Tuesday , Oct , 19 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Miami Heat 2004-05 Season Preview

=== Miami Heat 2004-05 Season Preview ===

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

2003-04 FINISH: 42-40

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Michael Doleac (C) – Free Agent; Keyon Dooling (G) – Free
Agent; Damon Jones (G) – Free Agent; Christian Laettner (F) – Free Agent;
Albert Miralles (F) – Trade with Toronto; Shaquille O’Neal (C) – Trade with LA
Lakers; Wesley Person (G) – Free Agent.

OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Rafer Alston (G) – Signed with Toronto; Caron Butler
(F) – Traded to LA Lakers; Brian Grant (C/F) – Traded to LA Lakers; Lamar Odom
(F) – Traded to LA Lakers; Samaki Walker (F) – Signed with Washington; Loren
Woods (C) – Selected by Charlotte in Expansion Draft.

2004 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (19) Dorell Wright (F, South Kent Prep); 2. (47) Pape
Sow (F, Cal State Fullerton) – Traded to Toronto; 2. (53) Matt Freije (F,
Vanderbilt).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Dwyane Wade, SG Eddie Jones, SF Rasual Butler,
PF Udonis Haslem, C Shaquille O’Neal

COACH: Stan Van Gundy

(Sports Network) – The Shaquille O’Neal frenzy will hit a fever pitch when the
Miami Heat open the 2004-05 regular season on November 3 at Continental
Airlines Arena against the New Jersey Nets. O’Neal is scheduled to debut in
front of the Miami fans the next night, as the Heat host LeBron James and the
Cleveland Cavaliers.

The 32-year-old O’Neal, who spent eight seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers,
was traded by the Lakers to the Heat on July 14th for forwards Lamar Odom,
Brian Grant and Caron Butler along with a first-round draft pick. The 7-1 All-
Star center averaged a career-low 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in 67 regular-
season games for the Lakers in 2003-04.

O’Neal, who played eight seasons with fellow All-Star Kobe Bryant, will now
team with 22-year-old point guard Dwyane Wade, who had a sensational rookie
season for Miami. The Heat’s new center has had experience in teaming with
star guards. In O’Neal’s first four seasons in the NBA he formed a dynamic duo
with Anfernee Hardaway in Orlando.

Wade, who was selected out of Marquette by the Heat, who lost in six games to
the Indiana Pacers in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals after managing
to win 42 games despite starting the season with seven straight losses, in the
first round (fifth overall) of the 2003 NBA Draft, played in 61 games for
Miami last season and averaged 16.2 points, four rebounds and 4.5 assists.
During the playoffs, Wade participated in all 13 of the Heat’s contests and
netted 18 points and dished out 5.6 assists per game.

“I told Dwyane, lets just get it going,” said O’Neal at the press conference
where he was introduced as a member of the Heat. “John Wooden, when I first
met him, I was with Coach Dale Brown, he told me, ‘Shaquille, obviously you
are a great player, but being great isn’t about putting it between your legs,
scoring 50 or 60 points. Being great is how you help your other teammates to
strive. That is what being great is about.’ I took that; I have always been
the type of big man that keeps my guys along.

“Dwyane had it pretty hard last year because he was a rookie and they started
seeing his game. Now it’s going to open up, it’s going to open up more room
for him. I expect him to be the number one or number two guard in the Eastern
Conference because last year he impressed me. I usually don’t get impressed by
a guard, but he impressed me. Not because of the dunking and all of the stuff
that he did, but because he still kept his guys involved and he still did what
he did.”

O’Neal will make it easier for his new teammates, as 32-year-old Eddie Jones,
who will be 33 on October 20, will be one of the many who will benefit from
the simple presence and girth of Shaq. Miami’s opponents will key on O’Neal
down low, which will help open up the court for the other Heat players. Wade
and Jones, who averaged 17.3 points for the Heat during the 2003-04 regular
season, should be able to take advantage of the space, as both are capable of
knocking down the open jumper and are not afraid to go inside.

With the addition of O’Neal, the Heat have decided to drastically change their
style of play from the small-ball approach to get the ball down low to their
new dominant force in the middle. Miami head coach Stan Van Gundy, who
deserves a lot of credit for the Heat’s turnaround last season, will have to
implement a new system which will put his coaching abilities to the test.
O’Neal is not a youngster anymore and Miami management knows that the time to
win is now.

BACKCOURT

Wade and Jones are going to play huge roles if the Heat hope to have a chance
at knocking off the other top squads in the East like the world champion
Detroit Pistons and Pacers, who won 61 games during last year’s regular
season. Wade and Jones give Miami an athletic backcourt that excels at both
ends of the court. They will both need to pickup their production offensively,
as O’Neal will not be able to carry the load single-handedly.

The Heat lost reserve point guard Rafer Alston, who signed with the Toronto
Raptors as a free agent. Alston gave Miami a competent backup lead guard and a
three-point threat off the bench. Replacing Alston will be Damon Jones, who
spent last season with the Milwaukee Bucks and decided to sign with the Heat
as a free agent, and former Los Angeles Clipper Keyon Dooling, who also landed
in Miami through free agency.

Twenty-eight-year-old Damon Jones averaged seven points and 5.8 assists in 82
games for the Bucks last season, while Dooling netted 6.2 points and handed
out 2.2 helpers in 58 contests for the Clippers.

Wesley Person, who signed with Miami as a free agent, will backup Eddie Jones.
The 6-6 Person, who can also play small forward, is entering his 11th year in
the league. The Heat will be Person’s sixth different team, as he spent the
2003-04 season with Memphis, Portland and Atlanta. Person has the ability to
get hot from the outside and will be asked to provide a spark off the bench
for Coach Van Gundy.

FRONTCOURT

O’Neal is the key to Miami’s success up front. However, he is just one man and
Shaq does not makeup a starting frontcourt. Power forward Udonis Haslem and
small forward Rasual Butler should get the opportunity to help Shaq form a
respectable starting frontline. The Heat’s opponents will key on O’Neal down
low which will allow the forwards to get good looks at the basket.

The 24-year-old Haslem, who was a rookie last season, averaged 7.3 points and
6.3 rebounds in 75 contests for the Heat in the 2003-04 season, while Rasual
Butler, 25, played in 45 games and chipped in 6.8 points and pulled down 1.4
boards in his second year in the league. Rasual Butler and Haslem have shown
a lot of promise during their brief careers, and playing alongside Shaq could
be just the thing that could help these two youngsters reach their full
potential.

Rookie Dorell Wright, who was selected in the first round (19th overall) by
the Heat in the 2004 NBA draft, should see immediate playing time at small
forward, while 6-10 Malik Allen will compete with Haslem for playing time at
power forward.

Veterans Michael Doleac and Christian Laettner could prove to be important
acquisitions, as both players were signed in the offseason as free agents. The
6-11 Doleac, who averaged 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in 72 games for the
Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks last season, gives the Heat a veteran
backup to O’Neal who can make an outside jumper, grab some rebounds and is
capable of filling in down low while Shaq rests on the bench. Laettner gives
Van Gundy a veteran who is solid down low and could be productive in short
stretches.

OUTLOOK

The Heat will go as far as Shaq can take them. When O’Neal was acquired, Miami
made the commitment to win now. If Miami’s All-Star center stays healthy,
plays like a man on a mission and jells with Wade, the rest of the Eastern
Conference could be in trouble. However, the lack of depth will be a problem
if Miami faces the Pacers or Pistons in a best-of-seven series in the
playoffs.

MIA