Since the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect, Pat Riley has used the taxpayer mid-level exception - the Miami Heat's only offer outside of minimum contracts - on Shane Battier and now Ray Allen. Despite the criticisms of some who felt Miami needed a center instead of adding to a wing rotation that already featured LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Riley's new philosophy has already proven to work brilliantly. With the NBA's all-time 3-point shooter now in the fold, the possibilities become even greater.
Miami won the NBA Finals with small-ball, moving Chris Bosh over to the five and James to the four. The Heat played only one big man - Bosh or Udonis Haslem - after Game 1 of the 2012 Finals. This adjustment from last year allowed Miami to space the floor offensively. Instead of completely ignoring Joel Anthony, opposing teams had to account for all five Heat players. The fact that Miami had two 3-point shooters - Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier - surrounding the Big Three made it even tougher on defenses. Additionally, the ability of Battier, James and Bosh to play big on the defensive end enabled Miami to go small and still play effectively defensively and rebound well.
Allen adds a new dimension to the Heat's already potent offense. Whether Mike Miller retires or not, the former Connecticut standout will take a role as the sixth man and provide a much-needed scoring boost. Although Miami always has at least one member of the Big Three on the court - barring injury - the Heat's lineups featuring James and four reserves grew too reliant on James. Occasionally, James would indulge himself in some hero-ball. But now Allen will get wide open looks when James goes into the post or Miami runs sets for shooters in the corners. Moreover, Allen can run around screens and shoot, something that Miller, Battier and James Jones cannot do. Miami's offense will run much smoother when Wade and Bosh take their usual rests.
Some people critical of the Heat's pursuit of Allen point to his age - he'll turn 37 in two weeks - or his subpar defense. It is true that Allen is past his prime and underwent ankle surgery shortly after his season ended. However, the fact that this consummate pro keeps himself in excellent condition mitigates the usual effects of Father Time. Allen has shown that he still has the foot-speed to get open looks, including in the last few games of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. As far as his defense, Allen certainly doesn't defend multiple positions, something that allowed Miami to switch pick-and-rolls frequently in the postseason. Even so, the Heat's great team defense should be able to mask Allen's deficiencies. Besides, what two-guard outside of Kobe Bryant could give the Heat a lot of problems?
This move definitely represents Riley continuing on the path that won a championship. Although the Heat will use Anthony, Haslem and perhaps another big man (Marcus Camby?) in the regular season to relieve James and Bosh from defending bigger players for 82 games, Miami will battle teams in the playoffs with its versatility. Around the Big Three, Miami will now have Allen, Chalmers, Battier and maybe Miller spotting up from beyond the arc. Opposing scouts should start devising a strategy to beat the Heat now, because the defending NBA champions just became exceedingly more difficult to defend. That's never a good sign for the rest of the league.