No Rest For the Weary!
LeBron James is joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the suddenly star-heavy Miami Heat roster. The trio dramatically alters the league’s power structure, with the Heat instantly vaulted into what figures to be the Eastern Conference’s perennial powerhouse for the next half decade, ahead of such teams as the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic.
But it’s difficult to project the team’s superiority as of now, partly because it’s not yet officially a team. The league requires all NBA teams to carry between thirteen and fifteen players on its roster during the regular season.
How do you build out a roster around three players who are arguably the league’s best at their positions?
The commitment of Wade, James and Bosh was a strong first step. It was so strong that each committed to the Heat without knowing exactly what he committed to. There were no assurances that any would receive their maximum allowable starting salary of $16.6 million for 2010-11. In fact, they won’t.
In an era where we complain that athletes never want to win and only care about money, three of the top players in the game have agreed to take less money to play together and to dominate the league for the foreseeable future, even at the risk of diminishing their own individual greatness. Ultimately, they cared more about winning and friendship than money and legacy. Remarkable.
Equally remarkable is why they did it. In a flurry of midnight dealings, the Heat dealt Michael Beasley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, to the Minnesota Timberwolves in return for a 2011 second-round draft choice, plus a future swap of first-round picks. This transaction, whose goal was to clear salary cap space on Miami’s roster, paved the way for the Heat to acquire the services of Washington Wizards free-agent swingman Mike Miller. Apparently, Wade, James and Bosh felt so strongly about the addition of Miller that each was willing to sacrifice between $7 million and $10 million over the lives of their five and six year contracts.
Miller is perhaps the game’s ultimate floor-spacing wing player, with an ability to knock down shots from just about anywhere on the court. He should benefit substantially from Wade and James kick-outs. And although his shooting is his most celebrated asset, it’s certainly not his only one. At 6’8″, his tenacity on the defensive boards and his willingness to distribute the ball should not be overlooked.
He certainly hasn’t been overlooked by Pat Riley. At the 2008 trade deadline, Riley used every tool at his disposal in an attempt to pry the shooter of his dreams away from the Memphis Grizzlies, to no avail. â€œIt was really hard for me. I’ll tell the guy to tell me exactly what you want. I said, “Put it out there. Tell me exactly what you want. Give me your dream deal.” I could never get them to give me the dream deal. I don’t think, at the very end, they wanted to do it.” Riley was equally unsuccessful in his dealings with the Wizards this past season. Now he has his man.
But before the contracts of any of the above players can be confirmed, Joel Anthony must first be dealt with. Joel remains on the Heat’s books at his qualifying offer amount of $1,060,120. The offer will be rescinded, reducing his charge against the team’s salary cap to $854,389. From here, the Heat can do one of two things – retain his cap hold (at a net cost of $380,785, after incorporating one reduced roster charge) or renounce him outright. If he were to be renounced, the net savings would be added directly to the compensations of the Big Three. The savings would equate to just shy of $1 million over the life of each contract. If he were retained, Joel would stand to earn a substantial increase in pay – potentially, though unlikely, all the way up to the player maximum – with no effect on the cap flexibility of the team. It is likely he will be retained.
The contracts of all current roster players could be calculated as follows:
And so here we stand. Pat Riley will continue his tireless search for additional talent to fill out a Miami roster that will become the most marked team in the league. But with James, Wade, Bosh and Miller on board, it shouldn’t be too difficult a task for Riley to sell the appeal of playing for the Heat. The problem is choosing the right pieces.
The team still needs to sign between seven and nine more players.
All for NBA minimum wage.
Possible Additions: Jason Williams, Keyon Dooling
Current Roster Players: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade
There has been a lot of talk that LeBron James could be the point guard of the team. In reality, it doesn’t matter which player has the title. James and Wade will share the ball-handling duties, and defensive assignments will be dictated by opposing rosters.
Whatever the scenario, the team still needs a “true” ball-handling guard. Former Heat point guard and free agent Jason Williams has barely earned a mention thus far into free agency. Surprising as it may be considering his White Chocolate-dubbed former self, it appears Williams’ game just isn’t flashy enough anymore to draw the deserved attention. Nonetheless, he is coming off one of the best seasons in Orlando of any point guard on this market. Williams has evolved into a potent, pass-first point guard who scores efficiently when needed and – most importantly – limits turnovers.
