NBA Blogger Preview Series: Miami Heat

Team Name: Miami Heat
Last Year's Record: 15-67
Key Losses: SF Ricky Davis; PG Jason Williams; C Earl Barron; SF Kasib Powell; PF Stephane Lasme; PG Blake Ahearn
Key Additions: PF Michael Beasley; PG Mario Chalmers; PG Shaun Livingston; SF James Jones; SF Yakhouba Diawara; C Jamaal Magloire; C David Padgett

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

Miami's epic struggles in 2007-08 yielded the delicious fruit of the No. 2 overall draft pick, used adroitly on Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley. The affable, hijinx-obsessed forward has yet to define a position at the NBA level, but he has already confirmed that the uncanny inside-outside scoring prowess he displayed in college will translate to the pros. With a full arsenal of post moves, a tissue-soft outside touch, an array of head and ball fakes and an explosive first step to the hoop, Beasley, if given the opportunities, can easily average 20 points per game immediately.

Beasley's defense, however, is as much a mystery as his offense is a certainty. He's not quite quick enough to effectively guard slashers on the wing, yet his size (wildly exaggerated at 6-9 1/2 on the Heat's official roster) makes it difficult for him to guard power forwards on the block. It's this issue, and the presence of productive but unconventional forward Shawn Marion, that is keeping Beasley from settling into one frontcourt position or the other. When his defensive awareness improves and Marion is either traded or nestled into a clearly-defined role, Beasley should be set loose to create matchup nightmares for the other team's coach rather than his own.

NCAA Tournament hero Mario Chalmers joined the Heat in a draft-day trade that was widely heralded as a steal. Hs preseason play, however, has proven that he has plenty of work to do before he can play a major role on a good team. A mirror-image of his fellow rookie Beasley, Chalmers has quickly adapted his persistent perimeter defense to the pro game, but he's shown little ability to run the Heat's offense from the point guard spot. Chalmers may be able to scrape by at the position for a while on the strength of defense and outside shooting thanks to the presence of playmaking backcourt mate Dwyane Wade. The rebuilding Heat can endure such an adjustment period, but Chalmers eventually will need to become something very close to a pure point guard to figure in the team's long-term plans.

Miami added former phenom Shaun Livingston as a wild card to its uninspiring hand of point guard options. If he can recover from the devastating knee injury that derailed his promising career, the low-risk acquisition of the former Clippers sensation could yield huge rewards.

Sharpshooter James Jones was recruited to provide the kind of outside threat the team has missed since the tenures of Jason Kapono and James Posey. A wrist injury will prevent him from doing that for approximately the first three months of the season, but the signing should prove to be a smart one once he returns to full health.

Wing Yakhouba Diawara should find a limited role as a lockdown perimeter defender, but he offers little else...former All-Star center Jamaal Magloire showed no signs of a resurgence before a hand injury sidelined him...undrafted center David Padgett is a good fit for Miami's system, and he may stick on the 15-man roster.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

It's easy to covet your neighbor's roster in the midst and aftermath of a 15-win season, but Miami fans were reminded of their good fortune this summer with the spectacular Olympic exploits of guard Dwyane Wade. In a stunning comeback from a season lost to injury, Wade reestablished himself among the NBA elite as perhaps the best overall player on a team of the league's finest stars. That said, the presence of a game-changing star like Wade is an asset not every team can claim, and it is easily the Heat's biggest strength.

Beasley, meanwhile, gives Miami the kind of secondary scoring option that even fewer teams enjoy. The offensive chemistry between Wade and Beasley will be perhaps the single most important factor to the Heat's success in the near future.

It's hard to cite a player of Marion's caliber as anything but a strength, but the Heat has yet to find a role that maximizes his significant but unorthodox gifts. It seems likely that Marion, who is in the final year of his contract, will be traded at some point before February to address the team's weaker areas.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

The Heat are extremely unsettled at two vital positions: point guard and center. The situations there are potentially bad enough to negate any progress achieved by the burgeoning Wade-Beasley collaboration.

Incumbent starter Chris Quinn was retained after a summer spent idling on the restricted free-agent market, and he will likely open the season in the starting five. That, however, should be interpreted as a reflection of the team's failure to upgrade the spot rather than a gauge of Quinn's ability. While he played admirably in meaningless games last season and is certainly good enough to be a solid backup, the organization is in no way committed to him as a long-term solution.

Marcus Banks, a financially necessary part of the Marion-Shaquille O'Neal trade last year, continues to offer occasional glimpses of his potential. But he failed to grasp his best and perhaps final chance to become a full-time starter in this preseason, and Miami is primarily interested in seeing his cumbersome contract expire at this point.

Chalmers, meanwhile, is still seen as a prospective point guard of the future after the obligatory learning curve runs its course. Livingston has the talent to make the entire issue moot, but his uncertain health prevents the team from viewing him as a franchise building block.

But the most compelling evidence of the Heat's cockeyed roster is its center position. The team's three best frontcourt options are easily Marion, Beasley and Udonis Haslem, but none has the size to slide into the center spot full-time. This led the Heat to adopt the questionable logic and terminology of a "three-forward lineup," which might be passable in some matchups but is utterly helpless against legitimate starting fives like that of division rival Orlando.

Until the logjam is cleared, Miami may try its luck with the gritty Haslem at center, or simply throw up its collective hands and award the job to incumbent Mark Blount, a smooth-shooting 7-footer who lacks the skill set teams value in and expect from a 7-footer. The conundrum is that Haslem brings the style and disposition of a center without the size, while Blount has the size to compete in the paint but lacks the inclination.

With Magloire injured and franchise legend Alonzo Mourning several months away from a comeback that is far from certain of happening at all, the Heat is currently left with two very different center options aside from Haslem and Blount. Joel Anthony is a rugged rebounder and shotblocker who is essentially useless on offense, while Padgett has survived this long based almost purely on his ability and eagerness to pass and set screens. Anthony is a candidate for a breakout season in the mold of Ben Wallace, but his offensive shortcomings extend to the point that he frequently struggles to even catch the ball, much less finish in traffic or find an open man.

4. What are the goals for this team?

Improvement from a 15-win season shouldn't even be considered an achievement, so it's up for debate as to what would constitute a successful Miami Heat campaign. The combined talents of Wade, Beasley and Marion make 50 wins and a postseason run seem plausible, while the clutter surrounding those three on the roster threatens to drag the team back into the lottery. It's tempting to split the difference and simply hope for a .500 season and a a low-end playoff berth, but to do so seems short-sighted and overly simplistic.

The Heat should measure progress this season in smaller ways. It must settle the Marion issue - if he is not part of the team's long-term plans, he should be traded for players that are. It must find a position and comfort zone for Beasley, particularly on defense. It must monitor Wade's workload in the interest of his long-term health. It must give Chalmers an opportunity to learn the point guard position, even if it is hard to watch at times. It must see enough of Livingston to determine whether he can be counted on going forward.

Hanging over all of this is the summer of 2010, when Miami aims to clear enough salary cap space to cast its line alongside the Nets, Knicks and numerous other teams hoping to reel in a star like LeBron James or Chris Bosh. The Heat is particularly attached to that offseason, however, because Wade too will be eligible to test those waters. So the challenge for the Heat over the next two seasons is to maintain salary flexibility while winning enough games to entice Wade to stay at home. Miami can turn 2010 into a franchise-altering moment if it somehow maintains both salary-cap freedom and a decent on-court product over the next two seasons. From that long-term angle, anything that furthers that mission will be considered a success.

If that answer was too diplomatic, the Heat should finish .500 and contend for a low-end playoff spot.

Predicted Record: 41-41, 8th in the East

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