The Miami Heat face an uncertain season just years removed from their dominance of the NBA without the power of the “Big Three.” Chris Bosh’s medical issues have all but ended his career with the franchise, while Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are now with other teams, with the latter continuing his success by winning the Championship in the last campaign with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Wade left the Heat in the off-season, citing that he felt under-appreciated by Heat president Pat Riley after contract negotiations broke down, allowing the guard to join the Chicago Bulls on a two-year deal.
As a result, the franchise are 30/1 to win the Eastern Conference in the early NBA odds, leaving head coach Erik Spolestra with plenty of hard work ahead of him to turn his team into contenders to reach the Finals.
Along with the departure of Wade, Miami also lost the veteran presence of Luol Deng, who proved to be a solid player in his two seasons with the club, as he joined the Los Angeles Lakers. Spoelstra will be looking to the younger players in his team for inspiration to ensure that the franchise remain in the mix to reach the post-season.
The Heat have only failed to reach the playoffs once in Spoelstra’s eight-year tenure at American Airlines Arena, and that came in the season following LeBron’s exit and their defeat in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs. The challenge ahead will be Spoelstra’s biggest to date considering all of the star power that has left the club over the past two years.
One man that will need to rise to the occasion and justify his new lucrative contract is Tyler Johnson. The 24-year-old penned a four-year deal worth $50m after playing a sparing role last term, but he now has the opportunity to push himself forward in Wade’s absence and be one of the driving forces of the team at point guard.
All eyes will be on Justise Winslow to see if the 2015 first-round draft pick can progress to be an integral part of the team. He played 78 matches last term, notching 6.4 points per game, while he showed some signs of improvement in the Heat’s run to the second round of the playoffs. More responsibility will be placed on his shoulders, especially since Bosh’s career appears to be over.
Goran Dragic was a steady presence for Spoelstra’s men last term as his game time was elevated from his first season with the club in 2014-15. He started 72 games and averaged 14.1 points per game as well as 3.9 rebounds per contest – a career high. His playoff statistics were even better suggesting that he thrived on the additional pressure, and he will have to expect more that this season.
Spoelstra will look to Hassan Whiteside to be the spearhead of his team this term, coming off the best campaign of his four-year career in the NBA. He averaged 14.2 points per game, but arguably his biggest impact came on defence when he was a physical force in front of his own net making 3.7 blocks per game.
The Heat will need their new crop of talent to produce their best basketball to enjoy a successful campaign as they are a long way removed from the star-studded roster of the past.