The 2014 NBA Finals are over and the San Antonio Spurs are the new champions. This is the Spurs fifth championship since Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich got this project moving in 1999. The Spurs defeating the Heat wasn’t shocking, but the fashion by which San Antonio dismantled Lebron James ( the best player in the NBA) and his Heat teammates was eye-opening. The Spurs outscored the Heat by 14 points per game, the largest points differential in a single series in Finals history. They went on to win the series 4-1.
The confetti has fallen and the Miami Heat head into the off-season with many questions and challenges on what to do in order to prepare for next season. James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh can opt out of the last two years of their deals and become free agents. Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem can as well. Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen will be free agents and Shane Battier is headed towards retirement. Norris Cole is the only player with a contract that guarantees he will be on the team July 1.
Heat president Pat Riley has a lot on his plate, but he isn’t going to panic. He is a master on putting teams together that can compete at a high level. He realizes that the Miami needs help, the Spurs exposed the fact that they lack depth. Miami’s bench was 21st in the league in scoring (29.5 points per game) and was clobbered by the Spurs’ subs in every game in the Finals. Chalmers, Battier, and Cole were non-factors. Defensively, the Heat need a rim protector and a down-low presence to body up to big men like Duncan and Tiago Splitter; Greg Oden was not the answer.
The Miami Heat (and other NBA teams) should use the Spurs’ template and use the draft to make the team better. The Spurs are constant competitors because they have been able to supplement the roster with solid mid to late first round and in some cases second round picks. Tony Parker (No. 28 in 2001), Manu Ginobili (57th in 1999), Kawhi Leonard (No. 15 in 2011, acquired in a draft day trade) and Tiago Splitter (No. 28 in 2007) are key players who helped power the franchise. The Spurs know that you don’t have to pay a lot for free agents, just draft quality players that you need and be patient. Miami has the 24th pick in a talent rich draft. UConn’s Shabazz Napier is an option and would be a good fit if he is still on the table.
As for the Big Three, Bosh, Wade and James shouldn’t use their player options because they will not find another team who are willing and able to pay them the amount the Heat is paying them (Bosh and James are making $20.6M and Wade $20.2M per year). Bosh is one of the most underrated and under appreciated players in the NBA, a highly effective and intelligent defender with an accredited offensive skill set. Wade is definitely past his prime and has to have something done to his knees in order for him to become effective for the upcoming season. It would be ideal for the Big Three to shave a little off their salaries so the Heat can have cap flexibility to bring in perimeter shooters to open up the floor and keep defenses honest instead of keying on James.
The Heat are still one of the top franchises in the NBA, with great ownership that is on the same page as management and coaching, making them an attractive destination for players to sign with. They just need to look at what they have to work with, make a couple of tweaks, and continue to surround LeBron James with productive players that will know their roles and execute. Let’s see what happens.