Team Name: Miami Heat
Last Year's Record: 46-20 (16-7 postseason - NBA Champions)
No one will view the loss of Juwan Howard or Eddy Curry as a blow to the Heat, let alone a key loss. Ronny Turiaf was the final player added to the Heat roster during last season and he seemed to be the first one to leave the team in the offseason, heading over to the resurgent Los Angeles Clippers. Pat Riley surely is confident this core can successfully defend their title and this is a much stronger nucleus than the 2006-07 roster tasked with repeating as champions.
With little money to spend, the Heat nevertheless acquired the services of one of the members of the Big 3...in Boston. Getting a player of the caliber of Ray Allen, a 10-time All-Star, on the cheap already called for celebration but to swipe him from rival Boston Celtics made it that much sweeter. There's no need to list all of his accomplishments or explain just what makes that quick shooting stroke so deadly, suffice to say he represents quite the backup for Dwyane Wade and it serves the added bonus of less wear-and-tear on both players through the course of a full 82-game season. Both will be better off for it by the time the postseason starts. Even though Allen will be a bench player for the first time in his career he'll still play big minutes for the Heat in their new era of "position-less" rotations and you can bet he'll be playing in crunch time.
For the minimum, the Heat also added Rashard Lewis which is a low-risk move for the Heat but has the potential to pay off from time to time during the season. Even though the 6-11 forward doesn't exactly solve the Heat's annual deficit of serviceable big men, he has range when he's healthy. By all accounts he's on track to being precisely that and he's been steadily improving during the preseason.
Josh Harrellson is a lock to make the team and he will quickly become a fan favorite at the AmericanAirlines Arena. Heat fans have a long and rich history of heartily rooting for scrappy white players and Josh is no exception to the rule. He's shown that range we all saw in spurts when he played for the New York Knicks and he looks to be a great fit in the team's defensive schemes.
What significant moves were made during the offseason?
Besides the Allen signing, the most significant move was that there wasn't a significant move made during the offseason. There was no Mike Miller retirement, no major trades and their second round draft pick Justin Hamilton will be playing in Europe this season.
The Heat could have possibly added a quality player at the #27 spot of the first round and decided to trade out of it anyway for a future protected first round pick from the Philadelphia Sixers. Pat Riley won't be building the team with a bunch of youngsters but the few developing players on the roster, namely Norris Cole and Dexter Pittman, will need to show more improvement if they are to play consistent minutes on this deep team.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
Besides that, the front office has successfully circumvented the popular thinking that the Big 3 could only play with a bunch of mediocre players because they wouldn't have salary cap room to lure quality support. They have a deep bench with proven veterans and can mix and match starters and reserves freely without much regard for traditional positions.
Did I mention the Big 3 already?
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
While they don't have talented big men (who does anymore in today's NBA?) they do have an assortment of multi-skilled players that aren't afraid to crash the boards and defend the paint to make up for it.
Wade, Lewis, Miller and Allen are all coming off surgeries and/or significant rehab from the offseason and Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony haven't played yet during the preseason. Health concerns aren't new for any team but what the team is currently dealing with are relatively minor setbacks and the team by and large appears healthy and ready for the regular season.
What are the goals for this team?
As usual, it's championship or bust for this team. The East doesn't appear to offer much resistance and the West will certainly present a challenge should the Heat return to the Finals. The Heat are the favorite for a reason and LeBron appears to already be hungry for another ring. And this is just the preseason.
What are the best and worst case scenarios for this season?
To either win another ring or not.
Coach Erik Spoelstra refuses to see it as a season to "repeat" as champions. He prefers to maintain the perspective that this is another great opportunity for his team to win the trophy. The young coach has too much respect for how hard it is to actually do it. With these players now understanding what it takes to be champions after their first season together ended the way it did and with more team chemistry in their third year together, it's a safe bet that this year's Miami Heat could be better than last year's team.
This is a major problem for the rest of the NBA.