It was a miserable season -- the worst in franchise history, in fact -- but the turnaround might not be far away. At least that's the opinion of Pat Riley, whose duties have been reduced to team president now that he has resigned as head coach."I'm very excited about where we stand," he said. "I do think that this can be turned around really quick."
Miami is better stocked than most 14-win teams in NBA history. It could return an entire rotation among Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion, Udonis Haslem, Marcus Banks, Dorell Wright, Mark Blount, Alonzo Mourning, Ricky Davis, Daequan Cook and Chris Quinn.
Then it has a draft pick guaranteed to be the in the top four, the mid-level exception (expected to be around $6 million) and the bi-annual veteran's exception (expected to be around $2 million).
That could be the makings of a 40-win team in the talent-strapped Eastern Conference.
Of course, the Heat could go a different direction and, say, execute a sign-and-trade with Marion, who likely won't opt out of his $17.8 million contract for next season. Or it could do a sign-and-trade with Davis or Jason Williams.
If Miami drafted Kansas State forward Michael Beasley, the Heat would likely look to move Haslem, a four-year starter who earns $6 million a year and would have good market value.
The Heat's two glaring needs among starters right now are at point guard and center. Miami is hoping to get one of those through the draft, and ideally it would probably want Memphis point guard Derrick Rose.
But just as easily as the aforementioned plan could come together, it could fall apart.
Marion could opt out. Davis and Williams could refuse the sign-and-trade scenario and both could then depart as unrestricted free agents. Mourning, 38, could decide the serious knee injury he sustained in December is career-ending. That would leave the Heat with gaping holes up and down the lineup that have to be filled with young, minimum-wage players because Miami will be over the salary cap.
Regardless of the talent the Heat puts on the court, its tallest order will be changing the bitter and negative mindset that hung over this team like a dark cloud. That task will be taken on by 37-year-old Erik Spoelstra, the team's new head coach -- and the youngest head coach in the NBA. Spoelstra, whose only head-coaching experience was in the NBA's summer league, previously was an assistant coach.
"The whole thing has to change next year in the mind, it really does," Riley said, "and I think it will."
Miami carried a 20-points or more deficit in 23 games this season. It carried a 30-points or more deficit in 12 games. It carried a 40-points or more deficit in three games.
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Not many. Perhaps securing the worst record in the league. Seriously. It assures a top-four pick and helps move along the rebuilding process.
TURNING POINT: The November practice run-in between coach Pat Riley and former center Shaquille O'Neal. Alonzo Mourning had to intervene before it got physical. It was at that point the relationship between Riley and O'Neal hit the breaking point. That led to the February trade that brought Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks and signaled the Heat was giving up on the season.