BF: When the season ended, where did you see the state of the franchise?
MP: I was extremely disappointed. After Game 2 of the NBA Finals, everyone legitimately thought the Heat were going to 3-peat. Then the Spurs just annihilated us the rest of the way. It left us with uncertainty about the future because of all the pending free agency. However, with all that said, I truly believe the team would come back intact and be right back in the Finals next year.
BF: Throughout the year and up until the decision, did you think there was a possibility that LeBron would actually leave the Heat?
MP: I believed it all depended on how they fared in the playoffs. And I thought they were doing just fine. Nobody was beating the Spurs the way they played in the Finals, even if Miami looked better, the Spurs were on an incredible level. I thought the idea of LeBron jumping ship to chase a ring somewhere else was not a factor, he couldn't take the PR hit. The only move that made sense was...going home. And it became clear that only a 3-peat would change that. It also helped that the Cavs landed the #1 pick in the draft.
BF: Bosh hasn't been the full time lead option for a team in four years. How do you think he'll do back in that role?
MP: I think he is mentally ready for it, and that is one of the biggest battles. I also think it's going to help that Dwyane Wade will be able to help carry much of that load. I am worried that Bosh is not a "Give me the ball and get out of my way" type of guy. I think it's certainly going to be a process, but I also think the entire way the Heat play is going to change.
BF: The series against the Spurs really clouded what was up until that point another great season from Dwyane Wade. Is there anything he can do to adjust his game and maintain his status as one of the better guards in the league?
MP: At 32, it seems he isn't going to entirely reinvent himself. It would be nice if he again could extend his range to the three-point line. Wade is a very good low post player, and if they decide to give him more looks down there, he might be the best shooting % guard in the league.
BF: One more on Wade: Without Bron, can the Heat employ the Wade rest plan and still expect to make the playoffs?
MP: Playoffs? Yes. Would that be wise to do? No. If the use the same maintenance plan on Wade that they have been using, then Miami will be looking at a first round matchup with The Cavaliers or the Bulls, and that's not what they want. I see them giving Wade rest, but not nearly as much as what has been normal. I think Wade will be going into this season healthier than the last three years, but can he stay that way?
BF: How do you see the new players fitting in?
MP: I am really excited about Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts. Both of them are team players and offer more than just one skill. I think people will be pleasantly surprised how well it's all going to gel together. It will take some time, but both of them not only are talented, but they do the small things that help you win. I am worried about the rest of the newbies after them, I think they will have a trial an error process with Coach Spoelstra on where they fit in.
BF: In a lot of instances, it's tough to gauge how great a coach is. How would you describe Erik Spoelstra's growth as a coach from when he first got the job to where he is now?
MP: He has definitely gotten better as a leader. He handles pressure well and he uses his players well. I think he will really be judged on this year, without LeBron, he will get to make a name for himself in how well he can prepare this team to win. I think he is a great mind, and with a new and personally picked coaching staff, he may be more prepared to lead this year than ever.
BF: Is there anything about the team you think the national media and folks outside of Miami get wrong that needs to be corrected?
MP: Dwyane Wade isn't washed up. I think a lot of people see the time he has missed and his numbers declining as a way to take a stab at the guy. But after watching every game last year, I can tell you...he's still Dwyane Wade. He took a back seat to LeBron the past few years and he is getting older, but he still has it. I think he will show people this year that he is still an elite player.
BF: What would qualify as a successful season for the Heat in your eyes?
MP: I don't think it's an secret that Cleveland and Chicago are the two top teams in the East. I think a successful season would see them in the Eastern Conference Finals. A second round exit seems like the expectation around the league, so we have to believe surpassing that would be a success. However, I won't be upset to be forced to cover them until June again.
BF: Outside of Miami (and LeBron as well), any story, player, or team you're keeping a close eye on this season?
MP: I am pretty intrigued to see what happens with Derrick Rose. He's such an explosive player, and if he returns to form, I think he makes the East so intriguing. I'll be watching closely to see how the Bulls come together.
Thanks to Matt for taking the time to chat. You can find him on Twitter at @PinedaHeat.