When the Miami Heat swung a trade for Goran Dragic on Feb. 19, bringing in the 2014 All-NBA team member on the day of the trade deadline, the Eastern Conference was suddenly put on notice. The two-team race that the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers were building suddenly had a brief chance of being interrupted. Miami was reborn.
Not even three days later, that dream was shattered when Chris Bosh was ruled out for the season with a blood clot in his lung. His heavy lifting throughout the season had carried the Heat, but without his presence in the lineup, Miami predictably wobbled to the finish line and missed the playoffs by just one game.
Heading into the 2015-16 season, Bosh is back and ready to resume his role at the top of the Heat hierarchy. The versatile 31-year-old will be expected to lead Miami in scoring while playing tough defense. Without a structural injury, he should ease back into last season's role without any major concerns.
However, other spots throughout the roster are generating some questions, and just how far Miami can rise this season depends on what the answers are.
Is Hassan Whiteside for real?
We don't have an answer for this question and it'll probably be some time before we do. Whiteside was out of the NBA for two full seasons before joining the Heat last year and averaging a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
If Whiteside is truly about to make his case as a top-tier NBA center, it would come at a perfect time. With LeBron James, Miami was so good it didn't even need a center locking down the paint next to Bosh, but times have changed and Whiteside is absolutely crucial. Still just 26 years old, Whiteside has all the support and incentive he needs to make this shot at the NBA count. Whether he can do it is up to him.
Will the bench come together cohesively?
If you don't believe that the Heat's second unit was a problem last year, just remember that Michael Beasley played 24 games. Now after a summer to retool, Miami hopes it has some more answers this year.
It started with Justise Winslow, who fell to the Heat with the No. 10 pick in the NBA Draft last month. After that huge tumble, Winslow has something to prove and the Heat need him to do just that, playing behind the aging Luol Deng.
Miami also nabbed Gerald Green for the minimum after he fell out of favor in Phoenix. He's an explosive scorer but only really plays one way, taking all kinds of ill-advised shots and hoping the makes outnumber the misses. Still, given Dwyane Wade's tendency to jump in and out of the lineup, Green's an excellent spot starter to have down on the bench.
Amar'e Stoudemire's on board behind Whiteside. While he's still a serviceable NBA player, he won't give you much in the way of defense. Chris Andersen is still down on the end of the bench, too.
With these additions, the Heat are better suited to survive some inevitable absences from their injury-prone starters.
How high can Miami rise?
Cleveland is easily still the favorite in the East, which continues to fall short in every way to the West, but Miami could push for home court advantage in the first round. Atlanta's still likely heading for a top-four seed and several other teams will be pushing for it, but a core of Dragic, Bosh, Wade and Whiteside is legitimately dangerous.
Trades for point guards rarely work out in the first partial season, anyway. A full offseason of working with Erik Spoelstra will help Dragic fit in much better than he did in 2015, where his numbers fell and his play just wasn't as brilliant as we've all grown to expect.
As long as they're healthy enough throughout the season, the Heat's offseason moves put them in a position for a top-four seed. Now they hope it all comes together as planned.
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