MIAMI, FL - JUNE 25: Miami Heat President of Basketball Operations Pat Riley celebrates during a rally for the 2012 NBA Champion Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on June 25, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Although the Miami Heat just finished the championship parade, Pat Riley and other team executives have to prepare for Thursday's 2012 NBA Draft. Miami traded away its first-round picks in 2013 and 2015 as part of the sign-and-trade deals that brought LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the Heat. Therefore, these first-round picks stand as one of the rare ways Miami can acquire young, cheap players in the Big Three era.
Norris Cole, Miami's first-round pick last year, had an up-and-down rookie campaign but contributed in the postseason. Despite his struggles, Cole can be Miami's backup point guard for years to come. The Heat also have Cole under contract through the 2015-16 campaign, his salary slightly raising to a paltry $3.2 million by the end of his contract. If Miami can select a nice player Thursday night, the Heat will have two cheap rotation players, all the more important as the harsh luxury-tax penalties kick in during the 2013-14 season.
Miami could use some depth everywhere, but it's hard to envision Riley drafting a point guard for two consecutive years. When Cole and Mario Chalmers struggled after the All-Star break, it appeared that the Heat could have used a veteran at that position, not another young player. Riley may look to sign a point guard in free agency this summer. Thus, the Heat should look at either a wing or a big man for the Draft.
Three-point shooting aces Mike Miller and James Jones have both publicly stated that they would consider retirement during the off-season. If they both retire, Miami will be extremely thin at the wings, especially considering the fact that the Heat started LeBron James and Shane Battier since the Pacers series. Considering the multitude of injuries Miller has suffered since joining Miami, the South Dakotan may ride off into the sunset after nailing seven 3s in Game 5 of the Finals. If that happens, Riley should talk Jones into returning for at least one more year. That way, Miami should still have Jones to come off the bench as well as rising sophomore Terrel Harris, who showed some promise in his limited minutes. ESPN's Brian Windhorst said that Miami and Ray Allen have mutual interest, and he would solidify the Heat's bench if he takes a pay cut to chase another championship.
Assuming Jones decides to return, the Heat should look for a big man in the Draft. Windhorst and Jonathan Givony of Draft Express reported that Riley will add a big man Thursday, so perhaps Riley knows that his team will be fine on the wings. A quality big man won't take a pay-cut to join Miami - players like Nene and Samuel Dalembert opted for more money last offseason despite supposed Heat interest - so the draft is the Heat's best bet.
Chris Bosh's brief absence from the team shortly after the All-Star break exposed Miami's lack of quality depth. Dexter Pittman and Juwan Howard weren't able to contribute much at all during that stretch, and Eddy Curry had already played himself out of the rotation after he got a brief look in January. Miami overcame Bosh's injury during the playoffs because of LeBron James' added post skills and Shane Battier's willingness to defend David West and Brandon Bass. The Heat will have Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony under contract, and Ronny Turiaf will probably exercise his player option for next year. Still, the Heat could use a quality 7-footer on the bench. Moreover, James said that he isn't ready to play as a full-time four.
Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli may become the newest member of the Heat in a couple days. Mock drafts from Draft Express and NBA.com have Miami selecting Ezeli, and he makes sense. Other big men - like Fab Melo, Andrew Nicholson and even red-flagged Jarred Sullinger - will likely already have their new caps on by the time the Heat go on the clock. Ezeli may be the best available big man and has a 6-foot-11, 260-pound frame. He isn't lumbering like Curry or Pittman and is a solid catch-and-finish option at the rim, unlike Anthony.
The college senior will likely be available at the end of the first round for a reason, however. Ezeli's biggest red flag is the fact that he ranked in the bottom third of centers in defensive rebounds per-40 minutes. But he did grab 11 rebounds in each of his games in the NCAA tournament, so perhaps he may learn how to box out and get good positioning under the tutelage of Alonzo Mourning, Haslem and others in the Heat organization.
Riley won't look for his pick to start or even be in the rotation right away. Bosh emerged as the Heat's best center during the Finals and anticipates playing more of the five next year. Haslem and maybe Anthony will come off the bench regularly. But if someone gets hurt or the Heat play a team with a formidable frontline, Miami will need an upgrade over Pittman and Curry. Ezeli can provide that.