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NBA PM: Will Miami HEAT Remain a Contender?

How good can the Miami HEAT be after losing LeBron James? … Steve Ballmer introduced at Staples Center as new owner of the L.A. Clippers

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Looking At The HEAT Post-LeBron James:

When LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach in 2010, the Miami HEAT were placed under the microscope. With James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade teaming up, the HEAT were the most intriguing team in the league.

Earlier this offseason, James announced that he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four years in Miami. In an instant, the fortunes of Miami changed and team president Pat Riley was tasked with putting the team back together after losing the best player in the league. So how did Riley do in reassembling the HEAT this offseason?

Outgoing players:

LeBron James, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, James Jones, Toney Douglas, Michael Beasley and Greg Oden.

Incoming players:

Shabazz Napier (24th overall pick in 2014 NBA Draft – five-year, $6.2 million rookie-scale contract), Danny Granger (two years, $4.2 million), Josh McRoberts (four years, $22.7 million), Luol Deng (two years, $19.9 million), James Ennis (partially guaranteed three-year minimum contract), Shawne Williams (partially-guaranteed minimum contract).

Re-signed players:

Chris Bosh (five years, $118.7 million), Dwyane Wade (two years, $31.1 million), Mario Chalmers (two years, $8.3 million), Udonis Haslem (two years, $5.6 million), Chris Andersen (two years, $10.4 million)

The HEAT are bringing back a big part of their main rotation from last year, as Chalmers, Wade and Bosh will hold three of the five starting positions as they did last year. However, one of the significant changes from last season will be at power forward.

Last season Battier—now retired—started 56 games at forward for the HEAT. Despite the fact that Battier was a small forward, he played interchangeably with James at both forward positions to provide defense and floor-spacing. But, in 20.1 minutes per game, Battier only provided 4.1 points and 1.9 rebounds, shooting 34.8 percent from beyond-the-arc. Not exactly top-level production, though he did bring intangibles that don’t show up in a box-score.

Presumably taking his place this upcoming season is McRoberts, who played last season with the Charlotte Bobcats (now called the Hornets).

Last season, McRoberts averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game and shot 36.1 percent from three-point range. While McRoberts did not put up huge numbers last season, he brings to Miami an interesting mix of floor-spacing and play-making ability at power forward, and at 6’10 has good size to match up with opposing big men. At age 26, McRoberts still has room to improve his game, which he has done throughout his career, such as adding a consistent three-point shot to his arsenal.

While replacing Battier with McRoberts should be viewed as an upgrade for the HEAT, there was simply no way Miami could fill the giant void left by James’ departure. However, the HEAT managed to land Deng on a reasonable two-year, $19.9 million contract.

Last season, in 63 games played between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, Deng averaged 16 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and one steal per game, and shot 46.8 percent from the field and 30.2 percent on three-pointers. Deng is a good perimeter defender and solid scorer, but a somewhat inconsistent three-point shooter (32.9 percent career average). While Deng is not James, he is a solid addition and makes for an interesting fit next to McRoberts, and forward/center Bosh.

The HEAT also added Granger to hopefully bring some offensive-punch off the bench. Granger, a one-time All-Star, has struggled the last two seasons with injuries. In 41 games played last season with the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers, Granger averaged 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and one assist per game, and shot 33.6 percent from beyond-the-arc. If Granger can recapture some of his old-form, it would be a huge boost to Miami and would help further solidify the void left by LeBron at the forward position.

Also returning are big men Andersen and Haslem. Andersen and Haslem bring stability and veteran experience in the front court. Haslem, a long-time member of the HEAT, has played for Erik Spoelstra since his first season as head coach (2008-09), while Andersen has been with the HEAT for the last two seasons.

Along with these veteran players, the HEAT are bringing in some young talent in Napier and Ennis. Napier, who was acquired in a draft-day trade with the Charlotte Hornets, was targeted by Miami in an attempt to cater to James, who is an outspoken fan of Napier. Napier had an incredible run in the NCAA Tournament and led the UConn Huskies to their second national title in four years. Napier improved in each of his four seasons at UConn, but will slot in next season as the third-string point guard behind Chalmers and Norris Cole.

