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Observing the Changes in the Heat's roster: Upgrades & Downgrades

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The Miami Heat are certainly going to take a "step back" in everyone's eyes because of the loss of 4-time MVP, LeBron James. But what about the rest of the roster? Did the Heat close the gap in other areas?

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There is no question that the Heat will not have the same identity without their leader LeBron James. But, Miami Heat President Pat Riley has made enough roster changes to warrant some discussion about whether this is a better all around team than last year.

James said that the Heat needed to improve at every position, and they are working to do that within the confines of the salary cap, and losing him, the best player in the game. So, what we are going to do here is evaluate the differences in the roster and deem it an upgrade, downgrade or neutral.

A couple of things to keep in mind here: the Heat roster was fluid last year. Joel Anthony was traded, Roger Mason Jr. released, and the rotation changed often in regards to Rashard Lewis, Michael Beasley and even Udonis Haslem. I am going to construct the lineup as best I can, and offer the best preview I can based on what we know currently of the roster. Also keep in mind that the Heat roster as we know it right now will likely change in the future.

Let's start.

Starters:

Neutral (no changes)
Mario Chalmers (PG), Dwyane Wade (SG), Chris Bosh (C).

Although they are neutral, we should see improvements from all three of these players. Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh are right in the middle of their prime years, and with more exposure to the ball and playmaking could lead to improvement in their production, maybe just less efficient. Dwyane Wade is a wild card -- we all want to think that with him having more responsibilities, he will return to the Wade we used to know, but at 32, we can't be certain that this is what will happen. Regardless, Wade shouldn't decline in his production.

Upgrades
Josh McRoberts in for Shane Battier (PF).

Battier started 56 games for the Heat last season, and although he was pulled from the rotation at different times, he has been a mainstay at PF the last few years, it only seems right to put him here. Battier's 4 points and 2 rebounds per game won't be missed much, but his intangibles will. Luckily, a fellow Duke player is filling in for him with more size and playmaking abilities. McRoberts won't extend the floor as well as Battier did, but he will do it good enough. This is definitely an upgrade to the Heat's starting lineup.

Downgrades
Luol Deng in for LeBron James (SF).

Sorry, Luol. But there isn't anyone who would present an upgrade over LeBron James. Deng is going to be a good addition for the Heat. He will bring intangibles, defense, team-first mentality to the court in addition to his scoring. But LeBron will be missed on so many levels.

Second Unit:

Neutral
Norris Cole (PG), Udonis Haslem (PF), Chris Andersen (C)

Norris Cole should be an improvement this year for the Heat with another offseason of training, but the return of both Haslem and Andersen who are well into their thirties should be taken with concern. It creates stability in the organization, but they need to be productive.

Upgrades
Danny Granger in for Michael Beasley (SF)

From the outside, this may not look like an upgrade. But Beasley was never, ever given the opportunity to do what he does best -- that's score the ball at his will. He was always trying to find his way in the offense, and outside a handful of games, Beasley didn't excel. Granger will have a much more defined role on this team and I think that will help. We are all hopeful Granger can be consistent from downtown, and also have an influence on defense.

Downgrades
James Ennis in for Ray Allen (SG)

Not much to say here. The Heat will go from a consistent scoring threat from deep to unknown behind Wade. Whether you put Tyler Johnson or James Ennis here, there are going to be ups and downs. Ray Allen will be missed greatly, but that doesn't mean it's not the right direction for the Heat.

Third Unit:

Neutral
Justin Hamilton (C), Reggie Williams in for Greg Oden (position-less change)

Justin Hamilton was productive in the Heat's Summer League play, but I still don't see him getting consistent minutes. I do see him making more appearances this year, however. With Greg Oden out and the Heat bringing in Reggie Williams, it's not an equal trade per position as the rest, so it's hard to grade. I'll call it neutral for now, but Williams doesn't have to do much to out play what Oden contributed last year.

Upgrades
Shabazz Napier in for Toney Douglas (PG), Tyler Johnson in for James Jones (SG)

Napier has a lot of upside and that's why he is an upgrade. Douglas played well for the Heat in the time he got when Wade was out, but I think we can all agree that Napier's ceiling is much higher. He will have to earn any time he gets, but it will be an upgrade. Tyler Johnson is listed as an upgrade because Jones never played and when he did, he was only capable of one thing -- shooting the three. Johnson will provide ball handling, playmaking and a less consistent three-point shot.

Downgrades
Shawne Williams in for Rashrd Lewis (PF)

This is a tough one to grade as well. Rashard Lewis came on late in the season and especially the playoffs playing better than he has the last two years, but he was in and out of the rotation for much of the season. Lewis was a floor spacer, but he did a bit more than that. Williams is a wild card, it looks like the Heat signed him because he looks good, but it's not merited on what he did last season. For now, we have to assume this is a downgrade in consistency, and hope that Shawne Williams surprises us.

Conclusion:
Totaled up, that's 3 downgrades, 5 upgrades and 7 neutral same pieces. Now the question for you is to determine do the more upgrades outweigh the significance of the downgrades. Losing James and Allen are very substantial changes, but so are the additions of McRoberts, Granger and Napier.

In my opinion, I think the Heat recovered from losing James very nicely. The Heat won't be a top 2 team in the East, although it's not impossible. But I think the youth movement with Napier, Johnson and Ennis are going to make for some intriguing elements to the season. Both Deng and McRoberts will make this team more unselfish, which is always more exciting to see.

The Heat will sport a lot of the same pieces this year on the court, but the new additions could make them worth a watch even without LeBron James.