In the lead up to tonight's season opener (7:30 p.m., CSN), I had the pleasure of talking to Matt Pineda of our sister site Hot Hot Hoops about the state of the Miami Heat and his predictions for tonight's game. Our exchange follows.
1. LeBron leaving must have hurt. How has Miami's reaction to it differed from Cleveland's? Do you think the two championships he brought to the city might have had an effect on this?
The Heat and the Cavs were both blind to LeBron's departure, probably more Cleveland than Miami. But their responses couldn't have bee further apart. Dan Gilbert sent out their comic cans letter, while the Heat organization sent out an Instagram post thanking him for the memories. Pat Riley and Micky Arison both wished him well. Obviously the fact that he had success here plays a part, but more than anything it just became clear that he would be happier there, and you can't argue with that.
2. What's the deal with Dwyane Wade's health? The historical precedent for aging wings who aren't elite shooters isn't great. Then again, no one in recent memory other than Jordan and Kobe has been as productive from the two guard spot as Wade and his athletic indicators have always been off the charts. How fast is he declining and how much longer do you think he can be a centerpiece on an elite team?
Wade's health is an anomaly because it hasn't been anything we can predict. All the games he missed last year were not due to his knees. I don't think Dwyane is capable of being the go-to guy every night. He's nearing 33 in January and he just can't give 100 percent every night. But, there's been hope that he is going to be good enough to be a No. 2 behind Chris Bosh. Bosh has been good in the preseason, and that is good for Wade. You'll see Wade more in the post and more with the ball, where he is more comfortable.
3. Wade's there, Bosh is there ... is there any other reason to be interested in Miami, though? Any youngsters who might surprise people this year?
Yes! In fact, that's what we are most excited about this season. Shabazz Napier had a rough start to Summer League and early preseason, but he has lifted our hope in what he can become. In fact, he's essentially forced his hand into the rotation, moving Mario Chalmers to a backup shooting guard. And then, there's James Ennis. He won't be consistently good this year, but he is showing a lot of promise as a wing player. Those are the two names you should keep in mind moving forward.
4. Miami has had a spotty record to say the least when it comes to drafting their own players (Wade, Chalmers late in the first round and Caron Butler years ago being the obvious exceptions). What's your opinion of the franchise's talent development and evaluation system?
The problem is they haven't had a whole lot of first round picks to mess up. Obviously Michael Beasley has been the biggest blunder of them all, but at 28 points and 12 rebounds out of college, anyone would have taken him. In fact, in the last seven years, the Heat have had three players they drafted in the first round and kept after draft night: Beasley, Napier and Norris Cole. Riley likes to trade his pick assets and get veterans. I think the talent development needs work, especially in the wake of losing LeBron, but I don't have an issue with their talent evaluation.
5. What are your predictions for tonight?
Opening night, at home against a undermanned Wizards team, I see the Heat coming out and playing well. If Bradley Beal and Nene were in the lineup I would have a different tune. I think the Heat have finished their preseason strong and are looking forward to this. I see Miami coming out on top with both teams scoring in the 90's.
But listen, I'm already on record for predicting the Wizards to win the Southeast this season.