We all knew that things would be drastically different for the Miami Heat this season. After four seasons with the Heat, small forward LeBron James decided to return to playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The departure of James forced Heat president Pat Riley into scramble mode as far as fielding a team this season and more importantly a team that could compete in the Eastern Conference. Without James, the Heat still have power forward Chris Bosh and shooting guard Dwyane Wade who were key members of Miami’s NBA Championships teams in 2012 and 2013. But the injury bug has pulled up a beach chair Miami which has led to inconsistency on the basketball court.
At 20-26, the Heat are on pace for their first losing campaign since the 2007-2008 NBA season. Thoughts of a fifth straight Southeast Division Title have all but evaporated for the Heat as they are in third place and 18.5 games behind the division leading Atlanta Hawks. On the bright side for the Heat, they still call the Eastern Conference home and in spite of their sub-.500 record they are still in possession of the seventh seed for the NBA Playoffs.
After winning their first three games of the season, the Heat have not won more than two consecutive games since. Wade is leading the team in scoring at 21.4 per game, but he has missed 10 games as a result of injuries and a strained hamstring is going to force him to miss some more time. Bosh is right behind Wade in scoring at 21.3 per game while also averaging 7.5 rebounds and he has missed eight games due to a calf injury. As Wade and Bosh have gutted it out, the supporting cast has changed around them.
Last summer Riley signed power forward Josh McRoberts to a four-year, $23 million deal. McRoberts was coming off of his best statistical season in the NBA as he averaged 8.5 points and 4.8 rebounds last season with the Charlotte Bobcats. McRoberts was not brought to the Heat to be the next Karl Malone, but he was expected to provide size for Miami on the interior. Last month McRoberts suffered a torn meniscus which ended his season. The Heat are also without reserve power forward Chris “Birdman” Anderson who is day-to-day with with injuries to his elbow and back. These injuries may not seem that significant, but unlike the past four years they are stinging a little bit more.
The past few years saw all of the Heat’s deficiencies masked by the superb talent of James as he was a triple-double waiting to happen. This season the Heat are last in the NBA in rebounding and 27th in assists. The Heat have lost 15 games this season by double figures and they have not been as strong in the fourth quarter as that was the time in which James took over in years past. But Riley appears to be a man that is simply biding his time as far as once again bringing a dominant basketball team to Miami.
After next season the Heat only have $31.85 million committed to salaries for the 2016-2017 NBA season which could lead Riley to becoming very creative over the next two summers. This summer’s NBA free agent market will be headlined by Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Portland Trailblazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol while the summer of 2016 will see teams drooling for the services of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. If Jordan or Gasol would be too expensive for Riley, I could see him turning his attention to the likes of New Orleans Hornets center Omer Asik or Blazers center Robin Lopez. Asik and Lopez won’t command as much salary as Gasol or Jordan, but Lopez is a tremendous energy player while Asik has asserted himself into one of the top rebounders in the NBA over the past few seasons. For his NBA career Gasol has averaged 14 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and he could be another low-post presence for the Heat. And I highly doubt that Riley would go after Aldridge simply because he and Bosh are basically the same player.
But I believe that Riley will put the full-court press in the attempt to sign Durant. For his eight-year NBA career, Durant has averaged 27.3 points per game and he would fill some of the void for the Heat that they have since James left as he is one of purest scorers in the NBA. Bosh would be 32-years of age in 2016 while Wade is already beginning to slow down and he would be 35-years old at the time.
The Heat are down right now, but they are far from out because of the craftiness of Riley. As a head coach, Riley won five NBA Championship with the Heat and Los Angeles Lakers while getting the New York Knicks within a whisker of the title in 1994. Through wheeling a dealing on the trade market, Riley turned the Heat into title contenders when he took over in 1995 and he brokered the deal in 2010 to get James to come to South Beach. And in spite of the fact that James left the Heat last summer, it is tough for NBA superstars to say no to Riley and South Beach. Just like Riley positioned himself in 2010 to turn the Heat into a title contender, he can and will do it again. Right now for the Heat and their fans, it is just a matter of keeping the ship afloat.