The Miami Heat’s hopes of getting into the playoffs were dashed Tuesday night by an Indiana Pacers’ victory, essentially putting an end to a disappointing transition year plagued by a severe lack of cohesion.
Coming into this season, Heat President Pat Riley had the unenviable task of assembling a competitive roster without the services of LeBron James, a franchise-altering player who the team invested heavily in and built around during the previous four years. But if that wasn’t enough, he also had to fill the voids left from the retirements of Ray Allen and Shane Battier, two veteran role players who were instrumental in the Heat’s marches to the Finals, and the departures of Rashard Lewis and James Jones.
The roster overhaul sapped the Heat of most of the continuity from the previous four years, essentially causing them to adjust on the fly.
But they still had franchise cornerstone Dwyane Wade, newly-assigned front man Chris Bosh and co-captain Udonis Harlem in tow to hopefully make up for the chemistry issues that would inevitably arise due to the introduction of so many new faces.
Some of those new faces included Luol Deng, rookie Shabazz Napier, fresh off his memorable run through the NCAA tournament, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger – all of whom were brought in to complement Bosh and Wade, who are both at the end or out of their respective primes.
But McRobert’s season came to a swift end in November, when he sustained a knee injury, Granger was never able to regain his all-star form, and Deng and Napier struggled with consistency. Combine that with the lack of production from holdovers like Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, and there was suddenly an alarming lack of depth outside of Wade and Bosh, which contributed to an underachieving 22-30 start and one of the league’s worst offenses.
Even with the disastrous start, Riley – being the proud man that he is – refused to rule the season as lost. Instead, he acquired Goran Dragic from the Phoenix Suns in a three-team deal that saw Miami send away Granger, Cole, Justin Hamilton, Shawne Williams and two future first-round picks.
The trade gave the Heat a much-needed point guard to go along with the remaining members of the “Big 3” and arguably one of the best starting fives in the league, at least on paper. But Dragic would never play alongside Bosh, who was ruled out for the remainder of the season with blood clots in his lungs.
The uneven trade (in terms of number of players acquired and sent away) and the season-ending injuries to Bosh, McRoberts and later Napier (sports hernia) forced the Heat to rely on Hassan Whiteside, Michael Beasley, who started the year playing in China, D-League call-up Henry Walker and rookies James Ennis and Tyler Johnson during their pivotal playoff push.
Once again, Miami was forced to adjust on the fly.
In fact, Miami used 30 different starting lineup combinations this season, tying the 2007-08 team for the franchise record. Not exactly what Riley envisioned.
Still, even with a losing record and all the turnover, the Heat were in position to snag a playoff spot in the extremely forgiving Eastern Conference. That is until a miserable 2-6 month of April, filled with stagnant offense, questionable lineups and unreliable defense, derailed any chances of them slipping in as a seven or eight seed.
Now, Riley and the Heat must return to the drawing board.
The most pressing concern is re-signing Dragic, who is a free agent after the season. He is easily the best point guard the team has had since the 2006 championship season, and it would be interesting to see how he would look with an entire offseason to further familiarize himself with his teammates and Miami’s system. But is it worth it to bring him back if he demands a max contract, even with the influx of television money set to hit the books after the 2015-16 season?
The Heat must also figure out a way to get more out of Wade late in the season. Over the last two years, he has experienced sharp declines in his offensive efficiency when the calendar hits April. This April, Wade’s shooting percentage plummeted to 41.5 percent (second-worst month of the season), and his turnovers increased to 3.9 per game. He can’t continue to fade away when Spring rolls around if Miami expects to be a threat in the playoffs moving forward.
One of the bright spots in this roller coaster season was the emergence of Whiteside. He is averaging 11.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in only 23.8 minutes per game. An offseason in which Whiteside can continue his development with his renewed confidence would do wonders. Most people forget that due to his tumultuous basketball journey, the 25-year-old has only played in 67 games since being drafted in 2010. There is a lot of room for improvement.
This season was a colossal disappointment for the Heat, no doubt about it, but it may have set the stage for a strong rebound for the 2015-16 season.
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