For four years, the Miami Heat were on top of the NBA.
They were the league’s “it” team because of the presence of LeBron James. Now, with James’ return to Cleveland, the rebuilding process has begun.
James held the league hostage for nearly two weeks as he wavered between staying in Miami and returning home.
The Heat brass was caught off guard when James announced he was leaving. It led to a frantic 48-hour period, with Heat personnel scrambling to find replacement players via free agency.
With three new additions (thus far), the post-LeBron era begins with uncertainty. Are the team’s two remaining All-Stars ready to play without the ultimate crutch in James? Did Heat President Pat Riley surround them with enough youthful depth? Is coach Erik Spoelstra up for the challenge of leading a team minus the game’s best player?
Regardless, the Heat have a challenge ahead of them.
“I don’t know about the ultimate motivation,” Spoelstra said recently.
“But you have to have the right individuals to be able to embrace change and take on new challenges, to be fierce about coming together collectively and seeing great opportunity and not feeling sorry for yourselves. That’s what this organization is built on, staffers that have those qualities and players that have that as well. The league always has constant change. You have to be able to adjust and embrace it, ultimately.”
Here’s a peek at the new-look Heat roster for the 2014-15 season; Miami has 12 players under contract, with three spots available:
Chris Andersen: His return was huge because the Heat needed depth in the frontcourt. Andersen was the most effective big off the bench. He battled nagging injuries throughout the postseason but should be ready once training camp opens.
Chris Bosh: Thank Bosh for keeping most of the team intact. He was the first to agree to re-sign, making it an easier decision for others to stick around. After being the third option the past four seasons, this could be the first time Bosh is the primary player since his days in Toronto. Without James, he may be asked to return to the post, too.
Mario Chalmers: After a month of uncertainty, Chalmers could exhale when the Heat re-signed him. There was plenty speculation about him possibly not returning, especially after his postseason struggles. By keeping Chalmers, the Heat made sure they would have experience at point guard. Despite his faults, he has come up big in pressure situations.
Norris Cole: At one point, it appeared Cole was poised to grab the starting spot. His third year in the league was full of inconsistency. He has struggled on the perimeter and hasn’t become the playmaker the Heat envisioned. Still, Cole will always fit into the Miami system because of strong defensive skills.
Justin Hamilton: Perhaps this is the year the Heat give Hamilton a chance. He’s played mostly in garbage time, but was impressive during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and Orlando.
Udonis Haslem: The Heat’s all-time leading rebounder had no plans of leaving when he opted out of his contract. He took yet another pay cut so the team could make moves in free agency. Haslem is down to his last few years, but should still be able to help the frontcourt in a limited role.
Dwyane Wade: Last year Wade missed 28 games. That certainly won’t happen this year now that James is gone. He will have to shoulder more of the load. After having James to fall back on, this will give fans the opportunity to see if he can play like the Wade of old.
Shane Battier: This was a departure the Heat expected. Battier made it known early that he would retire after the season. The Heat will miss his savvy on defense and timely 3-point shooting off the bench, but Danny Granger or James Ennis could be upgrades.
LeBron James: He brought two championships to Miami, so he did live up to his claim of winning “multiple” titles. James leaves a huge void, with his departure most likely changing the offensive scheme. Spoelstra said he hasn’t begun to think about strategy, but expect drastic alterations.
James Jones: He proved his worth in the postseason when he went from bench-warmer to key contributor. Jones was a huge locker-room presence, but left because of playing time. With James’ backing, he should receive more minutes in Cleveland.
Luol Deng: Riley called this “one of the most important free agent signings” the franchise has ever had. Forgive the exaggeration, but landing Deng was vital. Several times over the last four years James said Deng was one of his toughest covers. His versatility should help make up for some of the things James provided.
James Ennis: The wait is over for Ennis. After a year in Australia, the 2013 second-round pick has shown enough to earn a chance. He could turn into the young wing player the Heat desperately need. If Ennis continues to improve as a shooter, he may work his way into the rotation.
Danny Granger: Before Lance Stephenson, there was Granger. He was a Heat agitator in the postseason. The question now: Is he healthy enough to contribute in Miami? He has only played 46 games in the last three seasons because of injury. Can he return to All-Star form?
Josh McRoberts: In McRoberts, the Heat get a serviceable big man. He brings athleticism and could help with the rebounding woes. McRoberts will likely start at power forward alongside Bosh at center. At 27, he also brings much-needed youth.
Shabazz Napier: Experience played a factor in trading for him on draft night. Napier played four years and won two titles at UConn. The Heat are banking on him being immediately ready for the next level.
Ray Allen: Miami appears on the outside looking in. Allen is reportedly contemplating joining James in Cleveland or retiring. He’ll still be remembered as the player who hit the biggest shot in Miami Heat history.
Greg Oden: The experiment turned into a bust. Oden was never able to work his way into the rotation. Most likely, he doesn’t return.
Michael Beasley: Another experiment gone bad. While Beasley showed flashes offensively, he never bought into the Heat’s defensive scheme. Expect him to land elsewhere.
Toney Douglas: He started 17 games last year, meaning he overachieved. Still, it appears Douglas’ days in Miami are over. He proved he was a reliable replacement for Wade, but he likely isn’t in the team’s future plans.