Last season Dwyane Wade
’s shoulder and Shaquille O’Neal
’s knee made the Heat’s 2006 NBA Championship seem like a distant memory.
The Heat limped (literally) to a 44-38 record and their title defense was thwarted before it even had a chance to begin as Chicago swept Miami out of the first round. Now the Heat stand at a crossroads. Yes, any team with D-Wade on it has a chance to compete, and it’s true that Shaq even at 50 percent is a game changer, but every one-two punch needs role players filling out the roster in support.
Miami parted ways with one young up-and-comer (sharpshooter Jason Kapono signed with Toronto) and one veteran leader (Gary Payton is a free agent) and in their place brought in another young guy (Smush Parker) and another old guy (Anfernee Hardaway). Can Parker and Penny provide the same lift?
With the Eastern Conference improving – Garnett and Allen to Boston, Lewis to Orlando, Richardson to Charlotte, Randolph to New York – Miami’s aging core won’t be able to sleepwalk through the regular season and turn it on for the playoffs as veterans teams are known to do.
The rest of the Heat's roster is filled with aging stars (Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning) and unproven guys (Dorell Wright, Wayne Simien, Daequan Cook), so Miami fans better hope Wade and O’Neal stay healthy if they want to make another run. Hey, you can’t spell “health” without H-E-A-T.
Taking the summer off to rehab will no doubt give Wade’s legs some extra oomph this season. The long playoff run followed by participating in the FIBA World Championships in the summer of 2006 seemed to take its toll on the Wade last year because he plays at such a breakneck pace and never had a chance to rest for the arduous 82-game season. Williams will be the starter at the point, but on erratic shooting nights Parker could see a lot of time. Rookie Daequan Cook will also be in the mix.
Miami’s other big piece, the big fella, isn’t getting any younger. O’Neal turns 36 in March and hasn’t played in 75 games in a season since 1999-00. His games played have descended from 73 in 2004-05, to 59 in ’05-06, to a career-low 40 last year. Shaq still averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, numbers good enough to be one of the top five centers in the East, but at the same time, it was the first time he averaged less than 20 points per game in his 15-year career. Flanking O'Neal will be Mourning at back-up center, Walker and Udonis Haslem
as the starting forwards and some combination of Wright, Simien and Alexander Johnson
off the bench.
-- Dave McMenamin
Note: After press time, the Heat sent Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien and a first-round pick to Minnesota for Ricky Davis and Mark Blount.
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Everybody knows the NBA Draft class of 2003 for the top tier of stars (LeBron James
, Dwyane Wade
, Carmelo Anthony
) or the second tier (Chris Bosh
, Josh Howard
, Kirk Hinrich
) or even the third (Leandro Barbosa
, Chris Kaman
, Kyle Korver
), but a guy that didn’t even make the top 60 picks that year has been steadily getting it done for Miami ever since.
That guy is Udonis Haslem.
Haslem was an undrafted free agent, signed by the Heat after spending a season playing in France after college at the University of Florida. Built from the same mold that made Kevin Willis, P.J. Brown and Tyrone Hill valuable commodities in the league for a long time, Haslem uses every inch and every pound of his 6-8, 235 pound frame to fight for his team.
With career averages of 9.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 50.3 percent shooting from the floor and 75.7 percent from the line, the only things more guaranteed than Haslem’s steady production are death and taxes.
Now on the verge of his fifth season, Haslem could step out of the shadows and be more of a featured role player considering the rest of Miami’s roster is full of question marks.
-- Dave McMenamin
||Alonzo Mourning captured the all-time Heat franchise record for total points scored on March 30, 2007. Mourning's point total is now 9,310, putting Glen Rice in second with 9,248.
25th Season, 11th with Miami
22 times, 186-115 (.618)
Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal weren't the only ones on the Heat who had injuries to deal with last season, Pat Riley missed some time recovering from hip and knee surgery. This season could be one of the most trying of his long, illustrious career.
-- Dave McMenamin
KNOW YOUR HEAT
Anfernee Hardaway got his nickname “Penny” during childhood when his grandmother called him "Pretty" but with her southern drawl sounded like "Penny."
If Wade and Shaq stay healthy and they're playing the way they want to play, this is the team you don't want to face in the playoffs, because Dwyane fouls out everybody and Shaq is still a beast.
Haslem is the perfect four man for them, because he can make that 15-foot elbow shot.
With this team, even more so than in the past, you're gonna have to make them make shots. Is Dorrell Wright a proven shooter? Dwyane still doesn't take that many threes. So to beat them, you just pack it in and make them shoot it.
They have a lot of question marks (Williams, Wright, Walker), but with Wade and Shaq, they're going to be right there.
-- Eastern Conference Scout