For defending champion Heat, standing pat may be enough
The Miami Heat did next to nothing this summer in defense of their second straight NBA title, and that may be all that's needed.
When you pull off perhaps the biggest free-agent coup in NBA history, as the Heat did in 2010, all future offseasons are skewed as a result. Welcome to the world of the two-time defending champions.
In a previous lifetime, where a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax was all that stood in the way of big-spending teams, the Heat might've reacted aggressively to moves by the Nets, Pacers and Knicks to topple them. Brooklyn went all in with the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, raising their payroll and luxury tax bill to a whopping $180 million -- including $87 million in tax alone. The Knicks, for better or worse, flexed their big-market muscles and acquired Andrea Bargnani. The Pacers enhanced an already formidable title contender by re-signing David West and adding Luis Scola and C.J. Watson.
What did the Heat do? Pretty close to nothing. They basically kept their title team intact, minus Mike Miller, who was amnestied to save approximately $30 million in luxury tax bills over the next two years.
It should be noted that the Heat were rather fortunate that Ray Allen -- he of the season-saving 3-pointer in Game 6 of the Finals against the Spurs -- decided to opt in for the 2013-14 season at $3.2 million. What's the big deal? Well, it would've been difficult to replace the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history under any circumstances, but especially under the NBA's new super-tax paradigm.
With a payroll that exceeds the luxury-tax apron ($4 million above the tax line), the Heat would've had only two tools with which to replace Allen, and neither would've done the trick. The first option, the taxpayer mid-level exception, was a non-starter because it would've cost Miami $2.50 for every dollar spent, thus turning a marginal signing into a massive investment. The only other option would've been to sign a minimum player, and minimum players of Allen's value and stature simply aren't available.
Miami's other moves were geared toward retention rather than addition, the key keepers being Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers. When you're the defending champs facing a potential free-agent exodus in 2014, you can afford to take a chance on a former No. 1 pick Greg Oden, who hasn't appeared in an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2010, and to be quite frank, may never appear in another meaningful one. Oden doesn't factor into the equation of whether the Heat were successful in holding off their Eastern Conference predators this summer.
In fact, that question has little to do with what the Heat did or didn't do and everything to do with the actions of their closest competitors. And for all the headlines deservedly devoted to the Nets, in my mind the team that should cause Miami the most concern is Indiana. Paul George and Roy Hibbert are only getting better, and retaining West avoided the kind of roster turnover that could've derailed the Pacers' pursuit of Eastern Conference supremacy. Scola strengthens the Pacers' bench against any opponent, but especially against the size-challenged Heat.
Before anyone dismisses the Nets with Garnett and Pierce as too old, it's worth remembering that it was only 14 months ago when those two geezers and the rest of the Celtics pushed the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals in Miami. That wasn't as long ago as it seems. But the Garnett-Pierce-Allen Celtics winning a title in their first season together in 2007-08 is the exception, not the rule. Whether you're trying to win a championship or defend one, continuity rules the day.
The Pacers have it. The Heat still have it, too. And the Heat still have LeBron James. Until they lose him, there's no way Miami is losing the NBA title in July or August.
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