Offseason Outlook: Miami Heat

June 20 at 10:00am CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (26th overall)
  • 2nd Round (55th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $2,038,206
  • Options: $67,412,490
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $816,482
  • Cap Holds: $27,399,837
  • Total: $97,667,015

It’s an easy assumption that what LeBron James decides to do regarding free agency this summer will serve as the prime mover for all other matters pertaining to the Heat, and for a fair number of issues around the league, too. Still, at least in Miami’s case, others hold considerable sway that could significantly change the equation. Whatever willingness James has to take a discount on his next contract wouldn’t mean nearly as much if either Chris BoshDwyane Wade or both decide to opt in for next season or insist on new deals at market value. Udonis Haslem can also throw a hefty wrench into Miami’s ability to make a noteworthy upgrade if he opts in. The Heat would end up with nearly $47.5MM in commitments to four players if Wade, Bosh and Haslem all opt in. With another roughly $4MM in roster charges thrown in, James would have to sign a new contract for a starting salary of less than $11.7MM just to give the Heat any space at all under the projected $63.2MM cap. James would realistically have to sign for close to the minimum for the Heat to ink a free agent for much more than the mid-level in that scenario, so suffice it to say that James doesn’t necessarily hold all the cards here.

He nonetheless has as much sway as anyone does, and the Heat won’t know how to approach their summer until he picks where he’ll be spending next winter, and how well he’ll want to be compensated for doing so. The most lucrative path for James would probably involve opting in for next season, unless the maximum salary for a player of his experience jumps by about $1.5MM or more following the July moratorium. That route would also give him plenty of flexibility, since he has another option on his contract after next season before the deal finally runs out in 2016. Still, LeBron might believe that giving agent Rich Paul the chance to talk with other teams and watch how they contort their rosters to build enticing championship contenders is worth the sacrifice. The Heat will get the first crack to make their pitch, regardless of whether he opts out, and when it comes to finding ways to create attractive rosters, none are better at it than Heat president Pat Riley.

Riley left the door open just a crack to a pursuit of Carmelo Anthony in his comments Thursday, but mostly he acknowledged just what a long shot it would be to convince ‘Melo to come to South Beach. The path to Kyle Lowry, who reportedly has some level of interest in joining the Heat, is somewhat easier to navigate. He’s unlikely to command the max, with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports having suggested earlier this season that he’s in line for a deal worth $11MM a year. Such a contract would still require sacrifice on the part of Miami’s incumbent stars, but unlike with ‘Melo, who’s in line for about twice as much, it would represent market price, or close to it, for Lowry. Still, the Raptors seem poised to put up a fight, and Lowry has expressed plenty of affection for Toronto, which has Lowry’s Bird rights and thus the ammunition to mount a bidding war against the Heat. It would pit Riley, the resolve of Miami’s stars to cut deep into their earnings, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri‘s willingness to spend on a potential one-hit wonder, and Lowry’s preferences in a four-way tug-of-war. It’s unlikely it would result in Lowry moving to Miami, but it would be foolish to place a bet on just about any scenario involving the Heat’s offseason.

The Heat were reportedly enamored with Lowry long before Mario Chalmers went into his postseason funk. Chalmers is hitting free agency at a poor time for his earning potential, though I suspect most front offices will give more weight to his career high PER in 2013/14 than to his Game 5 benching. The Sam Goldfeder client also faces a buyer’s market for point guards, and the Heat will probably ask him to take a discount if he’s to stay in Miami. Still, if Riley is to be believed, owner Micky Arison isn’t worried about the tax, so if that’s true, I’d expect Miami to bid whatever’s necessary to bring him back if the Heat don’t end up with Lowry or another upgrade at point guard. Norris Cole is probably ready to take the reigns as the starting point guard, but there’s high risk in experimenting like that when the goal is to win immediately.

Chris Andersen, who’s set to opt out, will become another key free agent outside of the big three for Miami. The Mavs have already been identified as a suitor, and the Birdman will no doubt be able to command a raise on his minimum salary after his most productive season since his heyday in Denver. Still, he took less to stay with the Heat last summer, and even his decision to opt out could be construed as a favor to Miami, since it lowers his cap hold. There’s reason for the client of Mark Bryant to look to cash in on the market, since he’ll turn 36 next month, but it seems like he feels a sense of loyalty to the organization that took a chance on him and allowed him to resurrect his career after the Nuggets amnestied him in 2012.

Andersen typifies many of the Heat supporting cast, which is stocked with players well beyond their 30th birthdays. Riley spoke Thursday of a desire to infuse some youth onto the team, so I wouldn’t be surprised if long-tenured Heat reserve swingman James Jones cedes his roster spot to 2013 second-round pick James Ennis, whom Riley mentioned by name. Shane Battier has retired, so his role will also need to be filled, and perhaps the Heat will look for a player who has many of Battier’s skills with the No. 26 pick. Cleanthony Early would make sense if the Heat go this route.

Rashard Lewis took over the Battier role in the playoffs, moving into the starting lineup and making his most significant contributions in two years with the Heat. Still, it probably wasn’t enough to convince another team to pay him more than the minimum salary as he stares down his 35th birthday this summer, and he seems well-position to return to the Heat and see if he can pick up where he left off as the starting power forward.

Just about every available free agent is in play in some regard for Miami as the team looks to make external upgrades around its core. The same would be true even if James bolts, since Miami, with its warm weather, no state income tax, and the inimitable Riley, is a perennially attractive team, regardless of the presence of the four-time MVP. I’d imagine the Heat would go hard after Anthony and many other top free agents if one or more of its existing stars decide not to come back, and Riley probably wouldn’t have to work too hard to build another team capable of contending for the Eastern Conference title. Miami will survive with or without James. Yet even as the league’s preeminent star wields less of a hammer than it might seem, the best chance the Heat have of winning a title is with him, rather than against him. Doing whatever’s necessary to align with the top stars in pursuit of a championship was the guiding principle for LeBron when he chose to join the Heat four years ago, and the Heat will follow the same philosophy as they attempt to keep him.

Cap footnotes

* — If James opts out, his cap hold would be the greater of $20,020,875 or the maximum salary for a player with 10 or more years of experience. That maximum was $19,181,750 this past season, but it won’t be clear exactly what that figure will be for 2014/15 until the end of the July moratorium.
** — If Bosh opts out, his cap hold would be the greater of $20,020,875 or the maximum salary for a player with 10 or more years of experience. That maximum was $19,181,750 this past season, but it won’t be clear exactly what that figure will be for 2014/15 until the end of the July moratorium.
*** — If Wade opts out, his cap hold would be the greater of $19,606,650 or the maximum salary for a player with 10 or more years of experience. That maximum was $19,181,750 this past season, but it won’t be clear exactly what that figure will be for 2014/15 until the end of the July moratorium.
**** — Haslem’s cap hold would be $8,246,000 if he opts out.
***** — Andersen reportedly intends to opt out, and his cap hold would be $915,243 if he indeed does so.
****** — See our glossary entry on cap holds for an explanation of why Howard’s cap hold technically remains on the books for the Heat even though he’s now an assistant coach for the team and has retired from playing.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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