Before looking at the Heat heading into training camp, Mike and I will be doing weekly live chats every Thursday from 1-2 p.m., beginning this week at MiamiHerald.com. He and I will rotate, and try to provide fresh insight on the team throughout the season.
With 10 days until players report for training camp, now is as good of a time as any to assess the team. The Heat has a nice blend of youth and veterans, and a deeper bench. Questions remain at point guard and center, but overall the Heat added several players while making future salary cap space a priority. A healthy Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion and Udonis Haslem, coupled with what appears to have been a solid draft and several free-agent acquisitions should make Miami a playoff team. Rookie coach Erik Spoelstra is in a good situation because he has talent and faces somewhat modest outside expectations. After last year's dreadful 15-67 season, a .500 season and playoff berth probably would be considered a major success. No one is expecting this to be a championship team. The Heat will experience growing pains, but they should be respectable and have far more depth than last season.
Michael Beasley: He should make an instant impact and be a Rookie of the Year contender, but there's a good chance he could start the season as a reserve. As the No. 2 draft pick expectations will be high, so bringing him off the bench would perhaps ease his transition yet allow for him to play significant minutes. Beasley wants to show that the Bulls made a mistake in passing him over for the first overall pick. He dominated in college but how will he handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule, tougher competition and the highs and lows that even stud rookies endure? The former Kansas State star has not signed any major endorsement deals this summer, which also could serve as motivation. Look for him to have a new agent by the time training camp starts.
Mario Chalmers: He figures to be in contention to be opening night point guard, but even if he doesn't beat out veteran Marcus Banks and third-year Chris Quinn, the second round draft pick likely will be in the rotation so long as he has a solid training camp. Chalmers has much to prove. He was projected as a potential lottery pick, yet fell early to the second round and was expelled from the mandatory NBA rookie orientation--earning him a $20,000 fine. He impressed the Heat during summer league, but don't be surprised if the Heat try to bring him along slowly in the beginning.
Yakhouba Diawara: The swingman is a defensive specialist, and figures to be part of the rotation. The big question is whether the former Denver Nuggets reserve winds up logging significant minutes and taking playing time away from Dorell Wright. The free-agent addition played on the Heat's 2005 Summer League team, and his development since apparently caught the eyes of Heat officials.
James Jones: The former University of Miami star could become the Heat's sixth man, filling the spot left by the departed Ricky Davis. But he could end up being the seventh man, especially since either Haslem or Beasley is likely to be coming off the bench. Jones was third in 3-point percentage in the league and a nice free-agent pickup from Portland. He will be relied upon to provide outside shooting, and the hope is that he does not leave fans longing for James Posey and Jason Kapono. If second-year Daequan Cook continues to develop, imagine the possibilities if the Heat decide to put sharpshooters Cook and Jones on the floor together.
Jamaal Magloire: The Heat needed depth at center, but one of the biggest unknowns heading into training camp is what the team got in the veteran. He is a low-risk, high-reward addition. The Heat signed Magloire late in free agency at or close to the $1.3 million veteran's minimum, part of which is funded by the league. He is expected to compete for the starting job with Mark Blount, and at the least should provide insurance for the rehabbing Alonzo Mourning, who is targeting a December comeback, but might not be ready until later. Magloire played limited minutes in Dallas and New Jersey last year, and his performance has dropped off considerably since his 2004 All-Star season with the Hornets. It remains to be seen whether he will rejuvenate his career in Miami, but the opportunity is here if he wants it.
Earl Barron: He signed with Fortitudo Bologna of the Italian League, and it's better for both parties as Barron did not factor into the Heat's current or future plans. He tore up the Summer League several times but the main, and perhaps only reason he received playing time last year was because injuries depleted the Heat. His defense was a liability and he seemed too focused on scoring when he got playing time.
Ricky Davis: He joined the L.A. Clippers as a free agent, where he figures to be in the rotation. Davis wanted to return to the Heat, but instead will start over again--the story of his career. For all the criticism of Davis, he was the lone player to appear in all 82 games last season and played through injuries when other players called it a season. His defense was spotty and he was error-prone and often failed to hit shots down the stretch that could have propelled the Heat to victory. The Heat should not have trouble replacing him.
Alexander Johnson: He signed with Bamberg (Germany) of the Euroleague, and will perhaps be remember most for his unfortunate and scary concussion toward the end of last season that prompted coach Pat Riley to say that he wanted the "god forsaken season has to be over with." The former Florida State standout had a limited role with the Heat and did not do enough to warrant re-signing with Miami.
Jason Williams: He also signed with the Clippers, but will have more competition for playing time there than he would have here since All-Star Baron Davis will start at point guard. Williams was in the running to return to the Heat for another season, but it's probably better for the Heat that he signed elsewhere. Riley never called him out by name but when the coach blasted the team for giving up and poor attitude at several points last season, it seemed that one of the players he was referring to was Williams. Although Williams would have provided a proven option at point guard, his departure will give Chalmers--the point guard of the future--more playing time. Chris Quinn re-signed with Miami, which probably would have been a longshot if the Heat had reached a deal with Williams. He had his moments, but the Heat should be fine with Quinn, Banks and Chalmers.