The Miami heat are not the same team they were last year, obviously, and they will be lucky to sneak into the playoffs in 2014-15.
If they want a spot in the postseason, the first thing they have got to do is replace LeBron James, who played 37.7 minutes a game last year, and averaged 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game. Not just physically replace him, but replace him fully.
Luol Deng signed in the offseason, and no doubt he's a good player, but he is not Lebron James. The offense went through LeBron for Miami last year, and this became exceedingly apparent in the postseason. James led the Heat in minutes, points, rebounds, assists and steals. Before Miami fans get too hopeful, it might be best to remember how bad the Cavaliers became after James left. The post-James heat are better than the post-James Cavaliers, but to think the Heat will recover like the Bulls did after Jordan is pie-in-the-sky mentality.
Chris Bosh is 30, Dwyane Wade turns 33 in January, and Luol Deng is 29. The big issue that makes thinking they will recover like the Bulls is the supporting cast. The Heat lost James, Shane Battier, Norris Cole and Ray Allen, and replaced them with Deng, Danny Granger, Shabazz Napier and Josh McRoberts.
All of a sudden Bosh is the best offensive weapon, and he has been no slouch in that department for sure. But you have to give James some credit for that, too. Can Deng free up Bosh the way James did? Teams guarded James first, which allowed Bosh to do his thing. The real question is, can Bosh get it done when he is "the man"?
"I played with the best player in the world. I didn't have to be the alpha," Bosh said to ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh in July. "But now, I get to see if I have it in me, and not many people are going to believe I have what's necessary. But that's what makes it exciting."
Bosh became much better shooter to complement the skills of Wade and James over the last four years, and it's strengthened his game, but he can't do it all the way James did.
Also, you have to consider how the James trade shifted the power structure in the East. The Cavs have to be the favorite now, and the Bulls and Raptors are very serious, too. The Wizards have shown improvement and the Hornets are going to be much better with Lance Stephenson on board. Now that the Hawks are healthy they will probably stay ahead of the Heat, also. The surprise team in the East will probably be the Knicks, given Phil Jackson's influence. That means the Heat will be fighting for the last spot with the Nets or Pistons. If the Pistons respond to Stan Van Gundy, and they can develop some team chemistry this year, look for them to shut the door on the Heat and send Miami into reality, and a full on rebuild.
Follow Don Pittman on Twitter @DonaldPittman.