So how high can the Heat rise in the East after their summer roster moves?
I posed that question to several ESPN and TNT analysts. Here was the feedback:
• Doug Collins, who was an ESPN analyst until leaving for a Chicago Bulls special adviser job last month: "Boston, Cleveland, Washington are the top three in the East. I think Miami can challenge Toronto for fourth. If not, I like them better than Milwaukee for fifth. Philadelphia, Detroit, Charlotte are fighting for seventh and eighth."
• ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy: (this is what Van Gundy told me this summer, as opposed to his more general comments on an ESPN conference call last week): "They are definitely a playoff team. When you play as well as they did as long as they did, you wouldn’t want to limit yourself [on how high Miami can rise in the East]. I like their team. They are hard to play against. The season with be fun in Miami because of the element of the unknown. They will be exceptionally well coached and play great defense.
"Kelly Olynyk will give them a good complement to Hassan Whiteside together and will be good as a single big. Erik Spoelstra, regardless of who you give them, will quickly figure out the best way to play and play unselfishly, with discipline, caring about details and playing exceptionally hard."
• ESPN’s P.J. Carlesimo: "Cleveland and Boston are still the two elite teams. Miami, I don’t expect them to go 30-11 [in the second half] again, but I really like them. I don’t put Washington and Toronto ahead of them. I put Miami right there with Washington and Toronto and any other team in the East besides Cleveland and Boston. Olynyk is a good player, can do a little bit of everything – big, long, can score inside, can pass, a stretch guy who brings a lot of things to the table.
"When Dion Waiters has been good, he’s as good as anybody, an excellent guard in the league. Can he be that consistently? Miami’s track record of what it gets out of players is very good. I would expect those guys that improved to continue to do what they did last year if they stay in Miami, while I wouldn’t be sure if they would do that if they went to another team."
• ESPN’s Tim Legler: "I'd put their ceiling at 5-6 [in the East]. I don't think it's out of the question they could catch the Bucks. Those other four [Cavs, Celtics, Wizards, Raptors] are definitely better on paper and based on past performance. Erik Spoelstra is one of the five best coaches in the league. That is a great equalizer a lot of nights."
• TNT’s Reggie Miller: Please see here if you missed what he told me on a conference call earlier this week.
• TNT’s Chris Webber: Please see here if you missed what he told me on a conference call earlier this week.
• Heat president Pat Riley sees an opportunity to crack the top four.
Even beyond Cleveland and Boston, "Washington proved they’re really a great team," Riley said this summer in a meeting with several reporters.
"Toronto even though they signed back both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka and gave away DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph but got back CJ Miles. So, there are other teams in the conference. But we feel good…. If you go into the season healthy, in shape,… the sky’s the limit."