The prevailing notion seemed to be that not only were the Heat not a title contender without James, but that they weren’t even worthy of playoff consideration in the rapidly improving Eastern Conference.
But developments over the last few days just may have changed those perceptions. What Heat President Pat Riley has managed to do could lead for an intriguing season for the Heat.
The return of Chris Bosh, who spurned an offer from the Houston Rockets to sign a reported five-year, $118 million deal with the Heat, gives the Heat a key building block.
After subjugating his game to King James over the last four seasons, Bosh now looks to blossom in Miami’s offense. Adding Luol Deng, who signed Monday, adds a presence both offensively and defensively on the perimeter. Keeping Dwayne Wade and Udonis Haslem, veterans from the Heat’s first title in 2006 who are expected to sign new deals, contributes to stability.
The Heat also have announced that Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen have re-upped. Chalmers had a miserable Finals series against San Antonio, but he was a piece of the two championships in 2012 and 2013 and could be a key contributor if he can successfully step out of LeBron’s shadow.
And the signing of free agents Josh McRoberts, a thorn in the Heat’s side in the first round of the playoffs when he averaged 10.6 points a game for Charlotte, and Danny Granger, make for some interesting possibilities.
McRoberts adds some muscle at the power forward position, and Granger was a high double-figure scorer for the Pacers until being hobbled by knee injuries. Granger averaged 8.2 points a game in 41 games with the Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers this past season.
This doesn’t even take into account the possible return of veterans like Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis, Michael Beasley, James Jones, and Greg Oden and the addition of rookie guard Shabazz Napier. Ray Allen’s future also has yet to be determined, though speculation is he will either join Shane Battier in retirement or try to join James in Cleveland.
In short, the situation for the Heat doesn’t appear quite as daunting as it did when James made his latest decision public not in a nationally televised press conference, as he did in 2010 when he announced he was taking his game from Cleveland to South Beach, but in a website piece.
Given the pieces they have so far, the Heat could be very competitive in the East by capitalizing on ball movement to get their points in the half-court game, not just on the ability of James to overpower defenders one-on-one. Even with James, they were at their best in their half-court game when moving the ball around.
Standing around and watching James operate is a luxury they no longer have. But as the San Antonio Spurs showed in whipping the Heat in five games in the NBA Finals, that’s exactly what it is — a luxury, not a necessity for success.