words_Nick Engvall

In the last few weeks, the Miami Heat have made moves to become what some would say is the new team to beat in the NBA. LeBron James being the pinnacle of the free agent signings, possibly in the history of league, is just one of the new faces that have fans and critics of the NBA buzzing.Along with James, superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also have put aside the lure of max-deal contracts in order to ensure Miami has the salary cap room to add the necessary chess pieces to win a championship next season.

Dwyane Wade and Kobe BryantIn addition to resigning Wade, adding Bosh and LeBron, the Heat resigned Udonis Haslem for less than what he was capable of receiving from other teams around the league. Unlike the other three however, for Haslem, this is the second time in his career he has taken the opportunity to play for his hometown team.

It doesn’t stop there however, the sharp-shooting Mike Miller, formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, and most recently the Washington Wizards, announced earlier today via Twitter, that he had reached terms with Miami, thanking owner Micky Arison and team president Pat Riley for making it happen. Miller will add a threat from outside that will force defenses to reconsider doubling LeBron or Wade, and in general, add to what could be one of the most potent offenses the league has seen in a long time.

Another piece to the puzzle is former teammate of LeBron in Cleveland, Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Ilgauskas will be following LeBron to South Beach, doing what he did best as a Cavalier, being a key role player. Ilgauskas may have seen a drop in scoring and playing time due to the Cavs signing Shaquille O’Neal last year, but don’t forget his career average of nearly 14 points a game, nearly 8 rebounds, and presence inside as a shot blocker makes him one of the most underrated role players in the league.

With all these pieces already in place, and rumors of Jason Williams leaving Orlando and returning to Miami as well, the Heat are looking like the team to beat in the East. However Wade recently said, “The Lakers are the champions and we know the Lakers are very good, that’s the team that everyone’s shooting for and they should be. Not the Miami Heat. The Los Angeles Lakers.”

Kobe Bryant of the Lakers with the Championship TrophyWhether Wade is trying to downplay what’s been going on in Miami, or just keeping things in check, Wade and Miami face tough competition in their own backyard. The Magic reached a deal with Quentin Richardson, which adds to a team that was already one of the best in the East last season. Outside of Florida, Boston signed Jermaine O’Neal and re-signed Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, which means the defending Eastern Conference Champions, will still be a tough team to get passed before the Heat can even think about facing the Lakers who resigned Derek Fisher and added Portland’s pesky point guard Steve Blake.

To think that the regular season doesn’t start until October, and there are still a lot of quality players available as free agents, it’s safe to say that Wade is right, the Los Angeles Lakers are still the defending champs, but a three-peat is looking much more challenging, after Pat Riley’s three-peat of superstar signings in Miami.

images via yahoo