The Miami Heat will enter the 2013-2014 NBA season as the favorites to win it all. They’ve won two championships in a row and will enter next season with a nearly carbon-copy version of their roster from last season.
While that entails that all of the greats — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen are all going to be in South Beach — it also means that those players and the rest of the supporting cast will be one year older. The Heat struggled to maintain the health of their older players through most of last season, notably Wade and his troublesome knees which cost him 13 games in the regular season and the ability to play well in the playoffs. (Wade avoided offseason knee surgery and is hoping that rest will cure his knees.)
James will turn 29 this season and is playing better than he has ever played. That alone makes the Heat title contenders. But if Wade, Bosh and Allen continue declining at last season’s rate, the Heat could end up looking like the Cavaliers during James’s tenure. Teams in the West like the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder represent serious threats to challenge the Heat in the finals, and are both younger and more prepared for success than they were in previous seasons.
But getting to the finals alone might be a challenge for the Heat. In the East, the Pacers are a year more experienced (which is different than just being a year older). Their best player, Paul George, is only 23 and on the brink of superstardom. He and center Roy Hibbert, who is only 26, represent a scary young duo alongside veterans David West and forward sharpshooter Danny Granger. The Pacers added New York Knicks rookie Chris Copeland to the mix via free agency this offseason, and he could be pivotal off the bench. Already boasting one of the biggest teams in the NBA, the Pacers also added power forward Luis Scola to the mix to spare West and Hibbert. The Pacers have put together a squad that is strongest with its younger players and plentiful with its veterans.
For the Heat, not so much. Chris Bosh will turn 30 this year and Wade 32. Not old by NBA terms, but they’ve either struggled to elevate their play alongside James (Bosh) or have been too injured to make an impact (Wade) when James isn’t on his game. Ray Allen, who just turned 38, was pivotal off the bench last season and could be relied on even more next season. The Heat lost Mike Miller, whom they needed to cut through the amnesty provision for financial purposes, and this has left Allen as their strongest weapon from the perimeter. The Heat struggled with size last year, lacking a true big man. Udonis Haslem represented their best option in the frontcourt before their surprisingly successful signing of Chris Andersen. The two will both be back next season, but Haslem is 33 and was unimpressive for most of last season, and Andersen is 35 and will need to prove that his impressive half-season stint with the Heat wasn’t a fluke. Forward Shane Battier will enter next season at the age of 35, and will be given the task of guarding some of the games best offensive players — a tall order.
The Heat made only two additions in the offseason. Former first overall pick Greg Oden was signed to help fortify the frontcourt. But his making an impact on the court for the Heat is as likely as him never playing in a single game. He hasn’t played in the NBA in over three years. The Heat also picked up James Ennis with the 50th pick in the NBA draft. He will be at the end of the bench every single game of the season.
With James on their team, the Heat are championship favorites. But as was the case during his days in Cleveland, James could be troubled leading the Heat by himself next season. With the rest of the NBA building around their youth and putting together pairings of all-stars, the Heat might not have the most impressive roster in the NBA anymore — and the possibility of a three-peat possibility is in doubt.