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Friday, June 17, 2011
Myths and realities of the Heat's offseason

By Brian Windhorst

Dwyane Wade
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Dwyane Wade and the Heat will try to upgrade in a few specific areas -- but don't expect an overhaul.

MIAMI -- As the Heat coped with the letdown of the Finals, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he and the team would be taking the next few weeks to digest what happened during the season. Every team has a different process, but usually this means meetings and lots of long, in-depth conversations to boil down opinions and confront some questions.

Many of the fans who followed the Heat during the season and the playoffs have their own ideas. Here’s a look at some of the statements that have been floating around since the end of the Finals and whether they have merit.

The Heat need to revamp their roster.
False. In the era of fantasy sports leagues, in which so many fans have become amateur general managers, it is very tempting to suggest wheeling and dealing. Pat Riley hasn’t been afraid to do this in past offseasons. Who could forget his five-team, 13-player trade in 2005 that reshaped the Heat’s roster and helped set up the 2006 title? Riley, though, performed his major shakeup last summer when he signed all those free agents. After it took the team at least half the season to begin to find its stride, stability will be the value play over the next year.

There are a couple of other realities that also come into play. First, the Heat were only two wins from the title. In the disappointment of losing, this can too easily be forgotten. The Heat’s three-All-Star core, despite the long process of learning to play together, is young and arguably the best in the league. They are not perfect, but everyone believes they will get better by playing together more. This is what the Heat will allow them to do.

As for the role players, every team looks to make adjustments in every offseason. The Heat don’t have a great deal of flexibility because they have a significant amount of money invested in Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. But with both players coming off injuries -- Miller is going to need at least one more surgery on his left thumb over the summer -- the Heat think betting that both will be better in the long run is more prudent than looking to trade either with depressed values.

Several players are going to contemplate retirement, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard, with Erick Dampier and Mike Bibby having uncertain futures. So there will be new faces. But it is unlikely there will be an overhaul, and for good reason.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James don’t fit together.
False. You can look at plus/minus numbers and a couple of misguided fourth quarters, especially against the Mavericks, and arrive at the opposite conclusion. But ask the 76ers, Celtics and Bulls about it. The continuous one-two punch -- whether it comes over the course of 48 minutes or in bursts when one is resting and the other is scoring -- wore out those teams in the postseason.

Wade and James were a historically great offensive duo in their first season together, as each finished in the top six in scoring in the league. Meanwhile, they also were a major reason the Heat were one of the league’s best defensive teams.

They might not be a classic fit, and they don’t have a depth of experience in settling into roles under pressure. This manifested itself during the Finals when the Mavs’ fourth-quarter attacks seemed to freeze them up. Indeed, it would have helped if they could have played more inside-out basketball as a tandem, with James working more effectively from the post. Those films are going to be heavily reviewed by James, Wade and the Heat coaching staff as they attempt to learn and prepare better for those situations in the future.

Their body of work, though, leaves little doubt that their experiment was a success, and it should be viewed that way.

The Heat need an upgrade at point guard.
True. Starter Mike Bibby was inconsistent defensively and shot the ball poorly throughout the postseason. Mario Chalmers proved to be valuable in the Finals but it is questionable whether he’s a true starter over the long haul.

With Wade and James as ball handlers and creators, there isn’t the same demand to have a classic or “true” point guard on the floor at all times. What the Heat need more than anything is a combo guard who is a strong shooter. Whoever plays the other perimeter position with James and Wade is going to get plenty of open shots, and at times this season, James Jones and Miller fit in nicely. But Jones and Miller aren’t ball handlers, and that is what the Heat need. The Mavs had a lot of success pressuring the ball full court. This disrupted the Heat's offense when the team counted on Wade and James to bring the ball up the floor.

A guard who will break down the opposing defense off the dribble and can be relied on to get eight assists per game would be nice, but that probably isn’t realistic. The free-agent market for point guard is thin this summer, and the Heat likely will be compelled to re-sign Chalmers, who is a restricted free agent. There will, however, be players available through the draft and via trade who can help in this area. The Heat will be looking closely.

The Heat need an upgrade at center.
Both true and false. At the end of the season, the team technically didn’t even have a center to upgrade from. All three of the team’s 7-footers -- Ilgauskas, Dampier and rookie Dexter Pittman -- were inactive. Joel Anthony, who is more of a power forward, was the starter, while Howard, a power forward, served as his backup. In essence, the Heat took care of their center issue by eliminating the position altogether.

As an energy player, however, Anthony is probably best served coming off the bench. Also, he is not a threat to score, and that often negatively affected the Heat’s floor balance. The Heat need a big man who demands some attention from the defense -- to be guarded, at the very least -- and who can rebound. With Wade and James sometimes required to crash the boards because of rebounding issues, especially against the Bulls in the playoffs, the team’s effective transition game was shelved at times.

In this case, there are some quality options on the free-agent market. Tyson Chandler and Nene aren't realistic, but there are a number of candidates who are. It will depend on how the new collective bargaining agreement is structured, and until then, it is somewhat pointless to speculate. But getting some help at center -- and Pittman could figure in some way -- will be the Heat’s No. 1 offseason priority.