It's been difficult to watch the Heat and Lebron James play this season. The team became infected with the disease of stagnancy on both ends. LeBron and Wade's defense slipped significantly, role players became older and less active (Birdman, Battier, Haslem, etc.), and the Oden/Beasley experiment was mostly a failure.
However, even within the doldrums of the regular season I held hope that the Heat could summon greatness when needed, and for the most part I was right. The Heat did a very solid job in the playoffs until they ran into the Buzzsaw that was the 2014 San Antonio Spurs. Superior ball movement and man movement coupled with improved individual defense exposed the stagnancy, fatigue, and bad habits that developed during the season. Nonetheless, I'm proud of this Miami team and especially proud of LeBron (who continues to garner much undue criticism, despite his status as the greatest perimeter player since his Airness).
With this being said it is fairly obvious that the next iteration of the Heat need a reboot. We've seen this happen with Jordan's second three-peat and Kobe's recent two-peat. It is time for King to add to his court. The question then becomes: Who should the Heat target?
For this exercise I am making the assumption that Bosh/Wade take a pay cut and that LeBron stays.
Watching this Heat team play during the regular season and in the playoffs allowed me to identify three areas of need for the team. In order they are:
1. Rim Protection. The Heat's uniquely aggressive style of defense is mostly born from the fact that they lack a traditional rim protector down low that could facilitate a more conservative scheme. Teams like The Pacers and Spurs have the luxury of rim protectors that allow them to ICE the pick and roll and avoid too much trapping as a means to generate ball pressure. In addition, having a traditional big man gives teams the option to run sophisticated zones like the Mavericks did this postseason. In fact every top 10 defense in the league starts a traditional defensive Center with the exception of Charlotte.
2. Consistency at the Point Guard position. Mario Chalmers is coming off a career regular season, however, I do not buy him as the ideal PG to manage this squad. The Heat need more consistency at the position offensively and defensively. It's quite frustrating watching Chalmers commit unnecessary fouls and struggle to create for himself and others. This was especially obvious in the playoffs. The Heat do not need an elite guard like Chris Paul, but they need someone who can make the passes, hit open shots, and be a disciplined defender.
3. Young/Athletic "D and 3" guys. Watching the tired legs of LeBron, Wade, Battier, and Allen as they had to cover many of the swing men in the league was difficult during the regular season and the playoffs. It would be very helpful if the Heat had a young SG/SF that could be a lock down defender in the Bruce Bowen mold.
This is not only the most important area of need for this Heat team but it is also the scarcest resource in free agency. The notable names available at Center are Marcin Gortat and Pau Gasol. If the Heat could acquire either guy it would be a significant boon. Gortat would be ideal as he is younger and better defensively, but Gasol's high basketball IQ, size, and offense would be appreciated.
At the bargain end of the spectrum there are guys like Emeka Okafor, Jason Smith, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, Greg Stiemsma, and Aron Baynes. None of these guys can be counted on to significantly move the needle but any individual one could be a space eater down low.
The marquee names are Kyle Lowry and Eric Bledsoe, both of whom would be great improvements that could individually change the outlook of the team, but both are gonna have a multitude of suitors and both will command a hefty sum. The good news is that the bargain options are solid. Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin, Greivis Vasquez, and Patty Mills are all veterans that could serve a purpose and be consistent for the Miami Heat.
Defensive Minded Wings
Trevor Ariza is probably the most logical choice, but he has likely played himself into a very lucrative contract that the Heat won't be able to afford. However, the bargain options for swing men in FA are solid this year as well. PJ Tucker, Thabo Sefolosha, and Jodie Meeks are all guys in their prime who have shown the ability to play great defense and space the floor.
As a LeBron fan I am heavily rooting for the Heat to get him a great Center. The Heat have had to compensate for the lack of a tall defensive Center and it's been a difficult task sustaining this brand of defense throughout the year.The most important thing for me to see this off-season is a concerted effort from the Front Office to get big men. It's truly amazing that the Heat managed to win two straight championships without a traditional Center, which is something that has never been done in NBA history. Even if it can't be Gortat, they have to get something and they would do well to try and draft one of the foreign bigs in this year's draft (Capela, Nurkic, Jokic, etc.) to either develop slowly or draft and stash.
I am more confident that the team will shore up the PG position and I think it's fair to assume they try and target wings like Tucker and Sefolosha as well.
Note: These are just my thoughts as a fan based on what I've seen and read.
What are your thoughts? Is Carmelo Anthony the answer? Are the Heat fine standing pat or should they make a splash? What would you like to see from the team this off season?