Jan 5, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) celebrates a three-point basket in the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Rashard Lewis Opts Into Deal With Miami Heat


Rashard Lewis has opted into his deal with the Miami Heat for the 2014 season that will pay him about $1.4 million. What does this mean for the defending NBA Champions?

The 6-10, 230 pounds forward averaged just 14.4 minutes per game last season, during which he averaged 5.2 points per game, 2.2 rebounds and 0.5 assists. He barely saw the court during the playoffs.

Lewis certainly did not play as much as fans initially expected when he signed with the Heat last offseason. Part of it is due to the Heat running a particularly difficult defensive system to master — the same system that didn’t click for Chris Bosh until, arguably, these past Eastern Conference Finals.

Knowing what we do about the Heat, the formula is to spread the floor for LeBron James to operate. Lewis can do that — the two-time all-star can shoot from just about anywhere on the floor — but only if he doesn’t cost the team points on the other end.

We saw defensive flaws bench a number of players for the Heat. Mike Miller and his chronic over-pursuing tendencies, James Jones (who also just opted into his 2014 deal as well) and even Udonis Haslem at times.

On a deep roster, it will be tough for Lewis to get off the bench any more than he did in 2013, but if he can work on mastering the Heat’s blitz-and-help defense, he could become exactly what the Heat need in 2014.

Following the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Heat decided to adopt the small-ball approach of placing Shane Battier at power forward that worked so well against the Thunder. It turned into a 27-game win streak and another title.

The Heat, in order to hide its lack of size against the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs, over compensated by going even smaller. Even using MIKE MILLER AT POWER FORWARD.

The Heat had to do this, playing shooting guards at power forward for a majority of the game, in order to keep Dwyane Wade on the court without losing spacing for LeBron. This proved to be a terrific move for Erik Spoelstra. And since Wade isn’t getting any younger, it’s a move that could be adopted by the start of the regular season.

But those worked against bigger, slower teams. It might not for the duration of another NBA season. And so, the Heat need to find someone that can score from the perimeter, but also bring rebounding energy and consistent defense.

Haslem has shown signs of slowing down, quite literally. Still rising to the occasion at times, the 33-year-old is not as quick on his close outs and can sometimes be caught out of position. He recorded career lows this season in both points per game (3.9) and rebounds per game (5.4).

Chris Bosh also tends to play better when the Heat exchange Haslem for a shooter. (This creates less of a crowd in the basket area for Bosh, making it easier for the wiry center to grab rebounds and play zone in the paint.)

Shane Battier could and, if the Heat go this route, probably will start over Haslem. But the wear-and-tear of 82 games at power forward would be a burden on the important Battier. The Heat needs someone else, and someone bigger. Hopefully for the luxury-tax paying Micky Arison, they don’t need to spend anymore money to find that player.

The Heat, looking to improve yet again this summer, are expected to use the mid-level exception on Chris Andersen. The team still needs more bodies, particularly big ones, to match up with Roy Hibbert and/or Joakim Noah in the playoffs. Mark that down as another free-agent pick up. (Greg Oden? Jermaine O’Neal?)

If Rashard Lewis can improve his defense within the Heat system, he could fill the need and alleviate the pressure for Riley and Spoelstra to find a stretch four who can space the floor and rebound.

Tags: Miami Heat Rashard Lewis