Fresh off its second straight championship, the Miami Heat have 12 of 15 roster spots filled; Chris Andersen, Juwan Howard and Jarvis Varnado are the only free agents who were on the roster. And although questions abound about Varnado and Howard, re-signing Andersen should stand as Pat Riley's offseason priority.
Heat executives and Andersen's representatives are reportedly optimistic about a reunion. Andersen himself said at the Heat's championship parade, "Let's try to win a three-peat next year." As I mentioned earlier, the 11-year NBA pro has likely played himself out of the minimum-salary realm, and will likely command the Heat's mini mid-level exception. The mini MLE has a starting salary of approximately $3.2 million and can be used for contracts up to three years in length. Andersen will turn 35 Friday, so he'll likely ask for a two- or three-year deal in what will probably become his last NBA contract. Although Andersen will lose some effectiveness when his athleticism and energy begins to wane, the Heat will dramatically bolster chances of a three-peat with the Birdman back on board.
Let's wind the clocks back to the beginning of the 2012-13 NBA season. Miami struggled mightily on defense, with part of the problem stemming from Erik Spoelstra putting defensive sieves like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis in the rotation. Spoelstra inserted Joel Anthony in the rotation in early December, improving Miami's defense at the cost of playing 4-on-5 offensively. In late January, Miami let go of Josh Harrellson to make room for a Andersen, who hadn't played an NBA game since the 2010-11 season.
Andersen entered the rotation at the start of Miami's historic 27-game winning streak, quickly establishing himself as the team's best big man aside from LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Finally, the Heat had a center who fit in with the team's core. He absorbed Miami's defensive principles and executed them well. Take a look at this play that Grantland's Zach Lowe highlighted. Andersen sets a screen for Ray Allen and a subsequent pick for Dwyane Wade, forcing Boston's defense to converge on Wade before he sets up Shane Battier for a 3-pointer.
Andersen has the ability to finish around the rim, creating a new dynamic for the Heat's offense when Bosh went to the bench. He was particularly adept at catching the ball on the baseline and creatively putting the ball in the basket. During one playoff stretch, Andersen made 17 consecutive field goal attempts. Just as important, Andersen proved to be a solid defensive center. He could block shots (how big were his three rejections in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, a game Miami won by one point in overtime?). Andersen also allowed opponents to score an average of just .87 points per possession on post-ups and .69 points per possession on pick-and-rolls, per Synergy Sports. Moreover, he burnished Miami's rebounding ability -- another common complaint lodged to the Heat during the season -- to the point of unexpected results, like when the Heat consistently out-rebounded the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
It appears that Andersen will come back to defend the title. Despite the fact that the Heat may sign him to a contract that is one year too long, his tenacity, defense and finishing ability make Miami a much better team.