One of the Miami Heat's biggest strengths last season was also its biggest weakness.
Fluidity. The playing rotation was never settled. Coach Erik Spoelstra intended to eventually establish a pecking order that would have established an eight-player group night in and night out. Eventually he gave up and went with an all-hands-on-deck approach.
In part, the problem was that some of the available hands were unable to stay healthy or productive enough to hold down a solid role. Another issue was that Spoelstra (right) struggled as a first-year coach to find his way through this rotation situation and never closed the door on any possibility - or player. Pat Riley's hand-picked successor couldn't have been more anti-Riley in this regard.
It was an approach that created the Michael Beasley debate and - ultimately - the Michael Beasley/Udonis Haslem dilemma. It cleared the way for the Yakhouba Diawara experiment, one that saw him go from the inactive list one week and into the starting lineup the next, and back into street clothes the following. It allowed for the Jamaal Magloire opportunity, one that saw the Big Cat embrace the role of resident banger/enforcer when given a shot to shake off the bench-induced rigor mortis.
You thought you were done in December with Chris Quinn. Instead, you met him again in March.
And it all essentially left nothing resolved.
That's one reason the Heat will open training camp five weeks from now facing far more questions than answers regarding its roster and roles.
Is this team in "End Now" mode, with more than $40 million in expiring contracts coming off the books after this season? Or is it in "Win Now" mode, with Wade in the midst of his prime years heading into free agency uncertainty next summer? We certainly know - based on this offseason - that Miami isn't in "Spend Now" mode, despite its long-shot pursuit of Lamar Odom, because the plan has always been to wait, to cash in and splurge in the summer of 2010?
So where does that leave the Heat right now? With essentially 14 players in the mix, 13 under contract, a 12-man "active" roster that will almost certainly change frequently on game night and with about 11 players who are candidates to find themselves as key contributors one week and among the missing on the back of a carton of milk the next.
With a little more than a month to go before camp opens, we rank the Heat's roster - as it currently stands - based on a combination of value to the team, expectations, ability and priority in the pecking order entering the Sept. 28 start of training camp.
14. Chris Quinn - The team's handling of Quinn has been questionable. This summer has been no exception. He was given a $1.1 million option as part of last year's contract to return this season almost certainly as a third-string PG. It's a deal that ultimately might prevent the Heat from adding a much-needed, experienced veteran.
13. Dorell Wright - It's officially breakthrough or bust for Wright. There's no more middle ground for the 2004 first-round pick who will earn $2.7 million this season, which equates to a $5.4 million hit when factoring the luxury-tax penalty. And who said Miami didn't spend its mid-level exception this summer?
12. Pat Beverley - The Heat invested $1.5 million to acquire him in the second round of the June draft. For that alone, he's got to be in the plans - although he remains unsigned. The fact that Quinn and Beverley are this deep on the board shows you just how big of a void there is with the PG depth.
11. Yakhouba Diawara- Also a member of "The Expirings," Diawara is essentially a roster mistress. Spoelstra couldn't get enough of the defensive-minded small forward one moment. The next, Khouba was shoved aside and found himself retrieving in-game stats for coaches during timeouts last season.
10. Joel Anthony - It's Year 3 of the Joel Project. There isn't a teammates he hasn't embarrassed with a ferocious dunk or block in practice. But in games, there isn't a low-post entry pass he hasn't been able to fumble away. The shot-blocker remains as raw as Eddie Murphy in that purple leather suit in 1987.
9. Jamaal Magloire - Arguably the best offseason move the Heat made was bringing back the Big Cat. Yes, it's been that kind of summer. Still, D. Wade got back his bodyguard and the Heat got back an intimidating defender and rebounder for those moments Jermaine O'Neal feels an indifference toward loose balls.
8. Quentin Richardson- Q may have an opportunity to start at SF for the simple fact that no one else has stepped up yet. Trading Mark Blount for someone who could sing the national anthem every night would have been a productive trade for Miami. So getting a double-figure scorer in Richardson should almost register a coup.
7. Daequan Cook- Last year's 3-point All-Star shootout champ may be nearing a crossroads. The mid-first-round draft status, the inconsistent play and the nagging injury concerns could put Cook (above, left) on course for Dorellwrightville instead of a key rotation role if he doesn't get it going early this season.
6. James Jones- Miam's 2008 top free-agent pickup missed most of last season with a wrist injury that has altered his stroke. He finished as the starting SF when since-departed Jamario Moon was hurt. Jones must prove he is what the Heat thought he was when he got that 5-year partially guaranteed deal.
5. Udonis Haslem- Debate, if you must, UD's value. Argue that he is standing in the way of Michael Beasley's development if he continues to start at power forward. But no one on the team has sacrificed as much to focus almost exclusively on the dirty work, played through as many injuries and has exhausted every ounce of his ability as Haslem (left, with Beasley in background).
4. Mario Chalmers - Riley has put a lot of faith and trust in the second-year point guard. Enough to say he wouldn't sign anyone to start ahead of Chalmers, despite glaring needs, this summer. That puts a ton of pressure on Chalmers. Sure, Wade handles the ball a lot. But Mario's essentially all there is at PG on the roster.
3. Jermaine O'Neal - Jermaine has declined media interviews this summer to focus on getting healthy. Fine. Actions speak much louder than words. And his action on the court will determine how much of a contender Miami will be this season. Set to collect $23 million this season in the final year of his deal, Jermaine is being paid like a superstar. He needs to perform at something close to an All-Star - or at least the second-best center in the Southeast Division.
2. Michael Beasley - Regardless of which side you fall on the Beasley debate, here's what you need to ask yourself about last year's No. 2 overall pick: If - and it's a colossal IF - Wade does the unthinkable and bounces next summer as a free agent, can Beasley anchor the franchise through what is sure to be a difficult regrouping, rebuilding, rehabilitation process? Could he offer the stability Chris Paul does in New Orleans? The production and promise Kevin Durant exudes in Oklahoma City? The leadership, steadiness and upside Derrick Rose already shows in Chi-town? I don't think Beasley has convinced the Heat of any of this yet. This season may go a long way in doing so.
1. Dwyane Wade - From movie deals to real estate contracts to new shoe endorsements, D. Wade has put his signature on seemingly every binding document placed before him this summer. Except one: That contract extension to commit long-term right now to the Miami Heat. Because of the power and influence he holds at this moment, Wade is the most important person in the history of the franchise. If he walks next summer as a free agent, the Heat must start from scratch. Almost in the form of 1988 all over again as far as NBA relevance. Pat Riley's reputation would take a huge hit. Because it would not only mean the Hall of Famer ended his coaching career with the worst season in franchise history two seasons ago, he would also be the executive who oversaw Wade's departure after gambling the franchise's future on 2010. Unless you can rebound with a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant signing, no amount of cap space could buy back the credibility of the franchise. Having said all of that, Wade only has to do three things to make this all work out the way it should for Miami: Avoid a major injury this season, get the Heat back into the playoffs to make things interesting and re-sign for $120 million over six years next summer.
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