NBA Playoffs: The Heat Takes a First-Round Exit

Led by sharp-shooting Ray Allen's 24 points, the Boston Celtics put the Miami Heat away last night 96-86, closing out the series and ending the Heat's season and OH MY GOD, DWYANE WADE, PLEASE DON'T LEAVE!!!

It's the Heat's second straight first-round exit. In fact, the team hasn't taken a playoff series since it won the NBA championship four seasons ago. If anything positive can be gleaned from this year's early exit, it's that the Celtics exposed all of the Heat's warts. Miami has a lot of questions heading into what promises to be the most interesting off-season in franchise history. Here are three keys to the Heat's off-season:

1. Dwyane Wade Is the Key Master: In a summer that will feature

some marquee free agents, no two are bigger than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But Wade is the key to the entire summer, life, the universe, and

everything! Where he ends up will determine the face of the entire free

agent market. And while the mainstream media would like to pump up this

whole "Has Wade played his last game with the Heat?" angle, the fact

remains that Miami has the best chance of signing him this summer. No

other team will be able to offer Wade a bigger contract than Miami. And

the Heat will basically control the free agent market because it has the largest cap space to play with, along with an owner who laughs at

the face of luxury taxes like an evil supervillain. So when ESPN's Tim

Legler says Wade is looking at his teammates in the locker room

and saying, "Are these the guys that will get me back to the Finals?"

what D-Wade is really saying is, "You're gone, you're gone, you're

gone. You're cool. Just kidding, you're gone too."

2. The Michael Beasley Conundrum: Michael

Beasley is quite possibly the greatest enigma since Nickelback's fame.

More so, even. The kid has unlimited talent, a natural ability, a

smooth jump shot, the ability to rebound, great defense, and has "20-10

career player" written all over him (this is probably literally true).

Ye, he can't seem to put it all together. At times, he appears listless

and unfocused. At others, he shows us a glimpse of his potential. And

there's nothing funnier (or more cringeworthy) than seeing Dwyane Wade

lose his shit with the kid. When the Bulls won the lottery two seasons

ago and landed the first overall pick, the Heat had to "settle" for

Beasley. But the guy was a beast coming out of college, a sure-fire

star. Now the Heat has to wonder if it's gone as far as it will

go with him. But he's still very young. He can break out at any moment.

The Heat needs to keep Beasley until he blossoms, and fans need to show

a little patience and give the kid a break. Unless, of course, D-Wade

tells Riley to get rid of him. Then, yeah, screw that guy!

3. Who Will It Be?:

Bottom line, the last two seasons have been all about the summer of

2010 for Pat Riley. This is what he's been waiting for. This is why

we've had to endure a season and a half with Jermaine O'Neal and

forcing ourselves to accept Rafer Alston. The Heat is the only team in

the NBA that can sign two players to max contracts this summer. One

will be Wade. The other? Well, this is where it gets nuts. And by nuts we mean, "MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!" LeBron is one player and, holy crapcakes, can you imagine that! The other possibilities: Chris

Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and Joe Johnson, just to name a few. Time for

Riles to goop up his hair and get all Gordon Gecko on our asses. Greed

is good. Now go build us a dynasty, Riles! Start by re-signing Wade and

maybe even buying him a gold-plated hovercraft with built-in bazookas.

Whatever. It. Takes.

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