The 2015-2016 NBA regular season is just days away from starting. The Heat have been preparing for it for quite some time, constructing a team that won't just make the playoffs but hopefully compete for a championship.
Pat Riley was busy in the office trading, drafting and signing players this past summer and players were busy in the gym training and improving their game, all sides gearing up for the long and brutal season. Unlike the composition of teams like the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs, the Heat aren't being called favorites or the team they were in the early 2010s.
At the same time, they're no lottery team and certainly no scrubs. In some ways, this Heat team is an anomaly, a large question mark with the potential to make a championship run or have problems to fight for the playoffs, leaving fans wondering how far the Heat can realistically go with the work they did this past off-season?
The Heat began their offseason with a bang; With the 10th pick in the draft the team drafted 6'-6" small forward Justice Winslow, who was expected to be a top 5 pick. Lucky, blessed and fortunate all described the drafting of Winslow, a young, mature, talented player. Winslow is expected to thrive and be a star on the Heat, if not now then in the future as he has time to grow. He'll have some of the best mentorship in the league, getting exposure to equip himself on both sides of the court. Offensively he can play shooting guard/small forward and what better player to learn from than one of the greatest shooting guards of all time, Dwyane Wade. Winslow is already a solid defender but he'll be under the guidance of Loul Deng, who can really enhance his defensive quirks and prepare him for the NBAs level of resistance.
After the draft, the team would dive in the free agency game and emerge one of the winners of the off-season. The Heat took care of initial business, re-signing Dwyane Wade (1 year/20 million) and Goran Dragic long-term (5 year/86 million dollar). Afterwards, Miami acquired skilled veterans Gerald Green and Amar'e Stoudemire, augmenting their bench by providing another load of offense to help Wade and Bosh. Green, an explosive scorer known for his highlight dunks, can give Miami a "Sixth Man of the Year" role by being a constant source of offense off the bench. Stoudamire may be well away from his prime but the power forward will give the Heat a post presence off the bench and be a huge adviser to Hassan Whiteside.
Together, this team might be one of the top teams in the league. They arguably have one of the best starting lineups in the association with Dragic, Wade, Deng, Bosh and Whiteside. A lineup that has a great variety of youth and experience, offensive and defensive specialties and overall championship ambition. The Heat's bench is a formidable group of guys who can compete with some of the other team's best second units. There too is a great sense of diversity with Mario Chalmers, Green, Winslow, Stoudemire, Josh McRoberts, Chris Anderson and more. Together, this capable group can compete for a title, but the problem and biggest hindrance facing it is actually being together.
The Heat were decimated by injuries last season and critics aren't too sure they're out of the woods this year either. Apart from Winslow, all of Miami's rotational players are over the age of 28 with the majority of them being in their 30s. Wade hasn't been able to have a fully healthy season in years. Bosh and McRoberts will be returning from season-ending injuries. Stoudemire has been plagued with injuries for a while now and young Whiteside has already dealt with a strained right calf in the preseason. With a lot of players moving more away from their prime than towards it and the Heat being the second most oldest team in the league there isn't much optimism as far as a healthy outlook going forward.
Despite the worries with age and health, Miami can still get it together and aim for a championship this season. The only team older than the Heat are the San Antonio Spurs and I haven't heard anyone say they can't compete for a title. Injuries will come and go but it shouldn't prevent this team from excelling and finding a platform for consistency, which will be essential as the season takes place. Although health will be a concern, Miami is loaded with depth and talent so that no one player is too leaned on, a key point addressed this past offseason now that the stars like Wade and Bosh don't have to worry as much if they need to rest or miss a couple weeks.
The Heat should be whole at the start of the season; players who weren't able to play all of last season will be healthy and available come opening night with the intention of playing a full season and showcasing to the league what they're capable of. Wade is still in the realm of stardom with the experience, flair and competency to lead this team to the Finals. Bosh will return a determined man, eager to play and win immediately. The ceiling is ascending for Whiteside, the golden treasure Miami picked up last year, as he looks to enhance his presence in the post, go to the next level on offensive and ultimately rise to all-star level production.
Another All-Star caliber player is Goran Dragic; the 6'-3" point guard will be giving Miami another dynamic on offense as he pushes the ball more and endorse more collaboration as the central facilitator on the Heat. Josh McRoberts may not have been able to show what he possessed last season but he will be widely known this season; he is a polished point guard trapped in the body of a power forward, further swelling the second unit.
Considering the nominal competition in the East, the Heat, at full health, are more than capable of defeating the majority of the teams in the East, with the exception of the Cavs, although they are on their radar too. The Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks have taken a step back with the departure of DaMarre Carroll. The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors still haven't shown the willingness and playoff authority to be taken extremely seriously. The only two teams that can really challenge the Heat are the Chicago Bulls, who are facing injuries of their own and the changing of a coaching staff, as well as the Cavaliers, who despite having plenty of firepower with LeBron James, can be defeated.
Given that the team stays healthy, Miami will be a force to reckoned with in the East so much so that they can be a top two team. If Miami grows together, creating chemistry and finding out what works well for them, they will rise fast. A 50+ win season is well within their range and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals should be an expectation.
These are all vast jumps from last season but with the tremendous office work completed by general managing maestro Pat Riley and the exertion on the court by several Heat players in the offseason, championship aspirations are flooding the minds of Heat fans all over South Florida. Unlike the bulk of the Eastern Conference, the Heat are one of the few teams that have the power and potential to go the Finals and if all dots connect, possibly win a championship.