The Oklahoma City Thunder's collapse against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals gave rise to several pundits predicting that Kevin Durant might bolt for Miami. Such a move would dramatically alter the early expectations from Las Vegas bookmakers of the Miami Heat to finish about the same as they did last season.
The initial odds per Westgate for teams in the Eastern Conference were Cavaliers 5-2, Celtics 20-1, Heat 25-1, Raptors 25-1, Bulls 40-1, Hawks 40-1, Hornets 80-1, Wizards 100-1, Pacers 100-1, Pistons 100-1, Bucks 100-1, Knicks 100-1, 76ers 100-1, Magic 100-1, Nets 500-1 to capture the NBA Finals trophy.
The Durant scenario adds more uncertainty on who will be part of the team in 2016-17. In 2015 the Heat had Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, and Hassan Whiteside signed. The Dwyane Wade drama had its moments and Justise Winslow was an exciting draft pick.
The view today is far different as many questions remain to be answered:
- Will Bosh play?
- How will the Heat be able to fit Durant within available cap space?
- Could Durant embrace a team he lost to a few years ago?
- Will Whiteside's contract demands be flexible enough to add Durant?
- Who will be the starting forwards?
- Can Wade still resist Father Prime?
- Would any of the second year players Tyler Johnson Josh Richardson, Winslow need to be traded?
- Where do players at the end of the bench such as Briante Weber fit in all this?
- What will the loss of assistant coach David Fizdale mean for player harmony?
The starting forward line of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson could be gone. The future roles of Josh McRoberts and Amar'e Stoudemire are unclear, as is Gerald Green. Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen are gone, sad to say.
The departure of David Fizdale and probable return of Dan Craig could affect the style of the Heat's play. During crunch time Fizdale was there at Erik Spoelstra's side to make crucial decisions that could have affected a game's result. Dan Craig's Sioux Falls Skyforce used a balanced attack towards a record 46-11 NBA Development League season. Some of the lessons learned there from handling young talent may shape how the youngsters are employed on the big stage of the NBA.
That the Heat are picked to be on par with the Raptors, Hawks, Celtics and Bulls says a lot about people expecting Pat Riley to put together a credible threat to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, despite having many more unknowns than last year. The Thunder's elimination at the hands of the Warriors changes how Riley views Durant's loyalty to OKC and the chances of him joining the Heat next season. Will the Thunder promise Durant a better supporting cast in an effort to keep him and foil any Heat bids?
Last season's signings of veterans Stoudemire and Green had a minimal impact. Will Riley try a different approach this summer? The fate of this summer's roster moves depend primarily on how the Bosh and Durant situations first pan out.
A long-shot scenario pairs Jahlil Okafor -- said to be available as the Philadelphia 76ers seek to improve -- with former Duke teammate Winslow to form a young Heat core. Along with rotation pieces Richardson, Johnson, and Weber they would have a lower salary base to allow cap room for a whale such as Durant.
A hypothetical lineup with tremendous upside potential of
- Guard - Wade
- Guard - Winslow
- Forward - Durant
- Forward - Okafor
- Center - Whiteside
has Wade as the only player over age 30 and two players on rookie scale. Along with the youthful reserves, the possible combinations are intriguing.