83ºF

Heat Beat: A new era begins for the Miami Heat

New players, new attitude highlight the post-LeBron NBA era in South Florida

photo

MIAMI – After one of the more bizarre offseason's in team history, the Miami Heat will finally take the court on Wednesday night against the Wizards.

I'm not sure you can find a more surreal setting for a team coming off four straight Eastern Conference championships.  They should be on their home court celebrating that amazing accomplishment.  Instead, they're hosting the team two-thirds of GM's believe will win the DIVISION over them this season.  That's crazy stuff.

What do we know about this team?  That's a good question.  Let's look at the constant.  I think that has to be Chris Bosh.  Bosh has been the 3rd option for four seasons now, but that changes immediately.  We could sit here and debate whether Bosh is really a number one option anymore, but to me, there's no real debate.  He did it in Toronto and should be entering his prime.  Sure, it may take some time for him to get into full swing with the confidence he had in Toronto as the main option, but I think that transition actually goes smoothly. 

Constant number two should be Dwyane Wade, but we all know Wade's health will continue to be a topic of conversation.  It's a story that Wade is sick of, but it can't be ignored.  If Wade breaks down and misses a significant portion of the season, I'm not sure how Miami recovers and remains a true contender.  The honest answer is they won't.  Stranger things have happened, but Miami just doesn't have the depth and talent of previous seasons coming off the bench.

Oh yeah, they also don't have that guy named LeBron James.  He could always save the day when Wade missed time. 

So what does that leave?  Let's say, in a perfect world, Bosh and Wade are the key cogs who produce at or near previous levels.  That now leaves a giant combination of potential and uncertainty.  Which Luol Deng is Miami getting?

Deng has the potential to be a good scorer and very solid defender.  He understands how to play his role and do what's best for the team.  It's a big reason Miami was so interested in pursuing him in free agency.  But, he needs to get comfortable right away.  The Heat simply don't have the depth to wait for Deng to be solid.  They need him to be a constant. 

The same goes for Josh McRoberts.  He started on a negative by missing the entire preseason with a toe injury.  All indications are he'll be fine and it shouldn't linger.  Yet, he's far from a certainty.  He was very solid in Charlotte during his breakout season.  Like Deng, there's no way around it, Miami needs him to be that same player from the start.

The point guard situation is very interesting, as well.  After years of being a spark off the bench, Norris Cole is now the starter.  Like previous seasons, being the starter doesn't always mean much with the Heat.  Erik Spoelstra has never been afraid of making quick changes within the game.

But, at least to start the season, it's Cole's world.  Is he ready?  He's certainly had the experience in key situations.  That leads me to believe it's something he can handle.

How Mario Chalmers handles being a back-up at point guard and shooting guard is another question.  Despite not starting, Chalmers will see key minutes.  And on a team that lacks dependable depth, his ability to contribute is vital.  Like Cole, Chalmers track record is that he'll be able to handle it, though with typical bouts of maddening inconsistency.

That leaves the real question marks on this team.  Can youngsters Shabazz Napier and James Ennis really crack the rotation?  Will veterans Chris "Birdman" Anderson and Udonis Haslem make it through the season without breaking down?  Is Shannon Brown really a viable back-up to Wade and could Shawne Williams pick up some of that scoring slack?

That really sets up the biggest question mark for the Heat this season.  How does this team score when Wade and Bosh are not on the floor?  That is a serious concern.  My gut feeling is Spo's focus will be more on defense this season because he understands playing great defense will always keep a team in games.

Still, he can't just count on just that.  Someone in the group of Deng, Williams, Chalmers and possibly Ennis needs to be a solid and consistent scoring option.

Hearing all this it's easy to see why this team has so many question marks from the outside, despite winning four straight conference titles.

Now it's time to start finding out some answers.  The questions are over.  The games begin.  Soon enough we'll find out if Pat Riley's master plan to keep this team a true contender post-LeBron can work.

I've always said never bet against Riley.  Also, don't underestimate how good of a coach Spoelstra has really become.  Like Riley, he knows how to get the most from what he has, and in a wide open Eastern Conference, I believe he has 45 wins and a top five seed.

What happens after that, we'll see in the playoffs.