Pat Riley's continuing effort to keep the Miami Heat competitive continued today with the shocking news that Roy Hibbert, longtime rival with the Indiana Pacers, has agreed to a one-year deal to join the team.
The move is in line with Riley's goals from last off-season; to stay in contention and to keep salary cap space flexible in 2016.
Miami exceeded expectations this past season, finishing with a record of 49-33, good enough for a fourth-seed in the Eastern Conference championship. After beating the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, that set up one of the most dramatic battles in NBA postseason history; a semi-Finals matchup between the Heat and the first-seed Cleveland Cavaliers.
Unfortunately, Miami's good fortunes ended but not before providing one of the most exciting battles in recent history. Seven games of pure competition at its highest. Of course, the Cavs would go on to win the title, after defeating the Dallas Mavericks in six games. But their long playoff run did show that they have a weakness in their frontcourt that can be exploited.
The Pacers season was absolutely dismal, following the career-threatening injury to Paul George during last summer's FIBA World Cup. And while George is expected to recover this season, the Pacers' playoff window seems closed for the moment. As Hibbert told reporters during yesterday's introductory news conference:
"I just wanted to compete and provide a missing piece to a team that is a title-contender. Miami showed that they were right there last season and if I can contribute the way I do - clogging the paint, getting rebounds, being a rim-protector - then I like our chances."
There were concerns that Hibbert, a frequent playoff nemesis for Miami, might not mesh with veterans like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. No worries, said Wade; as he told reporters, winning is the only thing that matters.
"We know his style and he knows ours, so it's only fitting that he joins this team after all the great playoff battles. He gives us a really nice piece to contest with other teams that might be a little soft."
That last line was certainly a dig at Cleveland, that showed an unwillingness from its star players (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving) to attack the paint, putting an undue burden on LeBron James.
Hibbert's addition - in combination with the shocking retirement of Chicago's Pau Gasol - immediately catapults the Heat into one of the favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
Bosh, who was at one point in contention for the MVP award with one of his most productive seasons, said this about the addition of Hibbert:
"It gives us another dimension, and allows some of the other players the freedom to do things they do well. Plus, it's nice having a guy that can alter shots at the paint if somebody messes up on a defensive rotation."
Bosh is expected to move to the power forward position, meaning Josh McRoberts - a fan-favorite in his first season with Miami - will likely move to the bench. Expect Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to find a way to put other reserves together with McRoberts to form a free-flowing, cohesive offensive unit.
Stay tuned for other "future" free agency news regarding the Miami Heat here on Hot Hot Hoops.