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NBA Analysis: Are the Heat Destined to Never Win a Championship?

The highlight of this past week in Cleveland sports was clearly the Cavaliers first double-digit victory of the season and oh, by the way cam against the Miami Heat. It is sometimes said that wins against the Pittsburgh Steelers can make a season for the Cleveland Browns and that idea somewhat applies here. Sure there are no moral victories or one game championships, but it does often make things better to get a W in those more emotionally charged and meaningful games.

After this exciting win, Landloyalty editor Brian Rosen and I had a discussion about the championship potential of the newly built Miami Heat. What came of this discussion was more than a differing of opinions, but more so a differing of philosophies that hinged on the dialectic of logic vs. emotion.

Brian’s main argument revolved around the emotional hurt of the July 8th, 2010 “Decision” and how the he believed that the Heat will be able to win at least one championship. He claimed that they had the talent and certainly the desire to make it happen at least one time over the next four years when Bosh, James, and Wade end the guaranteed part of the contracts with the Heat. His comments got me to thinking about the actual potential that the Heat have to win it all and the facts are far from convincing.

Under the current collective bargaining agreement the NBA salary cap is $58M. While it is within the rules for a team to be over this cap, having a payroll over $58M does place strong restrictions on how teams can acquire new players. For instance, teams over the cap can only acquire free agents at the league minimum or with one of the two exceptions, namely the bi-annual and mid-level exceptions. Other means of acquiring new players for such teams would be through the draft and also through trades where the salaries exchanged between the teams nearly match. Further more the Heat have committed $54.5M over the next four years to six players, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, and Joel Anthony along with their “big three.”

My point in all of this is that the Heat are very short on opportunities to make acquisitions. Despite all of the uncertainty with the future of the NBA’s CBA, it remains likely that the salary structure will not be more favorable in terms of the salary cap and exceptions moving forward. To that end it seems safe to say that the draft and minimum contracts will be the only method for the Heat to fill their roster outside of these six players.

Outside of the draft and minimum contracts, the only way for the Heat to be able to make an acquisition would be via trade where the contracts exchanged are roughly equal. The problem here is that players such as Miller, Haslem, and Anthony are far from interesting in trades both in terms of their future production, but more importantly in terms of the longer term nature of their contracts. This leaves including one of Bosh, James, or Wade in order to make any sort of meaningful deal, which defeats the purpose of building the team in this manner in the first place.

To recap at this point we have reasonably established that it will be incredibly difficult for the Heat to get better and still keep the “big three” intact. However, the conclusion that this will make it difficult for the Heat to win a championship during this horizon is based on the assumption that the team is not already good enough bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The proof of that assumption is perhaps a bit beyond the scope of this article, but I will at least lay out some of the factors that will stand in their way. The most obvious problems are the age of the roster and the lack of viable options at the one and five positions. The age issue is important as the average age of the Heat supporting cast outside of the “big three” is over 33.

What’s more this age is an even bigger factor at the key positions of point guard and center where 64 of the 96 minutes for these two positions against the Cavs were manned by players in their mid to late 30s. This leads directly to my second point of matchup problems that the Heat will have against the other top teams in the Eastern Conference. The more glaring problem comes at the point guard position where they do not currently have someone who can even come close to staying in front of Celtics’ point guard Rajon Rondo and Bulls’ point guard Derrick Rose. However, this team will also have problems at the center position with the like’s of Orlando’s Dwight Howard.

In any event only time will tell if this team has what it takes to win it all, but it’s safe to say they will be hard pressed to make themselves any better than this.

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