Realistically, Miami's goal should be to win between 45-50 games and make it to the second round of the playoffs in the East. The Cavaliers' new triumvirate should propel them to the conference's top record, but beyond that the race is wide open. Will Derrick Rose stay healthy for a full season? What can playoff teams like the Wizards do now? Will the Pacers make any noise at all without Paul George?
Miami has questions too, but they should still remain a playoff team provided Wade stays (relatively) healthy. In terms of the long view, Riley has his eye on 2016, when several of the contracts he negotiated this year -- including with players like Wade and Deng -- will expire. But this year stands as a time to prove potential free agent targets that Miami's franchise can withstand the loss of the world's best player and maintain a positive culture.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
1st in Southeast Division - 2nd in Eastern Conference
Lost to SA (4-1) - NBA Finals
The 2013-14 season was a big year for the Miami Heat. Coming off of three straight NBA Finals appearances, including back-to-back championships, the Heat were on a mission to complete the first three-peat the NBA has seen since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant lead the Lakers to consecutive titles from 2000-2002.
Leading the charge was, of course, LeBron James, who was not only coming off of back-to-back titles, but back-to-back league MVP's as well. James put up 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game while finishing fourth in the league in field goal percentage by shooting a career high 56.7%. How he continues to find ways to become more efficient is beyond anyone's brain capacity.
LeBron had to lead by example as much as ever in a Heat uniform, as Dwyane Wade missed 28 games while battling knee and hamstring injuries along with the organization's decision to rest him on back-to-backs. When healthy, however, Wade put together an underrated 2013-14 campaign where he posted 19 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 54.5% from the field, good for eighth in the NBA and the most efficient mark of his career.
The third wheel of Miami's illustrious trio, Chris Bosh, had somewhat of an up-and-down year. He didn't necessarily "fall off" by any means, but his usage had simply decreased through certain stretches. Bosh averaged 16.2 points with a career low 6.6 rebounds per game, and scored 15 points through the entire second half of the season along with postseason play.
Each piece of the superstar trio represented the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game, marking the 10th consecutive appearance for both LeBron and Wade while Bosh was named to his ninth straight All-Star squad. However, with Wade going in and out of the lineup along with an overall increased management of minutes, Miami posted their worst record since the start of the "big three" era. Even so, they still won 54 games and despite giving up the number one seed to Indiana, the Heat remained the clear-cut favorite to win the East.
After sweeping Charlotte and subsequently cruising through Brooklyn in the second round, Miami and Indiana met up for an Eastern Conference Finals rematch. The Pacers sent a message right away, making the most of their home court advantage and putting together a double-digit victory to set the tone in Game 1. Miami's defense would prevail in Game 2, as they held the Pacers to 40% shooting and snatched home court from them by evening the series at 1-1.
Miami went on to win three of the next four games, thanks to their stifling team defensive mentality and a terrific closing of the series from Chris Bosh, and advanced to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.
Everybody knows what happened in 2013. San Antonio's monumental collapse in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals not only cost them the game, but the championship as the Heat bounced back in overtime and followed up with a Game 7 victory on their home floor. This is something that Tim Duncan, coach Pop and the gang will never forget, but it fueled the fire for a rematch that they had desperately been starving for.
This time around, San Antonio would be more than ready. The Spurs were absolutely clicking in every aspect of the game, and nobody was going to deny them of their fifth ring in 2014. San Antonio swept the floor with the two-time defending champs, sending Miami home in five games in a convincing act of revenge.
No big deal; Miami won two out of four titles and they can come back strong next year, right? Not so fast.
Not only did the Heat have to deal with a heartbreaking loss in the Finals, they had plenty to worry about heading into the summer as LeBron James and Chris Bosh entered unrestricted free agency, which proved that nothing lasts forever.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, Shabazz Napier
Key Losses - LeBron James, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Michael Beasley, Greg Oden, James Jones
As you may have heard, LeBron James isn't in town anymore. As local news outlets have relayed to you 23 billion times this summer, King James left Miami to take his talents back home to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason and the Heat were forced to reload.
Directly following LeBron's decision, Pat Riley made sure he wasn't going to lose two of his top three players in one summer. After almost leaving for Houston, Chris Bosh agreed to stick around in Miami on max five-year, $118 million contract. Bosh has been in the background in terms of notoriety at times, as LeBron and Wade dominated the headlines, but he'll remind everyone just how good he is now that he is arguably the focal point of the offense.
