While LeBron James is clocking impossible triple doubles in the Olympic games (only second time it’s ever happened), the Miami Heat are slowly but surely getting ready for the new NBA Season, hopefully a third NBA final and in general a much better title defense campaign than the one from six years ago.
It’s hard imagining anyone but the Miami Heat taking the top spot in the East next season. The Boston Celtics are a year older, shuffling with Jason Terry as their new Ray Allen, while Allen just upgraded the Heat’s bench by more than just a bit. The Chicago Bulls are basically giving up on the season, offloading their entire bench while waiting for Derrick Rose to recover and build for a three year window beginning in the 2013 summer.
The rest? The Indiana Pacers see themselves as a legitimate number 2 team in the East, and except the Knicks and the Nets to be right behind them. The Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic are another three teams who will be looking for a postseason spot, but not something more substantial or ambitious.
So what’s changed for the Heat? Justin Hamilton came out of the draft, but the 7’0 center out of LSU, despite the Heat’s (on paper) need for a big man in the paint, won’t be getting a lot of playing time. He has two guys in front of him – Joel Anthony and Dexter Pittman, and both won’t be playing that much anyway. Pat Riley knows that Chris Bosh isn’t a true center, but with this kind of lineup, talent and depth, you don’t really need a true center. The series against the Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder proved that.
Major changes? Not to the lineup, but the Heat did make two important additions to their bench, adding a bit more firepower, scoring and outside shooting, along with possible leadership and mostly experienced on a team that was already one of the oldest in the NBA. Ray Allen was tired of life with Rondo and Doc Rivers, and decided to start the next chapter of his NBA career, maybe his last, for less money than he would have made in green but with a much better shot at the title, as Dwyane Wade’s backup most likely.
Rashard Lewis has also been signed, for far less than the $20 million a season he’s gotten used to, but as long as the Heat won’t be expecting him to play like the guy who teamed up with Ray Allen in Seattle in what seems like an eternity ago, he’ll be fine. Another proven scorer who adds depth at forward who’s been to a big game or two in his career. Mike Miller is still here, and so is James Jones, while Norris Cole will hope to give Mario Chalmers more of a fight in the point guard position. Shane Battier stayed for another run at the title.
All that shuffling and tweaking around the big three is great, and a good roster is what allowed LeBron James to be so good last season, especially in the end. He got the reigns and keys to the car from Dwyane Wade, and everyone followed, while Chris Bosh made a bit of a change to his game in the final two series after coming back from his injury, for the better.
There’s going to be a different kind of attitude and hunger next season in South Beach. After winning one title, sometimes the tension and edge fade away. But not for this team, not for this group. Wiser and more experienced by one more year, with the best basketball player on earth and two more that might be in the hall of fame one day (Bosh less likely, Wade more likely), still in or around their prime, with an improved bench in pretty much every aspect, the Miami Heat should be the favorites to retain their NBA title and officially start talks of a dynasty.