The general assumption floating around is that Williams doesn’t want to leave Florida, mainly because that’s the message he sent back in 2008. He walked away from a one-year deal with the Clippers, announcing he would retire before attempting to get reinstated, only to be required by the league’s owners to sit out a mandatory one year penalty. With Orlando having already secured the services of Chris Duhon, Miami figures to be in lead contention.
As a defender Williams generally knows where to be but doesn’t pressure the ball and doesn’t go out of his way to make plays from the help side. He’s also had knee problems the past two full seasons he has played, and those have limited his mobility, a glaring issue against explosive penetrating guards.
In that regard, Keyon Dooling could be an ideal third point guard. He’s very good pressuring the ball and his size makes him a strong defender at the point guard position in the half-court. Dooling, 30, is from Ft. Lauderdale and reportedly wants to play in the state of Florida.
Possible Additions: Raja Bell
Current Roster Players: Mike Miller, Da’Sean Butler
Raja Bell has made no secret of the fact that he wants to play for the Heat. The journeyman guard was offered a multi-year contract from the Lakers of $1.8 million per year earlier today, and he rejected it outright. He went so far as to inform the Laker front office that he intends to sign with the Miami Heat or Orlando Magic. He has been previously quoted as saying: “I’ll tell you like this, Pat. If you can use my services give me a call, I’m right around the corner, 36th and Biscayne. Give me a call.”
Heat president Pat Riley should do just that.
Mike Miller is a wonderful addition to the Heat team. Defensively, however, Miller’s size is an asset but his foot speed is not, particularly at the shooting guard spot. He’s better off matching up against small forwards, especially bigger ones, where the speed differential is less glaring. Although James and Miller would undoubtedly switch defensive assignments on quicker guards like potential NBA Finals match-up Kobe Bryant, it appears Miller will play heavy minutes in South Florida at the two.
Miami drafted 6’7″ West Viriginia swingman Da’Sean Butler with the 42nd pick in the 2010 draft. It was certainly an intriguing pick. There were questions as to whether Butler would even get drafted after he tore up his left knee (who can forget the sight of coach Bob Huggins cradling him on the floor) in the NCAA playoffs. But prior to his injury, Butler was thought of as a potential first-rounder. Establishing career-highs in scoring, rebounding and assists while minimizing his turnovers, the senior emerged as the go-to option for a team that spent the regular season ranked amongst the top in the country and made a run to the Final Four. If Butler rehabs his knee and can get to his old form, he may be the steal of the NBA Draft. While he won’t be able to participate in the Summer League, he has been told that he will have a clean bill of health in time for the start of training camp.
Enter Raja Bell. Bell is a tough, veteran role player, respected for his tough defense and sharp accuracy from the perimeter. While many regard him as one of the game’s best defensive shooting guards, he will be 34 years old to start the 2010 season. Do not be surprised if he has lost a step out on the floor. But he remains a supreme defender on the perimeter, an attribute the Heat could certainly use – particularly from a player who will cost the team just $854,389.
Offensively, he likes to play off the ball and just launch catch-and-shoot 3s. He’s a low-mistake player whose greatest value is in helping to space the floor for his teammates. And that’s perfect for the star-studded Miami Heat. He is a dangerous 3-point shooter who has shredded the nets to the tune of 41.1% for his career.
Possible Additions: James Jones
Current Roster Players: LeBron James
James Jones earns a spot on the roster largely for his generosity. Jones agreed to a reduced buyout amount which that produced a 2010-11 cap hit of just $1.5 million, a $312k savings for next season and $1.0 million overall. While a relatively paltry number, it was projected at the time to be enough to secure three max contracts should Beasley and Chalmers have been traded. Of course, things have changed a bit with the higher $58.044 million cap figure. But generosity should be respected with loyalty.
