The three-time champion Heat and the one postseason-appearance-in-the-past-14-years Panthers --- two franchises with very little in common before last season --- had quite a bit in common last winter and spring:
Both acquired offensively-gifted European-born stars in February, fizzled late in their unsuccessful bids for playoff berths, ranked in the top half of their leagues in defensive metrics and were ultimately undone by injuries and offensive deficiencies, the Panthers ranking 25th in goals per game (2.41) and 23rd with 40 power-play goals, the Heat finishing 27th in scoring (94.7) and 24th in three-point shooting.
The question is whether each did enough to address their offensive shortcomings. The Heat, which opens camp next Tuesday, seemed to. For the Panthers, the answer lies in the growth of their young players and whether Jaromir Jagr can play over a full season like he did in his first 20 games here.
Here’s what the Heat did: Added an explosive bench scorer (Gerald Green) who has the NBA’s eighth-most three-pointers the past two seasons; a former All-Star (Amar’e Stoudemire), who scored more points per game (11.5) than any backup power forward or center last season except Ryan Anderson.
They drafted a top-six talent in Justise Winslow and most importantly, get back Chris Bosh, who would have ranked 12th in the NBA in scoring (21.1) before being sidelined the final 28 games with blood clots in his lungs. The next game Bosh and mid-season pickup Goran Dragic play together will be their first.
The belief internally is this team will be a lot more potent. “As far as collective punch, I think we’re as good as anybody in the league,” Bosh said.
And, as Josh McRoberts said: “We can play a lot of different styles with the lineups we have. Amar’e gives us a guy who’s a proven All-Star. Everyone is familiar with Gerald Green’s athleticism, his shooting ability. He brings a lot of excitement to any team he’s on.”
Also, don’t underestimate McRoberts’ return from a knee injury that limited him to 17 games; he hit the sixth-most three-pointers of any NBA power forward (105) for Charlotte in 2013-14. That, incidentally, was the season when only Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard hit more threes than Green’s 204. (Green was 23rd with 137 last season.)
The Panthers offseason? They kept Jagr, which was big, but did nothing else of great significance in free agency, and drafted winger Lawson Crouse, who was considered very good value at No. 11; he had 29 points and 22 assists in the Ontario Hockey League.
But in terms of goals scored in the NHL last season, they’ve actually subtracted more than they’ve added since the offseason started.
They jettisoned Jimmy Hayes (19 goals, 16 assists) in a deal to Boston for winger Reilly Smith (13 goals, 27 assists) and parted ways with disappointing Tomas Kopecky (7 goals, 6 assists) and Scottie Upshall (8 goals, 7 assists).
But the Panthers look at Jagr as an offseason addition in a sense --- sort of like the Heat with Dragic --- partly because both Jagr and Dragic had to be re-signed. The question is whether, at 43, Jagr can deliver the sustained brilliance he gave them in essentially a quarter of a season.
He had six goals and 18 points in 20 games for Florida, which would be a pace of 25 goals and 74 points over a full season. But before the trade, Jagr – in nearly identical minutes per game for the Devils – was on a 16-goal, 42-point pace. That’s a big difference.
But this is encouraging: In 2013-14, he had 24 goals and 67 points in 82 games for the Devils, so perhaps his Panthers pace of last spring can be approached or repeated.
“That top line [Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov], if they all got 60 points, that would be amazing,” general manager Dale Tallon said.
Tallon believes the roster has enough goal-scoring.
“We have four solid lines; all of them can score,” he said. “We brought in guys that have had a history of scoring [Jagr, Smith]. Smith can play any forward position, has offensive upside, can kill penalties. We’re going to count on [Vincent] Trochek and [Brandon] Pirri to contribute more offense.
“We are going to get more production from some of our younger players that showed flashes last year. Everybody’s got to contribute more. Some of the guys we had didn’t contribute offensively; hopefully we replace those guys with some of our younger guys who can create more scoring chances. [Center] Dave Bolland [who had six goals last season] came to camp in the best shape of his life and can add a lot of timely scoring for us.
“We brought in David Booth [seven goals for Toronto last season] and Martin Havlat [five for New Jersey] to spike some of the offense and create some competition for jobs. They’re both hungry. Our defense will really be solid; I think we’ll get more offense from them as well…. [And] Crouse will get a fair shot [to stick]. I like what he brings to the table. Great skills and size.”
