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Miami Heat 2015-16 Preview

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With Chris Bosh back at full strength and a bolstered supporting cast, can the Heat stay healthy and make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs?

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 IN REVIEW
37-45
3rd in Southeast Division
10th in Eastern Conference

After LeBron James made the decision to take his talents back home to Cleveland last summer, everybody knew that changed everything about the Miami Heat. Without LeBron, they were no longer considered legitimate championship contenders like they had been for the previous four years, but they certainly still had a decent looking team on paper.

Behind Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, new addition Luol Deng and an experienced supporting cast, the expectation in South Beach was that they still had a chance to put together a winning record and compete in the Eastern Conference playoffs if they could stay healthy.

Unfortunately, health turned out to be the team's Achilles heel and they were forced into an uphill battle all season long. Chris Bosh especially had terrible luck, as a strained calf in mid-December forced him to miss a couple of weeks and then after All-Star weekend in February, he was ruled out for the rest of the season due to a blood clot on one of his lungs. Bosh performed at a high level when active, averaging 21 points and seven rebounds per contest, but the nine-time NBA All-Star was only able to lace 'em up for 44 games.

Dwyane Wade has annually missed extended periods of time due to injury since the 2011-12 season (and realistically the bulk of his career in general), and last year was no different. Wade was still productive when healthy behind over 21 points and five assists per outing, but was forced to miss 20 games with a nagging hamstring problem that kept him out of action through a few different stretches.

Josh McRoberts entered his first year in Miami on the strength of a four-year mid-level contract and expectations to play a key role, but the honeymoon phase faded away almost immediately when he tore his right meniscus in early December, ending his season after just 17 games.

Injury concerns aside, not all went wrong for Miami last season; there were still some bright spots. Just before February's trade deadline, the Heat acquired pick n' roll guru Goran Dragic in a three-team trade that had Miami send away spare parts and future picks. Dragic was unhappy about his situation in Phoenix, eager for a new beginning and to the point where it was made public, lowering his trade value and paving the way for Miami to get him for a reasonable price.

In 26 games for Miami last season, Dragic posted 16.6 points and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 50% from the floor.

Miami granted seven foot prospect Hassan Whiteside an opportunity to resurrect his NBA career, and he absolutely came out of nowhere to shock everybody with the way he made the most of his new beginning. Whiteside only suited up for 48 games last season, but performed as a walking double-double by racking up 11.8 points and 10 rebounds per game to go along with 2.6 blocks. Even more impressively, he did it in under 24 minutes of action. It took the big fella a few years to recognize and respect his own talent level, but at just 23 years old, it looks like he has a chance to blossom into a high impact five-man going forward. Of course, 48 games is a very small sample size and he still has a lot of things to prove, especially from a mental standpoint, but his potential as a game-changing defensive presence and paint protector is very promising.

With Dragic in the lineup, the team improved a bit and played .500 ball at 13-13, but too much damage was already done to their record and they were unable to sustain a strong late-season push for the Eastern Conference's eighth seed. Miami finished the season 37-45, their worst year since the abysmal 15-67 mark they posted in 2007-08, and found themselves in the NBA draft lottery for the first time in seven years.

SUMMER OF 2015

Key Additions - Amare Stoudemire, Gerald Green, Justise Winslow
Key Losses - Shabazz Napier

Miami had a full plate this summer and Dwyane Wade's future was the number one question mark for Heat management to figure out heading into the offseason, but contract negotiations didn't go quite as smoothly as they always had in years prior. Wade declined his player option in June, deciding to opt out and press the organization for a new payday, but the two sides were unable to come to an agreement on another multi-year deal. In mid-June, however, Wade decided to stick around and try to play himself into a bigger deal next summer, signing a one-year extension with Miami worth $20 million.

Goran Dragic certainly didn't have much trouble landing the biggest payday of his life, however, as he happily inked a five-year, $90 million deal to stay put in South Beach while Luol Deng exercised his $10.1 million player option to stay in Miami through the 2015-16 season.

With the 10th pick in the draft, Miami may have gotten a steal as Duke's Justise Winslow fell into their lap after being protected to be taken a few spots higher. Winslow is a big time competitor with an NBA body that has a real chance to develop into a two-way threat. He is a quality athlete, competes defensively, is a very aggressive slasher who attacks the rim with a purpose and his selfless winning approach is backed up by the NCAA championship he helped Duke win as a freshman.

To add to their bench, Miami brought in our old friend Gerald Green and vet big Amare Stoudemire on one-year veteran minimum deals to help bolster their depth. Stoudemire is coming off of a solid stint in Dallas last season, where he scored an ultra efficient 10.8 points per game with the Mavs to close the season, showing that he can still put the ball in the basket when he's healthy. Green had the best year of his career for Phoenix in 2013-14, averaging 15.8 points, but saw his role reduced last season. Still, he put up around 12 points in just under 20 minutes of action per game. One thing is for sure, though, Green can score the ball and he will be a welcome floor spacing offensive weapon on the wing in Miami.

Miami's second unit was in need of an overhaul, and they may have a dangerous bench brigade this coming year with Green, Stoudemire and Winslow adding to what they already had in Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and a healthy Josh McRoberts.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C
- Hassan Whiteside / Amare Stoudemire / Chris Andersen / Keith Benson
PF - Chris Bosh / Josh McRoberts / Udonis Haslem
SF - Luol Deng / Justise Winslow / James Ennis
SG - Dwyane Wade / Gerald Green / Henry Walker / Tyler Johnson
PG - Goran Dragic / Mario Chalmers

X-FACTOR - Health
You could pretty much say this about any team, but the only way Miami will be able to rebound from last season and put together a strong 2015-16 campaign is if they are able to keep their key players healthy.

On paper, this is absolutely not a lottery team by any stretch of the imagination, especially in the east. However, if Dwyane Wade can't keep his body fresh and they have another season-long war with the injury bug, they are going to have to really fight to get back into the playoffs.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
Assuming the Heat can stay relatively healthy, they will have a chance to compete and potentially make some noise in the Eastern Conference. I'm not so sure we're looking at a championship contender, but they have some kind of run in them with guys like Wade, Bosh, Deng and a full training camp and season with Dragic to go along with a deeper bench.

Look for Miami and Washington to squabble neck and neck all season long for the second best record in the Southeast Division. I would expect Miami to solidify a postseason berth and if all goes well, I wouldn't be entirely shocked if they secure a top four or five seed.

PROJECTED STANDINGS
2nd in Southeast Division
4th in Eastern Conference

Additional Heat Previews:

Miami Heat Season Preview - Hot Hot Hoops - SBNation.com

I think the goal for the Heat this year from inside the organization is to compete for a championship. But I believe from a fan's perspective, our goal for the team is to be healthy and make it at least to the Eastern Conference Finals. Subjecting this team to a championship or bust or even Finals or bust isn't fair. There's too many variables. But from this fanbase, we firmly believe to be a better team from top to bottom than Atlanta, Chicago and Washington.

2015 NBA Blog Preview (Miami Heat)

If you were to ask this question to a member inside the Heat franchise, they would undoubtedly tell you that the goal is “Championship or Bust.” That goal isn’t necessarily the most realistic goal, but it’s also not completely out of the question. On paper, this team would seem to have the talent to compete with anybody. If the Heat make a strong run in the playoffs, it COULD happen. Having said that, a more realistic goal would be to finish as a Top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference and to make it past the first round of the playoffs.