Crossover Chronicles Finals Roundtable: The Heat’s future

The Spurs are up 3-1 in the series with Game Five back in San Antonio. Even if the Heat extend the series another night, it has become clear their future is in major jeopardy. Miami will have some questions to answer as their “Big Three” have the option to hit free agency. We delve into that question in the latest roundtable:

Philip Rossman-Reich: With the Spurs up 3-1, it is painfully obvious there is something wrong with this Heat team (and the Spurs are that good). What do you attribute the Heat’s sudden decline to? Four straight years of Finals Playoff runs? A poorly constructed roster? What does Miami have to do in both the short-run (this series) and the long-run (this summer) to remain a championship team?

Matt Zemek: Let us put the notion of the Heat’s “decline” in perspective, before anything else.

LeBronJamesHeat_KevinDurantThunder021413One could legitimately say that Oklahoma City is better than the Heat, but that is hardly a guaranteed or certified fact. The Heat match up better with the Thunder than they do with the Spurs. Oklahoma City does not move the ball or use the whole space of the floor the way San Antonio does. The Thunder are not coached as well as the Spurs are. If the Heat and Thunder had met in the Finals this time, the series probably would have gone six or seven games, unlike the five-game wipeout in 2012. However, Miami might still have been able to win that series in the end. Alas, we will never know.

The larger point is plain: At the very least, Miami is still the third-best team in the NBA, and probably the second-best team in the league. One should love to “decline” that way, going from No. 1 in the Association to No. 2, maybe a strong No. 3 at worst.

In the end, the Heat’s biggest problem is that they are not as good as the Spurs. That is not meant to be a laugh line; the point of emphasis is to underscore the extent to which no team in the NBA is as good as the Spurs.

Realize this: San Antonio closed out OKC on the road in Game Six without Tony Parker. In Game Three of this series, the Spurs crushed the Heat with Parker being a bit player, not someone who was at the center of the action. The Spurs are vanquishing the second- and third-best teams in the NBA without “God mode” games from Parker, Duncan and Ginobili, the players who have carried so much of the workload for the franchise over the years.

USATSI_SpursThunder6The Spurs exposed OKC on the bench and made it clear that the Thunder were little more than a three-man team beyond Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka. Here in the Finals, they have done much the same thing with the Heat, revealing Miami as little more than LeBron James (and to a lesser extent, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who have done nothing since Game Two).

It is not snarky — or at least, it is not meant to be — but the decisiveness of the past two games in this series has really helped Miami. Better to lose to the Spurs 4-1 and know how much the bench has to be overhauled in the offseason, rather than to lose 4-3 and think that the supporting cast is good for one more run. It is not hard to see how Miami must get better in the offseason: Pat Riley needs to dismantle the cast of role players and remake the roster with younger players who have fresh legs and are willing to take pay cuts to pursue titles with LeBron.

Dwyane Wade poses a much tougher problem, one worth stand-alone commentary next week, once this series comes to an end.

Philip: Certainly, the Heat’s decline should be put in the perspective that Matt put it in. However, LeBron James signed on with the Heat to win championships and cement his legacy in the NBA. Four straight trips to the Finals and two wins has done that to some extent, but he wants not two, not three, etc., etc.

Even though Miami remains the top team int he East and a team that can win the title, you cannot deny the potential failure of coming up short in the Finals. When championships are the goal, only one result matters. Anything short of that is a disappointment.

LeBron James and the Heat are still very good. But he needs his sidekick. Photo by Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James and the Heat are still very good. But he needs his sidekick. Photo by Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

That is the reality of the Heat’s season right now. The whole year worked up to this moment and the team is coming woefully short. To that point, Miami should have realized there were some problems with the roster construction when the team went seven games last year. It seemed instead they tried to mimic last year’s formula after losing Mike Miller — replacing him with Rashard Lewis. Really, Pat Riley misfired on his free agent acquisitions. Lewis was a non-factor until the conference finals, Greg Oden was unnecessary thanks to Roy Hibbert’s disappearance and Michael Beasley is useless.

It says something that the Heat made it this far — some combination of their skill and the East’s decrepit state. But championships are the measure and Miami has to be good enough both to get through the East and beat any team they face in the West. At this point, it is clear they do not have that in them. LeBron James can only do so much.

This summer, Miami has to look into retooling. That might mean doing a sign-and-trade with Chris Bosh if he opts out to get some kind of asset in return. It might mean saying goodbye to decade-long fixture Dwyane Wade, searching for another star player to complement LeBron James. The Carmelo Anthony rumors have already begun, and surely he would be a replacement for one of the three.

More importantly, the Heat need to get younger in their bench. They need to find a way to find shooters and creators with some athleticism. That is what made them truly dangerous in 2012 when they won their first championship in this run. They could just swarm you defensively.

The storyline that this team has gotten tired because of four straight years in the Finals seems a bit overplayed. It would make sense that the star players are tired — if not physically then mentally — from the grind of playing nonstop every October through June.

But this is more about how bad this roster is for this task. The Heat need to hit it right on their free agent signings. That is where they failed this season — or, at least, are one game away from failing. The Heat can go after some solid players. It is not impossible for them to retool. But what are the odds that the three big players take paycuts for a second straight contract? That feels unlikely. But it might be what is necessary to help the Heat rebuild some depth and stay at the very top.

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily