For a split second on Friday afternoon, there was a doubt in the back of my mind that all three members of Miami’s big three would return to Miami. LeBron’s S.I. letter sent shockwaves through social media, Houston aligned themselves to make Chris Bosh the third superstar acquired in as many years, and Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski — the real MVP in all of this — just tweeted that the Chicago Bulls expressed interest in Dwyane Wade. Three games ago, the Miami Heat tied the NBA Finals series with San Antonio up a one game apiece. Now, they could all be gone, and Miami would fall to the depths of the NBA.
That split second, however, turned out to be nothing more than fantasy. As soon as it looked like Bosh and Houston were on the verge of marriage, Miami crashed the wedding. After discussing a smaller deal with the intent of saving a bit money for a title run, Miami went all in on Bosh- bringing him back on a five-year, $118 million dollar contract. With Wade already in the bag (Chicago’s interest quietly died down after it was revealed that Wade sold his Chicago home), the Heat found themselves with two of the original big three members. A downgrade, but not the biggest downgrade.
In a span of 48 hours, the Miami Heat went from a team in flux, to one of the more interesting teams in the Eastern Conference.
Even with the decline in the back end of the contract, Bosh returns into a premier role, one that saw him garner multiple 20-10 seasons in Toronto. While Bosh himself said that “CB4 will never return,” moving back into limelight offensively is only a good thing for Miami in light of LeBron’s departure, and his improvement as a three-point shooter should save some milage for the postseason. Defensively, Bosh will remain one of the focal point of a small ball lineup, serving as the pivot in Miami’s interior defense, as well as providing the best pick and roll defense in the league.
As for Wade, he remains the real question mark here. The final three games of the NBA Finals saw Wade look like a man on the end of his career. After a season that saw him shoot over 60% at the basket, Wade struggled over the length of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. He’s non-existent as a shooter, his defense was constantly exploited, and Manu Ginobili and Danny Green made him work off the ball, running him through any and every screen. For a man who “single-handedly” took over the 2006 NBA Finals, Wade looked like someone on his last legs in the 2014 Finals.
Except, that wasn’t the case. Wade gave Miami a respectable 19-5-5 the series earlier against Indiana, and remained efficient at that. As the rest periods between games grew shorter and shorter, Wade couldn’t recover in time, and it didn’t help that he was playing a really, really good San Antonio team. Over the last three seasons, Wade has failed to play 70 games, and he’s going into his age-33 season. He’ll get his money, Wade didn’t opt out of a two-year, 40.1 million dollar deal for nothing, but Miami paying him on the wrong side of 30 is a risky venture.
With his newfound cap space, Pat Riley made a handful of moves, with the intention of keeping the Heat as a perennial playoff team. Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger were added in light of LeBron James, and remained after his departure. On Sunday, Riley found himself landing one of the biggest dominoes left in free agency in Luol Deng, and brought back Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers on expensive short-term deals. He also invested in the draft, too. Not only did he bring in Shabazz Napier in the first round of this year’s draft, but he also brought over James Ennis- a 2013 second round pick and summer league darling. Both are expected to contribute in minor roles.
The two valuable pieces added were Deng and McRoberts. As a former nemesis to the big three, Deng offers the Heat a great perimeter defender, and next to the right point guard, a respectable three point shooter. There are some concerns about how Deng will age after being in the Tom Thibodeau incubator, but a two-year, 20 million dollar deal is a steal for Deng. As for McRoberts, Miami is hoping McRoberts can replicate or best his shooting from last season, but the passing is valuable to have in Miami’s system, and the combination of he and Bosh gives the Heat two smart passers on the floor, with Bosh’s interior defense. After being chopped up by Boris Diaw’s passing in the Finals, adding someone who can find the open man and hit threes at a post position was something Miami wanted to add, and hopefully they found it in McRoberts.
So where’s the intrigue?
This team isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either, which in the Eastern Conference, gives you a chance. The trio of Bosh, Wade, and Deng is a clear drop off from last year’s top three, but McRoberts is a healthy upgrade, Granger is aging, but serviceable from the corners. Napier and Ennis have a chance to contribute, and Miami still has a $2.7 million room exception to add to the bench. There’s a glaring weakness on Miami’s roster (wing depth, where Ennis and Granger are currently the only two wing players on the bench), and guys on the market (Brandon Rush, Alan Anderson) to fill that exact role. If Miami can land one or two of those guys, the Heat have a chance, a slight one, to remain atop the East’s hierarchy.
Also, let’s look at the East from this angle of the prism: Chicago is the favorite, but Rose’s health remains a concern. Indiana imploded and could lose their fourth best player in free agency. Cleveland has the best player in the league, but no rim protection, and a young roster outside of James and Varejao. Charlotte lost out and landed Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts, Toronto needs someone on the roster (Ross, Valanciunas) to take a leap, Washington swapped Ariza for Paul Pierce, and Brooklyn is another year older and “taking a step back financially.” Miami could be better than half of those teams, no? Perhaps they aren’t on the same plane with Cleveland, Chicago, and maybe Indiana, but after that?
There are still a handful of offseason questions, but none are big enough to make Miami an innocent bystander in the Eastern Conference. If Cleveland can land Kevin Love without adding Andrew Wiggins into the deal (doubtful), then were talking about Cleveland, Chicago, and everyone else. However, if Cleveland remains adamant in refusing to trade Wiggins, the East should remain largely open, which gives the Miami Heat a shot, and as the Washington Wizards showed us last season,being in the discussion is really all you need in the Eastern Conference.