4 Reasons Why the Miami Heat Will Be NBA Title Contenders in 2016
Around this time a year ago, the landscape of the Miami Heat organization was undergoing a huge change. LeBron James went home to Cleveland, leaving the Heat with an aging and oft-injured Dwyane Wade, former third wheel Chris Bosh and a cast of other guys.
This past season didn't offer a lot of encouragement for Pat Reilly and company. Combined, Wade, Bosh and offseason addition Josh McRoberts played in just 50 percent (123/246) of their available contests last year. As a result, the Heat didn't have one lineup play more than 179 minutes together. When you compare that to the Warriors primary starting lineup, which played a total of 813 minutes together, you can see the gigantic difference in consistency.
So it only follows that the Heat finished under .500 (37-45), placed just third in their division and missed out on the playoffs for the first time in seven years. They also finished off the 2014-15 campaign as the 22nd ranked team in our power rankings -- three slots lower than the Detroit Pistons who lost five more games than the Heat.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015...
The front office had to do a lot of work and dish out some cash, but the Heat have a lot of good things going for them as the 2016 NBA season inches closer and closer. And as of July 28, according to oddshark.com, Bovada has the Miami Heat in a tie with the Chicago Bulls for the seventh most-favorited team to win the title.
But are the Miami Heat still going overlooked? Yes -- and here are four reasons why.
1. Going Big
Chris Bosh is regaining his strength and conditioning after missing the second half of the 2015 season with blood clots on his lung. It remains to be seen whether there will be any restrictions or precautionary measures taken as the season begins, but one thing is for certain: a healthy Chris Bosh will be the leader of this Heat team.
After Chris Bosh was sidelined in late February, Hassan Whiteside took over the reigns down low and showed us what he had stored up over his two plus years in the D-League and overseas. Sadly, Whiteside was just coming on as Bosh's blood clots were discovered.
The two didn't get to play much together as a power forward/center combination, but that's definitely something to look forward to this year. I'll just leave you with their combined numbers from a year ago:
2. Keeping Guard
The Heat were not one of the teams out making deals and signing free agents this offseason -- but that doesn't mean they were inactive. The Heat had a lot of work to do on the home front. What's important though is that they got it done.
After securing Bosh for four more years with a max contract a year ago, the Heat turned their attention toward re-signing their long time franchise face, Dwyane Wade, and to signing their most recent addition, Goran Dragic. On July 2nd, the Heat took care of the former, signing Wade to a one-year, $20 million dollar contract. On July 9th, they took care of the latter by signing the 29-year old Dragic to a five-year, $90 million dollar deal.
What did the Heat accomplish with these two deals? A lot.
As Brandon Gdula touched on earlier this month, the Heat got a deal by signing Dragic for less than $100 million. In the last two years, his 17.1 Win Shares is tied with fellow point guard Kyrie Irving and is superior to John Wall's total of 15.7.
As for Wade, presenting numbers from a year ago would be misleading. Wade struggled not just with injuries but with being the guy in Miami for most of the year. At 33 years old, he had his highest Usage Percentage (34.7%) since 2009, when he was just 28. So don't let Wade's negative nERD (-2.3) fool you -- he and Dragic will have a full season to share the playmaking duties and put pressure on defenses off the bounce.
3. Moving Forward
What some might see as one of the few negatives in the Heat offseason was actually out of the organization's hands. After contemplating the free agent market, Luol Deng exercised his $10 million dollar player option for 2015. Why was that an issue? Good fortune.
Justise Winslow, a versatile forward out of Duke, fell to the Heat at number 10 in this year's draft by what I can only think was an act of the basketball gods. Surely with the combination of his many talents and great experience under Coach K Winslow could step in and contribute, maybe even start, for the Heat. But now, he won't be forced to do so.
With Deng sticking around for another year, he will be the starter at small forward as he will look to improve upon his surprisingly good numbers from a year ago. The veteran proved his worth a year ago by contributing 14 points per game (on 46.9% shooting from the floor) and 5.4 Win Shares on the year. Winslow will be given the luxury of watching his fellow Dukie alum do his job as a small forward in the NBA while receiving decent backup minutes off the bench.
Winslow should be able to provide in that role in a big way. He showed us his stuff in Summer League. The rookie put up 15.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per run in his first three games in the Orlando Summer League before having his minutes reduced. The synthesis of Deng's experience and Winslow's explosiveness should prove highly valuable this year in South Beach.
4. Losing Money
If you've been doing the math, it's not difficult to figure out that, despite being inactive in free agency, Miami has spent a lot of money this offseason. Their signings of Wade and Dragic put them about $10 million over the luxury tax. And since the Heat would also be paying the repeater luxury tax as well they were in line to pay out a whopping $26 million.
It's safe to say that the Heat will not be dishing out that kinda cash after all. In two days, the Heat shed $3 million in salary by trading away two of its young guards in two separate deals. On Sunday, Miami traded Shabazz Napier and his $1.3 million contract to Orlando for a future second-round pick. A day later the Heat traded Zoran Dragic and his $1.7 million contract to Boston for a heavily-protected 2019 second-rounder. In a nutshell, the Heat got rid of salary for nothing -- but that's not it.
The Heat also shed some negative influence. Last year, Goran's brother Zoran posted a nERD of -0.5, which was a lot better than Napier's -3.1. According to the numbers, these two moves added 3.6 wins to the Heat's total from a year ago. Mario Chalmers could be next as the Heat are reportedly shopping the long time Heat guard on the trade market. That move could cut another chunk of salary in addition to Chalmers' poor nERD (-4.2).
The Miami Heat might have done everything right this summer. Even though they weren't out wheeling and dealing with the likes of the Spurs, Mavs and Cavs in free agency, the Heat did a great job this offseason and have put themselves in the conversation as a title contender. They retained everyone they wanted to retain and discarded those they didn't.
It could take a 2016 playoff run, or even a 2016 Heat title run, for us (and Vegas) to be taught a valuable lesson: sometimes, less is more.