To fill the hole at small forward, Miami signed Luol Deng to a two-year, $20 million deal. Look, it is impossible to replace LeBron James, but the Heat got as good of a replacement as they were going to find this summer. Deng is coming off a disappointing stint in Cleveland, but he was playing at an All-Star level before the trade and will certainly play with an elevated sense of urgency on a team that can actually compete in Miami. He won't match what LeBron brought to the table, but he'll certainly help smooth out the loss.
As Shane Battier announced his retirement while Michael Beasley and James Jones headed elsewhere via free agency, Miami was in need of another floor spacer up front and were able to snag Danny Granger for two years, $4.2 million. Granger will provide a spark as Deng's backup and his versatility will also allow him to give Spoelstra some minutes as a stretch-four.
Speaking of versatile stretch-fours, the Heat also brought in Josh McRoberts to take over the team's starting power forward spot. Thanks to his steady all-around performance in Charlotte over the last year and a half, McRoberts inked a four-year, $23 million deal with Miami and will complement Chris Bosh beautifully with his ability to space the floor and make plays with the ball.
To fill in the dent in the rotation left by the departure of Ray Allen, who may or may not extend his NBA career this season, Miami signed veterans Shannon Brown and Reggie Williams in addition to acquiring Uconn's Shabazz Napier in the late first round of the draft. Napier will have to fight a cast of veterans to move up on the depth chart, but he put together a big time NCAA career and has a chance to carve out a steady career as a rotation guard. He isn't necessarily the best athlete in the world, but he's a crafty creator with the ball and is both tough and battle-tested.
Also, don't worry, Chris Andersen isn't going anywhere any time soon. Miami signed Birdman to a two-year, $10 million extension this summer after two difference-making seasons with the club. Andersen's 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game don't necessarily blow you away, but his consistent energy and defensive impact has gone unquestioned and the 12-year veteran will remain an important part of Erik Spoelstra's frontcourt rotation.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Chris Bosh / Chris Andersen
PF - Josh McRoberts / Udonis Haslem / Shawne Williams
SF - Luol Deng / Danny Granger / James Ennis
SG - Dwyane Wade / Shannon Brown / Reggie Williams
PG - Mario Chalmers / Norris Cole / Shabazz Napier
X-FACTOR - Dwyane Wade
If Miami wants to compete in the Eastern Conference, they're going to need a healthy Dwyane Wade playing at a high level. Over the last three seasons, Wade has combined to miss 58 games due to knee troubles, a strained hamstring and the team's decision to rest him on back-to-backs last season. The Heat need him as much as ever to perform consistently and, if possible, avoid the injury bug.
Wade has taken a lot of criticism regarding his physical decline, but if you ask me, it has gotten a bit excessive. He isn't quite the same player he was five or six years ago, but the man can still play. Let's kill the "Wade is done" notion. Last season, Wade put up 19 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting a career high 54.5% from the field. You don't produce those kind of numbers if you don't have anything left in the tank. Sure, he had a tough series against San Antonio in the Finals, but that five-game stretch doesn't erase everything that came before it.
He's not the same as he once was, but he is far from "finished." As long as he can stay healthy, particularly around playoff time, his name can still be thrown in the conversation as one of the best two-guards in the game. If he can't avoid the sidelines for extended time, however, the Heat will have a tough time trying to put together another deep postseason run.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
Miami is not going to be quite the perennial powerhouse that they have been over the course of the last four years, but as long as they can stay healthy, their drop-off shouldn't be catastrophically devastating. Miami may have lost the best player in the game, but they will still be in the mix as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and should still be the favorites to win the Southeast Division and earn home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Wade, Bosh and Deng will combine to form a terrific new-look "big three" and the Heat should play excellent two-way basketball in 2014-15.
Look for Chris Bosh to become more aggressive offensively and don't be surprised if he matches the numbers he used to put up in Toronto. Likewise, a healthy Dwyane Wade has a lot of naysayers to silence at this stage of his career, and he'll be counted on even more to produce at a high level.
Miami is no longer the unanimous Eastern Conference favorite but if they can come together at full strength come playoff time, they can still make a deep run and contend with the likes of Cleveland and Chicago for the east crown.
1st - Southeast Division
3rd - Eastern Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the Memphis Grizzlies preview, coming later today.