The Charlotte Hornets will have a better record than the Miami Heat at the end of the 2014-15 season. If I had made this statement one year ago, I would’ve been ran out of the sports industry, but the Eastern Conference is swiftly changing. LeBron James’ heavily followed free agency ended in his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Miami, of course, is heartbroken but completely grateful for the King.
But where does Miami go from here?
Surprisingly, the Heat were able to retain Chris Bosh despite having received a max-contract offer from the Houston Rockets. This was a major victory for Miami, but that is the only one. The Heat’s offseason has been composed of small additions that were meant to bolster the big three. The introduction of veterans Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts are quite meaningless now that James is gone. Yes they are decent pawns on the court, but they are not going to provide enough for this team to be a true contender.
Veteran SF Luol Deng was acquired in free agency by the Heat to in essence replace James. Attempting to fill that void is an enormous task that nobody wants to be challenged with. Deng is a solid shooter who will provide a great boost to the perimeter shooting that is now almost nonexistent without James and the future Hall of Famer Ray Allen.
The culture in Miami has long been to work hard at the expense of your health and career. Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade are prime examples of longtime Heat players who have been worn down in their rigorous system of heavy minutes and little rest. Wade has been ran into the ground in his 11 years of service for Miami. He is no longer of the elite caliber he was three years ago, but I believe that he can become healthy and still make a significant impact on the court. He will certainly have more opportunities and control in the absence of James if he can remain healthy.
The main stickler for the Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals with the San Antonio Spurs was the lack of production from the bench. With Granger and first-round draft pick Shabazz Napier as the only additions for the bench, Miami is on track to have one of the worst backup crews in the league. Without having a stellar staring five and the bench being basically irrelevant, Miami will sift down the ranks of the Eastern Conference.
Okay, so everyone understands that James is a crippling lose to Miami, but Charlotte is still Charlotte, right?
The Hornets have spent the last few seasons establishing a system and culture that will bring great success for many years to come. The 2013-14 campaign was one of the biggest shocks in the league. The former Bobcats finished with a record above .500 and made the playoffs as the No. 7 seed. Charlotte has been extremely active in free agency. Michael Jordan has the ability to lure in highly sought after talent like Gordon Hayward and Lance Stephenson. The Utah Jazz matched the offer for Hayward, but the Hornets were able to snag the controversial young star in Stephenson who could not come to terms with the Indiana Pacers.
Charlotte has the fifth best starting five in the Eastern Conference, and with the exception of All-star Al Jefferson, the other starting four are under the age of 25. With a plethora of young talent, the Hornets are set to compete for the long haul. Cody Zeller and Jefferson down low make a dangerous defensive combo, and Kemba Walker and Stephenson create a relentlessly attacking duo in the backcourt.
The main area that sets the Hornets apart from the Heat is the vastly different level of depth on the bench. Charlotte’s role players are very skilled and consist of three former first-round draft picks. Bismack Biyombo, Gerald Henderson and the established veteran Marvin Williams provide consistency on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. This dual capability from the bench to support a great starting five will pay tremendous dividends throughout the season and will lend more wins to the Hornets in closely contested ballgames.
The southeast division will look drastically different in the coming years, for the tide is turning in Miami and the buzz is swarming in Charlotte. New team name, colors and culture are ushered into the Queen City for the beginning of a new era in the fall of 2014 while a great era is fading away in Miami.