Tallon said he never seriously considering adding a pricey scorer in free agency because “it’s hard to find those guys. You’ve got to build them and draft them. It didn’t make sense. We don’t want to block our kids.”
But the Panthers’ hopes for offensive improvement also hinge on young players taking the next step.
For instance, Barkov (16 goals, 36 points in 71 games last season) “is a 20-goal scorer, I think, and will eventually be a point a game guy,” Tallon said. “Hopefully 60 points this year.”
They’re also expecting a lot from the second line: Smith, Pirri and Nick Bjugstad.
### With Lamar Miller hobbled (he said he will play through an ankle injury), perhaps the Dolphins shouldn’t have put Jay Ajayi (ribs) on short-term injured reserve to sign Logan Thomas for what turned out to be five days. Though he was not complaining, Ajayi --- who's ineligible for return until the eighth game --- said last week that he probably would have been ready for Sunday against Buffalo.
10 a.m. Wednesday update: The Dolphins have promoted running back Jonas Gray to their 53-man roster.
### If Dallas Thomas keeps struggling, fans will continue to second-guess Miami not signing Evan Mathis. But Mathis already has allowed a sack for Denver and like Thomas, Pro Football Focus grades him in the lower-half of all guards through two games. Miami made a very respectable offer for Mathis, according to a Mathis associate.
### As Armando Salguero noted, the Dolphins today auditioned tight end Adrien Robinson, who played in 19 games, with five receptions, for the Giants over the past three seasons. Miami hadn't made an offer as of early evening, according to his agent.
### Only Philadelphia and Detroit are averaging fewer yards rushing than Miami (58 per game), and Mike Pouncey said: "We've got to get our run game going. When our run game is going, our offense can't be stopped." Though Joe Philbin said blocking is primarily to blame, Lamar Miller said: "I need to do a better job trusting my offensive line."
### Though an NFC scout said junior cornerback Artie Burns could become a high-round pick, draft analyst Tony Pauline said this next potential UM draft class “is weak, very much so,” with Deon Bush a possible fifth-rounder, Ufomba Kamalu a sixth-rounder, junior Rayshawn Jenkins a seventh-rounder and Tyriq McCord, Raphael Kirby, Calvin Heurtelou, Tracy Howard, [juniors] Jamal Carter and Stacy Coley free agents, Pauline said.
“Tracy Howard draws a variety of opinion,” Pauline said. “Most scouts feel he’s free agent material, something I agree with, though I’ve been told he’s also received a few middle-round grades. Howard offers solid ball skills but poor size/speed numbers which I believe will knock him out of the seven rounds.”
### Smart move by UM and new partner Adidas to change the nameplate font style, beginning with UM's next game. The names were difficult to read on the back of the jerseys.
### We wrote in the hard-copy newspaper version of The Herald on Sunday that Marlins management considers being bilingual a plus in their manager search and I also mentioned that factor could help Manny Acta, among others.
Today, ESPN Deportes reports that Acta interviewed for the Marlins job today, which is not yet technically open.
The Marlins have informed Dan Jennings he won't be retained as manager, even though Jennings wants to keep the job. But they have not announced it publicly, which makes the Acta timing odd.
Acta hasn't had much success as a manager, finishing last in his division infour of his six seasons. He was 158-252 in three years with Washington and 214-266 in three years with Cleveland.
Numerous candidates are expected to be interviewed for the manager job, and experience is strongly preferred. CBS reports Jennings did not seem aware that Acta interviewed today.
Jennings, by the way, is not interim manager. He is manager, period, but that will change within two weeks.
### The Marlins will explore longterm deals with Dee Gordon (under team control through 2018) and Adeiny Hechavarria (2019) but Hechavarria already has rejected one offer last winter.
### Whereas Dwyane Wade appears lighter, Chris Bosh has bulked up, and the Heat wants to make sure he doesn’t lose his quickness and agility to play a lot on the perimeter.
“The strength gain he made this summer hopefully will help him endure the rigors of a long NBA season,” Erik Spoelstra told 790 The Ticket. “When we get into the season,… hopefully… he’ll keep the strength but maybe the weight will come back down.”