If you read this blog frequently, you may know that I didn't want the Miami Heat to sign Rashard Lewis. I wrote that he is a subpar defender and rebounder, and that the Heat should have tried to find a young power forward to eventually replace Udonis Haslem instead of the 32-year-old Lewis.
When the Heat officially signed Lewis, I struggled to envision what his role might be. But after a few days of pondering, I see where the two-time All-Star can carve out a niche with the defending champions. And if the Heat reserve one of their two remaining roster spots for a young big man, I'll be satisfied - if not enthusiastic - about the signing of Lewis.
Erik Spoelstra's move of Shane Battier to the starting lineup in the second round arguably stands as his shrewdest adjustment of the 2012 championship run. The former Duke standout relieved LeBron James from having to defend David West in the post, which was invaluable. And on the offensive end, Battier provided spacing for James and Wade to operate. In Game 2 of the second round, Miami started Ronny Turiaf and Haslem, both of whom don't provide much offensively. The Heat only scored 75 points in that game, but surpassed the century mark in the final three games of that series. Even when Chris Bosh returned from his injury, Spoelstra declined to use Bosh and Haslem in the starting lineup, both of whom started towards the end of the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs. Wanting to continue to keep that crucial spacing, Spoelstra moved Haslem to the bench and continued with Battier.
This strategy comes back to Lewis. Battier can defend power forwards in the playoffs - especially when some of them, like Serge Ibaka, aren't offensive threats - but can't in an 82-game season. And while Lewis is not a good defensive player, he still offers that critical floor spacing that Battier provided in the playoffs. If the Heat continue to surround the Big Three with shooters - Lewis, Battier, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and James Jones - opposing teams will have to decide whether to defend James or Dwyane Wade in paint or the 3-point shooters on the perimeter. Pick your poison.
If the Heat need defense and rebounding, Haslem can come in (and hopefully he'll have a better year with his jump-shot). Bosh will likely play more of the five this season, and he won't have the problem Battier has with defending bigger players. Only three centers would cause problems for Bosh - Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Marc Gasol. Tyson Chandler is a defensive stalwart, but not an offensive threat. Against 27 teams, Bosh will be fine at the five. Miami even defeated the Indiana Pacers, with the 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, using a power rotation that consisted of Turiaf, Haslem and Joel Anthony.
Lewis certainly has some flaws in his game. But if he plays the four with Bosh as the five, he puts pressure on defenses. Even when the Heat turn to the defensive-minded Battier in the playoffs, Lewis still has some value. He could spell Battier, who played huge minutes in the playoffs, even averaging 37 minutes per game in the Finals. Although Pat Riley should look for a power forward who can contribute for the next five seasons instead of just the next two, a healthy Lewis could emerge as a solid role player.