Players acquired via free agency or trade:
Mark Blount (acquired from Minnesota)
Ricky Davis (acquired from Minnesota)
Smush Parker (signed, two years, $4,680,000)
Joel Anthony, Brian Chase, Devin Green, Penny Hardaway, Alexander Johnson, Jeremy Richardson and Marcus Slaughter (all signed to the minimum salary with assorted levels of partial guarantees. If you include holdovers Earl Barron and Chris Quinn, you have eight players on the bubble, four of whom are going to have to be cut.)
Players acquired via draft:
First round: Daequan Cook (21st overall, acquired in draft night deal)
Second round: None
Earl Barron (re-signed, unguaranteed qualifying offer)
Michael Doleac (traded to Minnesota)
Wayne Simien (traded to Minnesota)
Antoine Walker (traded to Minnesota)
Eddie Jones (signed with Miami)
Jason Kapono (signed with Toronto)
Gary Payton (put to sleep)
James Posey (signed with Boston)
It seems fitting to “do” Miami next, given that they are a team recently in the news. If you are like me, and you’re the kind of person that tends to get so excited when a transaction is made that a little bit of wee seeps out, then you probably secreted when you learnt of the recent Miami/Minnesota trade. That move saw Miami trades Antoine Walker, Wayne Simien, Michael Doleac, a first-round pick and cash to Minnesota for Ricky Davis and Mark Blount, which potentially salvaged the offseason for Miami.
Despite previous protestations about how the team would never be a taxpayer, last year’s capitulation at the hands of the incomparably superior Chicago Bulls awakened Riley, Pfund and the like to the fact that their team just isn’t that good any more. The Heat had committed themselves financially to a core that had a championship window of exactly one year. They capitalised on that, winning the title in that one year of 2006, but they did so at a cost. The fallout from that left them with one young superstar and a heap of overpaid elderly codswallop. Codswallop, by the way, is a much underused word, especially in the NBA world. It means “nonsense”, “rubbish”, “crap”, and stuff to that effect. I have two big aims for the world of basketball this year – firstly, to get a complete scrub to the All-Star game by mass manipulation of the online ballot (who this will be has not been decided upon yet, it depends on who is on the ballot), and also to get the word ‘codswallop’ started on its long journey towards every day usage in the NBA world. Today, this day, this place, this paragraph, marks the start of that journey. Pay heed.
This elderly supporting cast was enough to get it done in 2006, but last year the Heat showed their age. Starting point guard Jason Williams may only be 31, but he was exposed as a weakness last year – while the heart and head were willing, the knees were not. His backup, Gary Payton, was perhaps the worst rotation player in basketball last year. His main rival for that title was teammate Antoine Walker, while veteran centres Alonzo Mourning and Michael Doleac did not do much to offset the loss of Shaquille O’Neal, who had the worst season of his professional career as 35-year-olds tend to do.
Needing to spend, and with permission granted from whoever it is that pays the bills, Miami then tried to get a bit of everybody. With starter Jason Kapono snapped up by Toronto within about 18 seconds of the free agency period starting, Miami let him leave unchallenged, rightly unwilling to pay that price tag. However, despite continuing to negotiate with James Posey, the Heat weren’t able to convince him to stay either, as he signed with Boston. And with Eddie Jones having already signed with Dallas, Miami was left in the rather awkward position of not having any wing players that could make an outside shot, and also with the frankly scary possibility of having Antoine Walker start at small forward next year.
In addition to looking for a wing player or two that didn’t suck, Miami was also seeking to upgrade their weak point guard position, and add a veteran big for insurance. These three separate chases led them to pursue all manner of free agents and trade possibilities, from such diverse names as Maurice Williams, Charlie Bell, Mickael Pietrus, Allan Houston, P.J. Brown, Sasha Pavlovic, Ime Udoka, Mike Bibby, Juan Carlos Navarro, Ron Artest, Jannero Pargo, Rafer Alston, Corey Maggette, Steve Francis, Matt Barnes, Morris Peterson, Steve Blake, Gerald Wallace, Sarunas Jasikevicius, James Singleton and Vitaly Potapenko – basically, everybody. Only one of those moves went anywhere, when Miami signed Bell to an offer sheet, that Milwaukee swiftly matched.
The anti-climactic feeling of it all hit home when Miami announced their first two prominent free agency signings as being Smush Parker and Penny Hardaway. The signings also summed up the bipolar nature of Pat Riley’s offseason pursuits: after harping on for ages and ages about wanting a young and athletic line-up (the signings of players such as Parker, Marcus Slaughter, Alexander Johnson and Jeremy Richardson help here), Riley also can’t seem to resist trying to sign every old guy that used to be any good (Jones, Hardaway, Houston), which seemed directly contradictory to the young athletes thing.
After the Bell move went wrong, nothing much happened. The Heat continued to pursue all kinds of trades and free agency possibilities, to no avail. They rounded out their roster with more young athletes, and went to camp still working the phones but accepting the fact that nothing may come of it. And when Shaq’s inevitable injury turned up and Dwyane Wade added in one of his own, the Heat were staring down a lottery spot.
Then just this past week, it got interesting, as Miami was finally able to do something. And the trade they made was a good one. They landed two of their probable top nine players in Davis and Blount while only giving up spare parts to do so. Losing Antoine Walker is a case of addition by subtraction, Davis gives them a useful scorer and athlete at the wing position which Miami had sought all offseason, and Blount gives them a centre whose limited face-up game is still useful when playing alongside Dwyane Wade, even if he does have a massive inability to catch.
All it really cost Miami was an extra year of Blount’s big salary over Antoine’s, and a first-round pick that won’t be high in an ideal world anyway. It’s a trade that has put Miami back into the playoff picture, although they still aren’t even nearly as good as their fans would like you to believe.
But who’s to say that they’ve finished yet?
In my Bobcats post, I talked about how I had decided upon my eight Eastern seeds for the playoffs. Miami wasn’t one of them at the time. Now, they are.
It’s still a flawed team, with the worst point guard rotation around, and with the overrated Udonis Haslem still starting at power forward. The team is still dependent on how much Shaq is willing to give, and Miami is also still largely a two-man team dependent on Shaq’s health (and his continued descent towards mediocrity).
But that can be enough. The Cleveland Cavaliers, after all, are the epitome of a one-man team, and they made the NBA Finals. They used a hell of a lot of luck to get there, as their playoff matchups opened up wonderfully for them. But you can only beat who is in front of you, and that’s what Cleveland did.
Miami is far from the best team in the East these days, let alone in the NBA overall. Their supporting cast to the two stars is rather poor, and the Shaq/Wade duo are not exactly the best examples of durability. But if various circumstances all come good at the same time, Miami has themselves a team that can make inroads in the East. If they can scrape into the playoffs and maintain good health all around at the most crucial time, then they won’t be an easy matchup for whoever they play. Everyone said much the same last year, but they forgot two key things:
a) The Heat were never healthy.
b) Nor were they even nearly good enough.
This offseason, they’ve improved. They’ve cut out most of the crap, and added some talent. It’s a better team than it was.
But it’s not a title team. Not even close.