio Spurs in June.
The three-time champion Heat should be riding high, and are to some degree.
Miami remains one of the best four or five teams in the league and lost only
one significant piece from last season's championship team - veteran guard
But, the 2013-14 Miami Heat will be defined by the 2014 offseason.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the real and true Big Three, can all
opt out of their contracts after this season. It would be catastrophic for all
to part South Beach, especially James, the two-time MVP, and four-time winner
in the last five years.
James acknowledged he would get asked all season about the looming free
agency. Obviously, Miami would love to have him back. The Heat's expected
competition for James' services will be his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers,
and the Los Angeles Lakers.
James isn't going to talk about it ... at least not after Media Day.
"I don't think it's appropriate to talk about it right now," he said. "Being a
leader of this team, I owe it to this organization, to my teammates to not
talk about it."
If James can really stay focused on the task of playing basketball and keep
reporters at bay, the Heat should be just fine. Three stars in their primes
certainly could lead to success.
The question is, has the league, or more specifically, the Eastern Conference
caught up to the Heat?
Teams with a tough interior presence can give the Heat problems, as evidenced
by the run the Indiana Pacers gave them in last year's East Finals. Roy
Hibbert and David West were too much for the Heat to handle at times.
Miami finished dead last in rebounding last season.
To battle their big-man problem, the Heat re-signed Chris "Birdman" Anderson
and won the sweepstakes for former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden, who hasn't
played since November of 2010.
The Heat, who won 27 straight games last season, are not as clear-cut
contenders for the title as they once were. The lack of toughness inside,
the questions about free agency and the rest of the league catching up to the
Heat will hurt.
But if you should have faith in anyone to weather turbulence, it's Miami and
James. The King is so clearly the best player in the league and his status as
a leader isn't far behind.
To think that this dynasty, or whatever you elect to designate this Heat run
as, could come to an end after four seasons is pretty underwhelming. The
hatred people spewed the way of James, Wade, Bosh and Pat Riley was pretty
And, in just eight short months, it could all be over.
2012-13 Results: 66-16, 1st in Southeast; NBA Champions.
ADDITIONS: C Greg Oden, F Michael Beasley
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Mario Chalmers
SG- Dwyane Wade
SF- LeBron James
PF- Udonis Haslem
C- Chris Bosh
KEY RESERVES: C Joel Anthony, F Shane Battier, G Ray Allen, C Chris Anderson,
G Norris Cole, F James Jones
FRONTCOURT: James cruised to another MVP last season and will be the favorite
for the award once again.
He averaged 26.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 7.3 apg. He finished second in Defensive
Player of the Year voting, and shot career-highs of 56 percent from the field
and 40 percent from the 3-point line.
James' presence alone makes a team a fringe title contender, if not more. And
here's the most terrifying thing uttered at any team's Media Day: "I'm a
better basketball player that I was last year."
Bosh endured a tough time of it last season. His 16.6 ppg average was the
lowest since his rookie season. Same went for his 1.7 apg mark and his 6.8 rpg
was the worst of his career.
To think Bosh actually played worse in the playoffs and the Heat won the title
is astonishing. His scoring shrunk to 12.1 ppg and he went some postseason
games without a single rebound. Not one ball even took a fortuitous bounce his
way. Bosh needs a bounceback/rebound year.
It's a Boyz II Men season for Haslem - he's at the "End of the Road."
BACKCOURT: For the fifth straight season, Wade's scoring numbers dipped. Part
of that was to be expected when James came to south Florida, but Wade shot a
career-best 52 percent from the field. His assists were up and his rebounding
jumped, albeit a little bit.
Much like Bosh, Wade's playoff numbers were horrid. He averaged 15.9 ppg and
well below his season averages in both assists and rebounds. Wade's knees
bothered him, and, at 31, they probably won't get too much better. Wade's game
is in decline, but not end of the world type of decline.
Chalmers shot a personal best from beyond the arc and his scoring numbers
improved in the playoffs. That has happened every season but one Chalmers has
been in the league. Can't ask for much more than that.
BENCH: Battier received two third-place votes for Sixth Man of the Year. His
shot got so bad in the postseason, he was DNP-CD in the Finals. Still, Battier
returned to the lineup and poured in 18 points in Game 7 against San Antonio.
Allen averaged double figures in his first season as a bench player, yet
garnered zero Sixth Man of the Year votes. He was exactly what everyone
expected last season and hit the shot that kept the Heat's title hopes alive
with his crazy 3-pointer with seconds left in Game 6.
The rest of the second unit, save from Cole and Anderson, two great change-of-
pace guys, is average.
If you expect anything from Oden this season, my dad would like to sell you a
bridge. Same goes for Beasley, although his contract is low-risk, high-reward
if he gives the Heat anything at all.
COACHING: Erik Spoelstra will never get the respect he deserves. People
believe anyone can just put on a suit and lead James, Wade and Bosh to a
Spoelstra made some difficult decisions last season, especially during the
Finals. He benched Battier and Anderson at different points, trying to rub two
sticks together to make something happen.
His players respect him, he's proficient enough with the Xs and Os and is on
his way to the Hall of Fame, if you can believe that.
OUTLOOK: The Heat are still the favorites to win the NBA title.
Think of it this way - after an epic regular season, the Heat looked downright
shabby at times in the postseason. The Pacers, and the Bulls just before them,
exposed their lack of toughness.
Wade and Bosh were awful. Battier and Birdman couldn't crack the rotation.
Things looked bleak.
But the Heat still won the title. With all of the adversity and trauma, James
was so good, he willed the Heat to a second straight NBA title. He is
dominating the NBA at a remarkable clip and there's no reason to think that
can't/won't happen again.
Well, there is a reason, this free agency albatross. James, and Wade and Bosh,
are such strong professionals and leaders that if one group can go an entire
season with that question strangling them at every opposing building, it's
The Heat will have one of the two or three best records in the NBA. They will
reach the Eastern Conference Finals, no doubt. They have made the last three
Finals and they've got a better-than-average chance of doing it again.
It's just not as mortal a lock as years past.
The Sports Network