Ennis, acquired by the HEAT last year from the Atlanta Hawks, spent time in Puerto Rico and Australia last season. This offseason, Ennis played in the Orlando Summer League and had some big performances. For example, against the Brooklyn Nets he scored 29 points and showed great range on his jumper as well as solid athleticism. However, as promising as Ennis is, he may be asked to help fill the void left by sharpshooter Ray Allen, who is reportedly considering signing with the Cavaliers or retiring. Not an easy task for such a young and relatively inexperienced player.

The HEAT lost some major pieces this offseason, but have filled in the gaps with an interesting mix of veterans and youth. However, the HEAT’s success this upcoming season will be determined more so than anything by Bosh and Wade. Bosh will need to embrace his heightened role and go back to the sort of franchise player he was with the Toronto Raptors. And Wade, who reportedly has slimmed down this offseason, will have to stay healthy and recapture some of his old form after sharing the ball with LeBron for four years, which may be difficult after struggling through injuries these last few seasons.

After losing James, Riley had the option of blowing the team up and starting a youth movement in Miami. Instead, he banked on Bosh, Wade, the incoming veterans and returning players to push on and compete in the East. With the additions of players like Deng and McRoberts, and the expanded opportunities for Bosh and Wade, the HEAT have a great chance at making the playoffs next season – maybe even slotting in as a top-four team in the East. The NBA microscope may not be on Miami anymore, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be in the playoff mix this upcoming season.

Clippers Introduce New Owner Steve Ballmer

For the last 33 years, Donald Sterling has been the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. However, earlier this year on April 25, TMZ released an audio tape of Sterling making racist comments during an conversation with V. Stiviano. In response, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from the NBA for life, imposed a $2.5 million fine and said he would ask the NBA owners to vote Sterling out of his ownership interest in the Clippers.

Eventually, Sterling’s wife, Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, executed a sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion. What followed was a legal battle between Donald and Shelly to determine whether Shelly’s sale to Ballmer was proper under the terms of the Sterling Family Trust.

On August 12, Judge Levanas of the Los Angeles Superior Court entered his statement of decision in favor of Shelly Sterling, confirming that the sale to Ballmer was valid. Shortly after this, the NBA officially approved Ballmer as the new owner of the Clippers.

Earlier today, Ballmer was introduced to fans for the first time as the official owner of the team at Staples Center. At the rally, Ballmer came out with his normal energy and enthusiasm.

“Everything is about looking forward from this day on,” Ballmer said, adding that the Clippers “will win many, many, many, many more Larry’s (referring to the Larry O’Brien championship trophy) in the next 26 [years], than the last 26.”

Ballmer ensured that the Clippers would not be moved to Seattle, something that had been suggested by some since Ballmer is from Seattle and was part of an investment group that tried to buy and move the Sacramento Kings to the city.

Several other people spoke at the rally, including Blake Griffin, long-time broadcaster Ralph Lawler and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“Sometimes you’ve got to go through a little adversity to become better and to come out on the other side, to be stronger,” Griffin said. “We want to thank Ballmer, we want to thank all of you (the fans) for sticking with us.”

“We’re here to stay, we’re here to play, we’re here to win championships,” Lawler said.

“Welcome to the future,” added Garcetti.

Ballmer is the latest significant change for the Clippers over the last five years. Starting with the drafting of Griffin in 2009, the Clippers have added a significant piece to what they hope is their championship puzzle almost each season. In 2011, the Clippers traded for star point guard Chris Paul. Then in 2013, the Clippers hired Doc Rivers to take over as head coach and re-signed Griffin and Paul to five-year deals.

Now, the Clippers have a new owner with deep pockets and enthusiasm. Perhaps most importantly, they have a fresh start to begin a new era for the Clippers and their fans.

Last season, the Clippers won 57 games, but were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers added point guard Jordan Farmar and center Spencer Hawes this offseason.

 

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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