Time for the third installment in our weekly look at potential off-season upgrades for the Miami Heat. First, we looked at the talent-rich stable of power forward free agents-to-be. Next, we looked at the center position. This week, I am going to look at the perimeter guys as a whole. I’m confident Dwyane Wade will be back, so this is a look at the available point guards and small forwards as a combined group. I’m doing so partly because I’m running out of weeks between now and July 1, and partly because the right pick-up at small forward (say a certain guy who is reportedly on his way out in Atlanta) could allow Presidential Pat flexibility in terms of how he approaches the point guard position. Coincidentally, the right point guard could allow the Heat to start Dorell Wright at the small forward position. Here are my top 5 picks for perimeter upgrades in 2010-11.
1. LeBron James – Like him or not, think his maturity/professionalism is a bit lacking or not, LeBron James is the best perimeter player available in the history of free agency. Of course, I am more definitive about that proclamation because I fully believe D-Wade is, in essence, is not available. James, on the other hand, seems very available. The keys with this upgrade—and I alluded to it earlier—are versatility flexibility. LeBron is the most versatile player in the League. He can realistically and legitimately play four positions. That kind of versatility gives the team who employs his services hella-flexibility. He can be the primary ballhandler. He can be the go-to scorer. Because he is generally the most athletic guy on the court when he plays, small forward is a natural fit for him, and he can dominate from there. I wouldn’t do this for long stretches of time, but LeBron would be a game changer at the power forward position—allowing his team to “go small” and speed up the game. Using James at power forward and stretching the floor with him could also allow Dwyane Wade to venture into the post, which is a very underappreciated and little used element in his all-around game. Of course, LeBron James commands a MAX salary, which will be right at $17 million per. The drawback to signing LeBron is that we’d have to lay off the Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire Sweepstakes or trade Michael Beasley for a suitcase in order to afford one of those guys.
2. Joe Johnson – Again, flexibility is key here. Because of his scoring, shooting, and playmaking abilities, Joe Johnson (pictured above with the iconic manager of the Atlanta Braves, Bobby Cox) is a quality option as a shooting guard or a small forward. I wouldn’t play him at point guard, but his presence—especially with the apt playmaking skills of D-Wade in tow—negates the need for a traditional point guard. This move could even put Wade and Johnson in the backcourt together—with each knowing he will not be required to be the primary ballhandler all by his lonesome. He could sign in the $13-$15 million range.
3. Luke Ridnour – He could be looking to get out of Milwaukee now that Brandon Jennings is the point guard of the present and future there. He has a calmness to him, and he’s a great shooter. He averaged double digits playing all 82 games off the bench in 2009-10. I like him in the $6-$8 million range.
4. Steve Blake – Seems to just have a certain toughness about him. I like the fact that he was a Champion in college at Maryland. He never gets too excited or rattled. He’s good when it comes to setting up offense, and he has experience being a spot-up shooter playing off a playmaking shooting guard, so he could be a great fit with D-Wade. Blake is also a solid defender. It won’t show up in terms of steals, but he can be highly effective in a zone defense. I see him signing for $6-$8 million.
5. Rudy Gay – I’m tempted not to even put Gay on this list because I see him staying put with the Grizzlies (largely due to his status as a restricted free agent), but he certainly would be a great fit with the Miami Heat. He has a highly-coveted quality in today’s NBA: He can create his own shot. Gay can work inside, and he can work outside. The kid also has the necessary to be a lockdown defender if so desires. Coming off a borderline All-Star season, Gay is primed for another big season. The issue with Rudy Gay is that he’s a restricted free agent, which means the Grizzlies can match any offer to keep him. I’d say the chances of the Grizz anteing up to keep the guy are good unless he gets offered an insane amount of money. According to the 2010-11 Salary Cap projection, the most anyone can give him is $14 million. If the bidding goes that high for Gay, the Heat will be out the discussion anyway, and I would fully expect Grizz owner Michael Heisley to renege on his declaration that he would retain Gay’s services at any price if at that point as well. I just feel that if you haven’t carried your team to the Playoffs or even made an All-Star team, you shouldn’t be maxing out just yet. I can hopefully see him signing in the $10-$12 million range.
Shout-outs to (in no particular order): Ray Allen, Josh Childress, John Salmons, Raymond Felton, Mike Miller, and Matt Barnes. They all could fit nicely and contribute in their own way.
Another one’s in the books! Feel free to agree or disagree in the comment section. I’d love to know what other fans think about this. Stay tuned. Next week we will look at the bench.