5 Ways the Miami Heat Can Ensure Another Trip to the NBA Finals in 2014
5 Ways the Miami Heat can Ensure Another Trip to the NBA Finals in 2014
When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to join forces in 2010, James promised to win multiple championships. After a grueling seven-game series with the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat are one championship away from a three-peat, a feat that has not been seen since the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000-2002.
Next year, the road to the NBA Finals will be tougher. All-Star point guard Derrick Rose is returning from injury. Last year, the Chicago Bulls stole Game 1 from the Heat with a shortened roster that was depleted by injuries. The Indiana Pacers made the Heat give their all to win that physical, seven-game series. They've re-signed power forward David West and their All-Star forward Danny Granger will be healthy again. The Brooklyn Nets have added Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to their roster, two players who have been to the Finals as part of the 2008 Boston Celtics. That's just the Eastern Conference.
In the west, last year's NBA Finalist, the Oklahoma City Thunder, will have Russell Westbrook healthy and hungry. The Houston Rockets picked up center Dwight Howard. The Golden State Warriors have signed Andre Iguodala, a player known for his pesky defense. The Los Angeles Clippers have re-signed Chris Paul and hired head coach, Doc Rivers. All of theses teams have rebuilt themselves to improve their postseason runs.
Another concern of the Miami Heat is the salary cap, health status of the "Big 3" and rebounding. Next season is when the new collective bargaining takes place. James, Bosh and Wade are 28, 29 and 31, respectively. Bosh and Wade's injuries limited their effectiveness. The Heat rank last in rebounding. James can be a free agent in 2014. Will the Heat's management make the right moves to convince James to stay in Miami or fear he returns to Cleveland to team up with Kyrie Irving? Here are five ways the Heat can improve their chances at another NBA Finals appearance.
5. Amnesty Mike Miller
The Heat are one of three teams to have paid the luxury tax in 2012 and 2013. Mike Miller is due $12.8 million over the next two years. While he has proved invaluable in the NBA Finals, he hardly ever plays for the team. If the team amnesties him, they will not have to pay $17 million in luxury tax for a role player. They'll still have to pay him his salary, but it will not factor into the luxury tax.
Next season is when the new collective bargaining agreement takes effect. In the current CBA, a team that exceeds the salary cap pays a dollar in tax for every dollar it is over the threshold. Under the new one, its $1.50 in luxury tax for up to the first $5 million. A team that is more than $5 million over the tax line pays $1.75 per dollar in tax, and $2.50 per dollar in tax if salary exceeds $10 million. There's another hike at $15 million and so on. Furthermore, there's the repeater tax, which takes place in 2015. A team that pays the luxury tax every year from 2012 to 2015 gets another dollar attached to its progressive rate. For example, in 2016, $1.50 becomes $2.50 per dollar.
Besides, the Heat are deep at the forward position. Shane Battier was the x-factor in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He was 6-for-8 (18 points) from three-point territory and he plays better defense than Miller. There's also James Jones and Rashard Lewis who can also shoot threes and play the power forward position. Miller is completely expendable and the Heat can save money as well.
4. Sign Greg Oden
The Heat should go after a big man like Greg Oden, who can block shots, rebound and defend the likes of Tim Duncan and Howard. The team was last in rebounding during the regular season, and it nearly cost them in the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Pacers, who have two dominant big men in West and Roy Hibbert.
3. Have Dwyane Wade practice three point shooting
During the regular season, the Heat have outscored their opponents by 14 points per 48 minutes when James and Wade are on the court together. But in the series versus the Spurs, the Heat have been outscored by 56 points through 194 minutes of data when the pair play together. One reason is that both players are natural slashers and need the ball in their hands to be effective. If the two are to play better together, then Wade needs to improve his outside touch. Wade is a career 28 percent from three-point territory. He has rarely used the three-point shot as a weapon. It wasn't an issue early in his career because he was so quick, but he's been hampered by knee injuries of late. He's no longer as explosive. As such, the Spurs can clog the lane and force him to take farther outside shots of which he's uncomfortable to take.
James had experienced the same problem in 2007 when his Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Spurs, who dared him to shoot outside. James has worked on his three-point shot and it showed in this latest series. For example, in Game 7, James was 5-10 from the three. He's averaged four attempts per game and shot 37 percent. Wade will need to add the three-point shot to his arsenal if he wants another NBA title.
2. Reduce LeBron James's minutes
James has played in all of the 82 regular season games, and all 23 playoff games, while averaging 39 minutes in the regular season and 42 in the playoffs. James has rarely had the opportunity to rest because the Heat would crumble without him. Wade and Bosh have been inconsistent in the playoffs. Coach Erik Spoelstra doesn't have a back up if James has an injury, so he keeps playing his best player. It's physically and mentally exhausting to play at such a high level over 100 games a season. James will wear out if he keeps playing so many minutes.
1. Get Younger
The average age of the Heat's roster last year was 30. The average age of the active roster this year will be 31. Their defense hinges on trapping the ball-handler off pick-and-rolls and cutting off the passing lanes. That requires length and athleticism. That's why Bosh is so important to the team. The team needs to find younger players or give more minutes to the younger members of the team. Young players have a greater ability to hustle for longer and play this active, disruptive defense that defines this team. The "Big 3" will need rest to play at their best throughout the season. The younger guys can fill that void by learning the plays early in the season so that the superstars don't get worn down from all the heavy lifting.