Heat in Elite Company With Kings and Spurs

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

The Heat went as far in the postseason as the Kings and the Spurs; now who would have predicted that? With Chris Webber's last-second three-pointer sailing wide last night, the Kings ended their season just one postseason game after the Heat. The Heat pushed the team with the league's best record to six games and was itself within a Rafer Alston three of a seventh game. With persistent rumors of Webber potentially being shopped, and the Heat looking for a big post player, could there be a mutually beneficial deal here?

Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal thinks the Heat are just one post player from being consistent contenders. While Webber is but a shadow of his former self due to his injuries, and he missed lots of point-blank layups that in years past would have been thunderous dunks, he does bring to the table an amazing versatility, able to pass, shoot, and dribble-penetrate.

Of course, it would be a difficult task to round together the right group of players that would interest the Kings in exchange for Webber, and if they were to shop him aggressively, they would surely get offers from almost every team in the league.

The Heat have a super core of young, talented, and versatile players in Dwyane Wade, Caron Butler, and Lamar Odom. They have a grizzled veteran in Brian Grant, an iron man who plays through pain like it's no big deal.

The Heat are now in the same situation that the Mavericks have been in for the last few years: they have some height (Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom) but the height is on players who typically play the small forward. They both searched for a big man to steady their post. The Mavericks never really got it, relying at points on Antoine Walker in the center spot.

Should the Heat make any moves at all this offseason -- and given their success this season, they shouldn't have to make many -- they should be looking for a strong big man who can run the floor, pass the ball, shoot the open jumper, and rebound, especially on the offensive end.

Webber is the prototypical example of the kind of player that could be available.

The Heat finished the 2003-04 season with a 42-40 record, losing in the second round of the playoffs to the Indiana Pacers 4-2.

Israel Gutierrez ofThe Miami Herald notes: It's probable the Heat will leave Jones, Grant and a restricted free agent such as Loren Woods unprotected.

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Israel Gutierrez ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: About 16 hours removed from losing a heart-wrenching Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers, most of the Heat players weren't ready to shift their focus from this season to the next. But when they did Wednesday afternoon, even for a moment, they liked the picture that popped into their heads. ''We really have a foundation of young, talented guys that are very versatile, and you can surround us with pretty much anybody and we can win games,'' Caron Butler said. That's what will make this offseason so different from the last few for the Heat. The rebuilding process is over. Now it's time to decorate.

Greg Cote ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: El presidente should be smiling today.The man who is by nature too hard on himself, who coined the angst anthem, ''There is winning, and there is misery,'' should allow himself to be pleased with the job he has done. But satisfied? No. Heat president Pat Riley has set a foundation, that's all. That's plenty, and it looks to be a strong one, built to last. But what a foundation mostly does is allow you to better envision the work that still needs to be done.

Stephen F. Holder ofThe Miami Herald writes:Van Gundy's first year as an NBA head coach was a wilder ride than he could have ever imagined.He inherited the job from Pat Riley four days before the season began, watched his team fall on its face out of the gate with an 0-7 start, limped into March with a 25-36 record then witnessed one of the most shocking series of events in his career. With a 17-4 finish down the stretch coupled with a remarkable postseason run that saw the Heat extend the top-seeded Pacers to six games in the conference semifinals, the Heat achieved things few would have had the nerve to predict.

Dan Farrano ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: Despite its unexpected success, the Heat is hardly satisfied with a season that came to an abrupt halt with Tuesday's loss, which snapped the team's 18-game home winning streak.''Last night I was in shock,'' forward Malik Allen said. ``You think about the end, but when it actually happens, it is, well, shocking.'' Heat veterans Brian Grant and Jones expressed the players' conflict -- sadness at getting ousted but pride in their surprise season.

Israel Gutierrez ofThe Miami Herald writes:Van Gundy spoke about some of his decisions Wednesday afternoon.As for why he drew a play for Jones instead of Wade with the team trailing by two with less than 30 seconds remaining, Van Gundy said he thought Jones could get a shot over the shorter Jamaal Tinsley. And the play wasn't necessarily supposed to work out the way it did Tuesday night, with Jones throwing up an airball over Tinsley and Jermaine O'Neal. ''There's more than one option on that play,'' Van Gundy said. ``The play isn't necessarily for Eddie to get the handoff and turn the corner. ``But, yeah, there are always questions because Dwyane has been great in those situations.'' And why not substitute in Wade in the final seconds, when a missed Artest free throw went out of bounds, and the Heat was within three points of tying the score? Van Gundy could have replaced Brian Grant with Wade, giving him five guards on the floor who can hit the three. ''Dwyane has shot the three decently, but he's not really a three-point shooter,'' Van Gundy said. ``All Brian is going to do on that play is screen, and he did his job well. I think if you watch the tape, we had Eddie open.'' 

Ira Winderman ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: With a dynamic 22-year-old, in guard Dwyane Wade, and a pair of active 24-year-old forwards, in Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, the Heat seemingly has completed only the first chapter of what could grow into an impressive body of work. "You can surround us with pretty much anybody and we can win games," Butler said. For the first time in three years, a core is in place.And that had coach Stan Van Gundy, still visibly disappointed with Tuesday's 73-70 loss, encouraged about next season.

Harvey Fialkov ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: The only positive aspect to Rafer Alston's sub-par postseason performance could be that the affable backup point guard has now fallen into the Heat's free-agent price range this summer.Alston, the only integral member of Heat coach Stan Van Gundy's seven-man rotation not under contract next season, averaged seven points on 31.9-percent shooting and just 1.7 assists in 13 postseason games.

Ethan J. Skolnick ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: Call me a softy, but I'm still seeing a very good rookie coach, one who simply didn't have as good a night as his remarkable rookie guard.I'm still seeing a developing coach who promises to ask the same of himself as his players: "Improve." That's the process now, while everyone processes what went wrong Tuesday night.

Sarah Talalay ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: The Heat's 73-70 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday may have brought an end to a magical season and an 18-game winning streak at AmericanAirlines Arena, but for the team's business staff it's something of a beginning. Team executives and salespeople were already plotting next season, but with the team now ushered from the playoffs, officials plan to capitalize on the powerful combination of winning and a packed house.Fans received a "thank you" e-mail from the team Wednesday with a link to a fan tribute video celebrating the season, which is also posted on the team's Web site. The team is running thank-you ads in local newspapers and on radio today.