STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Heat posted the second-best record in the East last season and rolled through the playoffs with only minimal interference on the way to the NBA title. And this year's team could be even better. As we saw in the closeout game against the Thunder in the NBA Finals, Miami's offense is borderline-unstoppable when their complementary players are hitting from three. But last year's designated shooters - primarily the oft-injured Mike Miller, defensive specialist Shane Battier and journeyman James Jones - weren't consistent enough to make defenses pay for keying on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh last season. Team president Pat Riley addressed that problem by bringing in two of the best three-point shooters of this generation: Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. That gives Erik Spoelstra five quality three-point specialists to mix into his rotation; he only needs one or two to get hot on any given night. Riley hasn't addressed the center position, but he doesn't really need to; the Heat have had tremendous success moving James to the four spot and Bosh to the five at crunch time, and at other times the likes of Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem and ex-Knick Josh Harrellson should be good enough to hold down the fort in a more traditional lineup.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Look for Spoelstra to open games with a fairly standard lineup: Chalmers and Wade in the backcourt, James and Bosh as the forwards and Anthony at center. But you won't see all that much of that five; James will slide to the power forward spot at times with Bosh moving to center and either Battier, Lewis or Mike Miller at the other forward. And Wade can move to the point to open up playing time for Allen. That said, Allen continues to deal with ankle problems and may be better off playing a bit less than in years past. James is the engine that makes Miami go - on both ends of the floor - and will log heavy minutes. But the other two thirds of the big three - Wade and Bosh - are coming off injuries. With Miami likely to moon-walk to the top of the Southeast Division and a top two playoff seed in the East, Erik Spoelstra should have the luxury of being conservative with their playing time. Last season Chalmers and Norris Cole split minutes at point guard more or less evenly, but Chalmers played very well during the postseason. Assuming his development continues, he could take on something closer to starter's minutes this year.
Chris Bosh: Bosh's overall numbers have suffered significantly since he teamed up with James and Wade. Or, if you prefer, Bosh is the member of "the big three" that has sacrificed the most. Either way, his days as a 20-and-10 guy seem to be over. He's still more than capable of that sort of production, though, as we've seen when one of Miami's other big guns is sidelined. Bosh is reportedly working to bulk up a bit this season, but not so much that it will impact his mobility. The abdominal injury that hampered Bosh at the end of last season, and prevented him from playing in the Olympics, should be a distant memory by training camp.
Joel Anthony: Anthony might wind up with the lowest average minutes per game of any "starting" center in the NBA - and that's if he hangs on to the job. He plays bigger than his listed size (6-9) and gives Miami a physical presence to match up with the likes of Andrew Bynum and Kevin Garnett, but at 20 or so minutes a game he won't generate numbers to merit a spot on fantasy rosters.
Josh Harrellson: "Jorts" will be in training camp with the Heat and stands a decent chance of winning a spot on the roster. The second-year pro out of Kentucky was with the Knicks last season, where he displayed better-than-expected fundamental defense and a decent jump shot. It wouldn't be a major surprise if he pushes Anthony for playing time at some point.
Dexter Pittman: Third-year pro should make the final roster, if only because he has a guaranteed contract for this season. Doesn't figure to play a significant role unless several other players are injured.
LeBron James: Any doubt as to the identity of the world's best basketball player should be put to rest after last season, as James keyed Miami's run to the title and was just as indispensable to Team USA's gold-medal finish at the London Olympics. And with the pressure to win that long-awaited ring off his shoulders, many think James will play even better this season; a thought that should terrify the rest of the league. James will start games at the small forward spot but finish many at the four, where his speed and agility make him a particularly devastating matchup for opposing defenses. He was particularly efficient from the field in 2011-12, shooting a career-best 53 percent from the field.
Shane Battier: Battier might represent the biggest gap between fantasy value and basketball value in today's NBA. An excellent team player on both ends of the floor, Battier is the quintessential "glue guy" that makes his teammates better. But that skill doesn't generate much in the way of fantasy statistics. With Miami particularly loaded on the wings this season, Battier's already-suspect fantasy production could take another hit.
Udonis Haslem: When LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade signed their deals with the Heat, all three took less money than they could have to allow Miami to retain Haslem. But the veteran big man's role has diminished significantly, partly because James has been so effective at the four spot. At this stage of his career, Haslem will likely be a part-time player that gets more run when Miami matches up against the league's more physical teams.
Rashard Lewis: Lewis has been a shell of himself for the last two seasons, as ongoing knee problems have robbed his trademark jumper of its accuracy. If he can get back to around 40 percent from beyond the arc, he could thrive in this offense. For what it's worth, Miami was confident enough in Lewis' health to give him a two-year deal.
Mike Miller: Miller hit an NBA Finals-record seven threes off the bench in Game Five, helping Miami pull away from OKC. Unfortunately, such performances have been few and far between; Miller's playing time has been extremely limited due to a series of injuries. There was talk that the latest malady - a long-running back problem - would force his retirement, but that seems to be off the table for now.
James Jones: Yet another three-point specialist. The additions of Lewis and Allen will push him even lower on the depth chart.
Dwyane Wade: The Heat officially became LeBron's team last season, with Wade taking on more of a complementary role. That - along with a series of nagging injuries - caused across-the-board drops Wade's fantasy stat performance. Offseason surgery and a summer's worth of rest and rehab should have Wade back at something approaching 100 percent this season, but at his age (31 in January) and with Miami loading up on perimeter talent, it seems reasonable to expect his statistical fade to continue. Of course, "fade" is relative. Wade is still a world-class talent and more than capable of lighting teams up. He just won't do so as often as in the past.
Ray Allen: One of the best shooters of his generation and the league's all-time leader in three-pointers made, Allen took less money to join the Heat because he was that tired of playing with Rajon Rondo. If healthy, he'll likely be the first player off the bench for Miami, either replacing Wade at the two spot or with Wade sliding over to run the point. But bear in mind - the ankle troubles that slowed Allen in Boston last season aren't going away any time soon, and could limit the future hall-of-famer's minutes.
Mario Chalmers: As the least-accomplished player in Miami's starting five, Chalmers takes a fair amount of abuse. And given the occasionally-knuckleheaded plays he makes with the ball, some of it is deserved. But he also has the talent to make teams pay when he's ignored, as evidenced by his 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting in Game Four of the NBA Finals showed.
Norris Cole: Highly-regarded scoring small college scoring point who could get more playing time this year if Chalmers doesn't progress.
Mario Chalmers: The Heat have tons of talent, but from a fantasy perspective, there's very little upside. Chalmers is one of very few players on this roster that has room to improve. And given the fact that both Wade and Allen have extensive injury histories, Erik Spoelstra may opt to expand Chalmers' role a bit to save the veterans' legs for the postseason.
Dwyane Wade: Yes, he's excellent. And shooting guard may be the weakest position in fantasy hoops this year. But given Wade's age and injury history, this could be the year that Erik Spoelstra starts cutting his minutes. And that would be easy to do, given Miami's depth on the perimeter. He'll still be good-to-very good - outstanding in stretches - but will he post numbers to justify a likely top-ten draft position?