Apart from that, despite mixed emotions from South Floridians, Jones remains a wonderful option for any team at a league minimum salary. Jones has been a very reliable long-range shooter in past seasons and, now fully recovered from his ruptured right wrist, should benefit greatly from all the attention Wade, James and Bosh will attract. Between Bell, Jones and Miller, each with career averages of 40% or better from distance, the Heat should be in ideal position in that regard.
Possible Additions: Kurt Thomas, Juwan Howard
Current Roster Players: Chris Bosh
The search for frontcourt depth could produce some interesting storylines.
It looks like Udonis Haslem will not be back with the Miami Heat next season, as unfortunate as that is. His reliable mid-range jump shot would have been vital to a team that has no offensively minded depth in the frontcourt.
Wouldn’t it be nice for Kurt Thomas to take his place, closing out his career with a Larry O’Brien trophy on the team that originally drafted him 16 seasons prior? Ignoring a forgettable campaign with the Bucks this past season, he remains a serviceable big man even at 37 years of age.
His offensive repertoire at his advanced age is primarily limited to catch-and-shoot on pick-and-pop situations. He seldom dribbles, and he scores around the basket only on putbacks. But he knows his limitations and rarely forces the action; plus, he’s smart with the ball and makes a useful high-post distributor. He’s also a very good post defender because he competes, knows how to position himself, and excels at taking charges. He has lost a step in his tender age, and that makes it tougher for him to cover perimeter-oriented power forwards.
The seemingly ancient Juwan Howard figures to help somewhat in that regard. Howard, 37, demonstrated that he still has something in the tank with the Blazers last season, when he averaged 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in spot-start duty for the injury-plagued Blazers. At 6’9″ Howard would serve as a veteran backup. His ability to contribute adequate minutes on the court is questionable, but the energy and focus he brings to the table, coupled with his ability to hit an open jump shot, would serve the Heat well.
Possible Additions: Zydrunas Ilgauskus, Jamaal Magloire
Current Roster Players: Joel Anthony
Center remains the only position that figures to have an opening in the starting rotation. It could very well be filling by the 7’3″ close, personal friend of Lebron James, Zydrunas Ilgauskus.
You’re simply not going to find a young and supremely gifted center willing to play for the league minimum. Big, tall centers are among the most coveted players in the league, and those with even a speck of talent command eight-figure salaries. Ilgauskus would be a nice if unspectacular fit for a 25-30 minute role.
He certainly seems open to it. “Cleveland is home to me. I’d like to [come back], but I’m not banking on it. I’m not sure what is going to happen. Personally, I feel healthy. Maybe a year, maybe two tops. But if it’s not here, it would have to be a situation that I feel right.” The 35-year-old longtime Cavalier had hinted towards retirement earlier in the season, hoping that his tribulation-filled career would end on a high note. After being eliminated prematurely from the playoffs, Ilgauskas would undoubtedly welcome the opportunity to play at least one more season competing for a title, if the situation allowed for playing time.
Ilgauskas plays with a quiet, calm demeanor, displaying an effective inside-outside game. He is never one for theatrics, as he goes about his business in a professional manner. A Wade/James/Bosh trio will create a lot of open looks for the long Lithuanian with a soft touch. Defensively, however, he is a something of a liability and, as such, he won’t figure to be much of a late-game presence on the floor. Joel Anthony figures to take on much of that role.
Jamaal Magloire, a close friend of Dwyane Wade, is in many ways a perfect complement to Big Z and Joel under the rim. Big Z is offensively gifted, with a sweet 15-20 foot jump shot and soft hands which lead to an inordinate number of offensive tip-ins, but defensively challenged. Anthony has no semblance of an offensive game and can’t rebound, but he blocks shots with the best in the game today.
Jamaal provides the necessary third dimension; the “I’ll-knock-you-back-down-so-don’t-get-back-up” toughness at the center position. He is a 6’11″ wide-body who uses his brute force to attack the glass and snatch down rebounds. The former all-star is a shell of his former self, but he’s been a welcome fixture in the Heat rotation for three years now. His size also contributes to his role as a defender, especially since he has no problem giving up his fouls while he’s in the game.
The 15 players mentioned are just one of an infinite number of possible combinations.
What are your thoughts?