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2014-15 NBA Preview: Miami Heat

The big question: how will the Heat replace ... Greg Oden and Michael Beasley?

Buda Mendes

Miami Heat: Prediction: 8th in the Eastern Conference

2014 Record: 54-28

Coach: Erik Spoelstra

Significant Additions: F Luol Deng (free agent), F Josh McRoberts (free agent), F Danny Granger (free agent), G Shabazz Napier (draft trade), G Shannon Brown (free agent)

Significant Subtractions: F LeBron James (free agent), G Ray Allen (free agent), F Shane Battier (retired), F Rashard Lewis (free agent), F James Jones (free agent),  F Michael Beasley (free agent), C Greg Oden (free agent)

Projected Starters: C Chris Bosh, F Josh McRoberts, F Luol Deng, G Dwyane Wade, G Mario Chalmers (7/10):
Even though the best player on the planet will be impossible to replace, it's still worth noting that the Heat will have three of the best 30-40 players in the league starting for them, which not very many Eastern teams can claim. Almost everywhere you look, there's a fascinating question that we have to find answers for. Now that LeBron James is gone, will Bosh indeed make good on his pledge to return to being more of an interior player after declaring last year that he was done "banging"? Bosh is one of the best mid-range shooters in the league, but he fell in love with the three-pointer last season and completely stopped rebounding. He also lost some of his defensive range and intensity due to all that crazy trapping and hedging Spoelstra asks of him. Bosh doesn't need to bury himself in the low-post or anything, but he needs to get back to the high-post and facilitate from there like he used to, while picking his spots defensively. With McRoberts, who's not exactly a banger himself, slated to start inside, Bosh will absolutely have to be more of a presence on the boards and protecting the rim. Really, I don't see how that defensive arrangement is going to work. Chis Andersen is getting up there in years and broke down last year, but they might have to start him.

The biggest questions have to do with Wade. Not only will his knees hold up (all anecdotal evidence suggests they won't) but what will he look like as Miami's main option now that James isn't around to occupy opponent defenses? Some weight loss and a blood-spinning procedure is supposed to let him survive 80 games as the alpha dog playing 38 minutes a night? I don't think that's remotely possible. I wonder how Wade's new wing-mate, Deng, will fit in. He lost some of his passion last year and you wonder if all the minutes he played under Tom Thibodeau burned him out. He needs somebody to create his shots for him. Can Wade do that? Can Bosh? McRoberts is an athletic guy with deep range and he and Bosh can mix and match stretching people out and confusing them, but it's almost reminiscent of Minnesota where you worry about the bigs shooting from deep but not the smalls. The only question with Chalmers is how long he can hold on to his starting job before they give it to Shabazz Napier?

Projected Reserves (3/10):
Not only did the Heat lose LeBron, but he took with him most of what little depth they had. Andersen and Udonis Haslem both re-signed, but they're both just about at the end of their careers and offer almost nothing offensively. Norris Cole is a decent defender at the point, but he too is abysmal at the business end of the floor. On the wings they signed Danny Granger, who spent a half-season with the Clippers but didn't play a whole lot for them down the stretch. Continuing the running theme here, he's pretty solid in his own end but has lost semblance of his offensive game. They also picked up Shannon Brown, who spent parts of last season with both the Spurs and the Knicks. His athleticism is fading fast and there isn't much else he's got going for him. The only guy at all interesting is Napier, a two-time NCAA champion at UConn whom James implored the Heat to draft before deciding to bolt back home to Ohio. Napier isn't a super athlete or a dead-eye shooter, but he's got a toughness and maturity about him that Chalmers sorely lacks. He'd fit in well with the businesslike, no-nonsense mentality of the Pat Riley Heat.

Coach/Front Office (8/10):
The fabulously talented Lee Jenkins had a fantastic profile of Spoelstra that I highly encourage everyone to read. His story paints Spoelstra as fellow who's obsessive and maniacal, but more driven by insecurity than ambition. He refuses to fail and he'll turn over every stone to find solutions, but he sure seems like a burnout candidate, especially now without James to make everything work. Spoelstra did have marginal success with the Heat before James ever got there, making the playoffs with Wade and not much else in 2009 and 2010, but this version is older and more injury prone. It helps Spoelstra that he has the unflinching faith of Riley, and it was impressive to see the team refuse to fold just because James left, but you have to wonder if the whole organization isn't operating on fifteen levels of denial here. They overpaid for Bosh like he's some up-and-coming superstar when he hasn't been that guy in years. You can't contend for a title when he's your best player. They're relying on Wade to carry them when his knees are shot. They signed Luol to a good chunk of money. For who? For what? For an eighth seed?

Team Rating: 60 (2.5x Starters Rating + 1.5x Reserves Rating + Coach Rating) x 2 = 60

Did You Know:
James Harden wasn't the only All-Star shooting guard out there with YouTube montages dedicated to his defensive futility. Far from it. Turns out folks noticed Wade's lack of... let's say urgency, in getting back in transition. Enjoy.