The Miami Heat are looking to bounce back from a poor 2014-15 season by aiming for a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year, with the hope of competing in the NBA Finals next June.
After LeBron James surprised the franchise by opting to return to his hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers ahead of last season, Miami fell out of the playoffs altogether after four straight appearances in the NBA Finals, but fans should be confident of a quick return to playoff success.
The Heat were poised to be a dark horse heading into the 2015 playoffs after trading for point guard Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, but the team was left devastated after losing star man Chris Bosh for the rest of the season due to blood clots in his lungs just a day later.
SIGN UP NOW
Want to become a GMS writer? Sign up now and submit a 250-word test article: https://gms.to/haveyoursay4
However, Bosh's injury and the Heat's subsequent failure to qualify for last season's playoffs has improved their chances this season, as the Heat struck gold at June's NBA Draft when Justise Winslow, one of the best players coming out of college, surprisingly fell into Miami's lap at pick number ten.
Winslow could be a season-changer for Miami if he progresses in his first year in the league, as he improves their current rotation and is already a capable defender at the NBA level coming off the bench, and could particularly be crucial in the team's ability to compete with more popular small-ball line-ups, with Luol Deng shifting to power forward.
Miami's bench was previously problematic for the Heat, but with Winslow and summer additions Gerald Green and Amar'e Stoudemire, they have improved their weakest link.
If Erik Spoelstra, one of the higher tier coaches in the league, can make sure the player rotation runs smoothly, then there is no reason the Heat cannot cause serious problems for Cleveland and Chicago.
Chris Bosh, back to full health, is still one of the best power forwards in the NBA, while Dwyane Wade, although now 33 and with chronic knee issues, when given time to rest between matches and with his minutes monitored can still perform at the highest level and turn games single-handedly.
Wade and Bosh will be particularly motivated to prove a point to LeBron, who by leaving Miami showed that he felt Wade and Bosh could no longer provide enough support to help him win more titles.
But to really compete with the clear top two franchises in the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, Miami will require contributions from the other players in their squad.
Center Hassan Whiteside will be particularly pivotal if the Heat face either the Cavs or Bulls, both tall, powerful teams, as only he and Bosh are big enough to compete with the likes of Timofey Mozgov, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, who could take the series away from an undersized squad like Miami's.
Miami fans became used to success during the four years with LeBron, and although they are far from the favourite to make it to the NBA Finals, led by the experience of Wade and Bosh, Heat supporters should be confident of providing a playoff upset.