The NBA is a copycat league, so it should be no surprise to anyone that most fans of teams not in the league's final 4 are sitting around wondering what separates their teams from the teams left playing. The most simplistic answer would Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard but the truth of it comes down to the supporting cast. The Orlando Magic have a clear advantage in the middle over the Cavs, but had it not been the play of the rest of the roster they would not be up 2-1 in the series. Same with the Denver Nuggets who are giving the Los Angeles Lakers everything they can handle, due to the play of guys like Dahntay Jones, Chris Anderson, and J.R. Smith.
The Magic are able to get good looks for Howard inside, because they are getting the outside scoring from Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu. However, without the all around play of Rafaer Alston, Courtney Lee, and Mikeal Pietrus, the offensive balance would be out of whack and the Cavs, who were favored in the series, would have the Magic on their heels. The Magic have to be the presumptive favorite at this point, after 3 very good games. Had it not been for some bad calls in Game 2 and a miraculous three pointer by LeBron, the Magic would have been up 3-0 going into tonight's game.
This type of balance is the blueprint for what the Heat needs to take it to the next level. Dwayne Wade is one of the greatest talents in the game, and will always be talked about in the MVP debate as long as he is healthy, but without a strong supporting cast he will always be looking at playoff heartache. If the Hawks series showed management anything, it was that his teammates were not ready for prime time. Injuries kept Jermaine O'Neal from playing up to his potential all year, but will an offseason working in Chicago with Wade's trainer, Tim Grover, get him back on track? When healthy, O'Neal provides the Heat with a guy that can take the offensive pressure off of Wade, and also make up for some of the teams defensive deficiencies by protecting the hoop. He showed flashes of being a go to post player capable of getting 15 points on a nightly basis.
If O'Neal does not return to form, then they need to be find look elsewhere for a second scorer. Ideally it would come from within from the improvement of Michael Beasley. Beasley's game has been analyzed over and over, but the one consensus is that he has a ton of talent. It is the job of the coaching staffs this offseason to find the way to best utilize that talent. Is he a power forward or a small forward? Not sure there is an answer to that question yet. What is known, is that he needs a lot of work on the court and off of it. He needs help with building his confidence and his conditioning this summer. A confident and in shape Beasley would strike fear into opossing teams, cause the skill set is there and will only get better.
Two other young players that should take the jump to the next level of consistency are Daquan Cook, and Mario Chalmers. Both players had some great moments this year and both struggled in the playoffs. Another offseason of hard work, could help take the pressure of Wade. When these two guys were playing well, the Heat were at their best this season, and that is not a coincidence. If they can keep defenses honest and play strong defense, the team will improve.
The Heat does not want to add guaranteed salary this offseason that goes beyond 2010, in order to keep the flexibility to add an All Star next to Wade via free agency next summer, so this offseason will be focussing on adding the complementary pieces. The team needs the most help on the bench, mainly the point guard spot, the center spot, and added scoring off of the bench.
Chris Quinn is not going to cut it as a backup to Chalmers, so they need to add a veteran who can keep the team steady when Chalmers sits. Keep an eye on how the Jamaal Tinsely situation plays out in Indiana. He is not the quickest guy, but he is a veteran who has played in big playoff series, so he should not shrink when the games get important. I don't know whether Chalmers was fatigued against Atlanta or in over his head, but the duo of Mike Bibby and Flip Murray outplayed him every night.
I liked the toughness that Jamaal Magloire brings to the team, but too often this year the Heat's big men seemed like they were standing in cement when playing a more athletic frontcourt. Adding a player like Chris Wilcox or Brandon Bass that can score inside and run in transition is a necessity. I would like to bring Magloire back, to battle the big physical centers and provide leadership in the locker room. The guy can be seen cheering on his teammates every game, and we need more players like that. I am envious of the camaraderie that teams like Cleveland and Denver have shown throughout the playoffs, so it would be a shame to lose a team-guy like Magloire.
Adding athleticism to the team overall is a must this offseason, as is getting more scoring off of the bench. Hopefully with the addition of a backup point and help in the frontcourt the team will help the scoring void they had this year when Wade sat, but it would not hurt to find our very own Flip Murray. A guy that has been overlooked by other teams, but finds a home with a team that is in need of his one skill. Murray was not a great defender or ball handler, but the Hawks were in need of offense off the bench, and he provided just that. These type of players are where a GM's really makes his money; whether it being a cast off from another squad or a late draft pick. I would love to see the Heat use one of their 2 second round picks on a players like Tyrese Rice from Boston College or Tony Douglas. These are two potential picks that are not looked at as potential starters in the league, but made names for themselves being prolific scorers in college, therefore I like their chances of carving a niche on a team with this ability.
The Heat has a tough task this offseason, in building a more competitive team, while not adding long term contracts. Their is obvious room for improvement through the development of the young players, while also having a full season of Jermaine O'Neal and Dwayne Wade together, now it is time to collect the pieces around them. Will Udonis Haslem be used as trade bait to fill another hole on the team or is he too valuable in the locker room to let go? Is Michael Beasley the answer at power forward or is he better suited for small forward? Lots of questions and not a lot of answers just yet. Stay tuned, for analysis throughout the offseason on what the Heat is up to.