Dec 9, 2011, 5:03 PM EDT
Although the Miami Heat’s failure to win the NBA title made them a frequent punchline, let’s not soon forget just how quickly the Heat were able to rise to the top of the league. Miami is an altogether incredible team, and though they squandered an opportunity in the NBA Finals, they likely need only to make minor tweaks here and there while building on last season’s excellence in order to return to that stage.
The Heat took a step in that direction on Friday, as Mario Chalmers, James Jones (according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com), and Juwan Howard (according to Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports) are set to return for another campaign in Miami. The status quo that earned Miami the Eastern Conference championship has been preserved, and the addition of Shane Battier (along with hopefully healthy seasons from Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem) will only push them forward.
Howard wasn’t terribly essential (or even all that useful, if we’re being blunt), but both Chalmers and Jones were important pieces for the Heat’s spacing and perimeter defense. Chalmers gets a lot of flak for his perceived failings as a point guard, but he harasses opposing ball handlers and brings a solid three-point stroke. Jones is even more accurate from the perimeter and just as stingy on defense, but has a tendency to be overlooked thanks to his shiny, superstar counterparts at both wing positions. He may not command much attention, but Jones is exactly what the Heat need him to be, and losing him in free agency would’ve been a hit to an already shallow roster.
The interesting thing with the Heat: with the exception of Jones, the length and cost of the rest of their off-season deals are not yet known. Miami is a player for veteran minimum signings regardless, but depending on how much is committed to Battier and Chalmers, the Heat could conceivably have room with their mid-level exception to sign another player. It’s unlikely considering that the amnesty clause has not been used on Mike Miller (which would make Battier’s deal a virtual shoe-in for the taxpayer mid-level exception), but at this point we can’t be absolutely sure without knowing what the precise parameters of these deals are.