Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.
State of the Franchise
After taking a significant step back during the 2014/15 season thanks to LeBron James taking his talents back to Cleveland, the Heat bounced back with a 48 win campaign this year. This occurred despite star big man Chris Bosh being limited to just 53 games due to recurring blood clot issues and the team’s offense never quite clicking, as Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade spent much of the campaign trying to mesh their games together. Plus, the absence of Bosh forced the team to employ a smaller lineup, placing a number of players outside their normal comfort zones. This included center Hassan Whiteside, who was relegated to a bench role for a portion of the campaign as a result.
The franchise has an extremely important offseason ahead of it, with just six players under contract for 2016/17 for a total cap hit of approximately $48.2MM. But don’t let the apparent bounty of cap flexibility fool you — the Heat will be extremely limited at the beginning of the free agent signing period thanks to the cap holds of unrestricted free agents Wade ($30MM) and Luol Deng ($13.2MM). Miami will either need to re-sign or renounce its rights to the duo in order to access its cap space, and will need to do so posthaste in order to maximize the expected surge in the cap to upward of $92MM for 2016/17. Deng appears to be in line to land a two-year deal that pays him at least $12MM annually. That price may be too steep for the Heat, even though they’d reportedly like to bring the small forward back.
Dwyane Wade’s Free Agency — The Sequel
For team president Pat Riley, coming to a quick and amenable resolution with Wade is paramount for the team to have a successful summer. The Heat’s reported preference for Wade’s next deal would be to make it for just one year, in order to give the franchise flexibility in 2017 and beyond. One Heat insider told Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald that a likely contract for the veteran shooting guard would be in the range of $15MM-$20MM annually, a number that is in line with the $20MM Wade earned this season. Wade’s solid and relatively healthy 2015/16 campaign will make it highly unlikely that he will agree to a discounted annual salary in the range of $12MM, which was reportedly the Heat‘s initial offer to the veteran last May. Instead, Wade ended up inking a one-year, $20MM deal to remain with Miami. Things could get contentious in a hurry if the franchise attempts to low-ball the iconic player, who remains the face of the franchise.
Chris Bosh’s Health Concerns
The Heat are expecting Bosh to be available next season, but there have been reports that the team fears the power forward will never be medically cleared to play again. Bosh still has three years and close to $76MM left on the max deal he signed in 2014 and accounts for roughly half of the guaranteed salary on the team’s books for 2016/17. If he is able to return, he brings with him All-Star level production. But in the short-term, the uncertainty surrounding his health will hamper the team and could potentially turn off prospective free agents, who may not be keen on joining the Heat sans Bosh.
If the worst case scenario were to occur and Bosh is unable to play again, the team could waive him and petition the league to have his cap hit removed. However, even if this were to occur, the cap relief would not kick in until February 9th of next year per league rules. There is also the possibility that relations could become strained between the player and the front office, given that the two sides have reportedly clashed over Bosh wanting to play while on blood thinners. The team appears to have the player’s best interests at heart, but if the veteran presses the issue it could force the Heat to make a difficult decision — allow Bosh to play, which could be fatal, stand firm and risk alienating Bosh, or to try and reach a buyout arrangement which would allow the forward to seek other opportunities.
To Whiteside, or Not to Whiteside
Whiteside is easily one of Riley’s best finds as an executive. The 26-year-old was picked off the scrap heap by Miami and he has rewarded them by evolving into one of the more promising big men in the league. But his success may ultimately cost the team his services this summer when he hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent. Whiteside is coming off the best season of his career, averaging 14.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game and leading the league with 3.7 blocks per night.
Miami only holds Whiteside’s Early Bird rights, which means that with the big man looking at a max contract that will pay him approximately $21.7MM annually, the team will have to use cap space in order to re-sign the player. The Heat would need to free up enough space to sign him for more than 104.5% of the average salary, which is expected to be only about a third of the value of Whiteside’s max. With seventeen teams currently projected to have enough cap room to offer at least one max deal, and Whiteside almost assuredly going to be in high demand this summer, the Heat will have an extremely difficult and expensive call to make.
With the cap set to increase significantly, a max deal for a player of Whiteside’s talents isn’t out of line with the new economics of the game. But given his bouts of immaturity and hip and knee concerns, a max salary long-term pact does carry with it some very real concerns for the team. If Bosh was healthy, allowing Whiteside to depart wouldn’t be as big a hit to the club. But given the uncertainty surrounding him and the lack of quality bigs around the league, I don’t believe the Heat can allow Whiteside to sign with another franchise without putting up a fight.
Free Agent Targets
It is difficult to predict the team’s strategy, given the uncertainty surrounding Bosh, Whiteside, Deng and Wade. Miami will more than likely need to add depth on the wing, with Deng and Gerald Green both expected to depart as free agents this summer. Viable unrestricted free agent targets for the team include Derrick Williams, Austin Rivers, Caron Butler, Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee. I’d also add Lance Stephenson to that list if Memphis parts ways with him, and believe he would be a solid fit on the team. The Heat will likely make a run at Kevin Durant, but he’s probably out of their reach, though one should never discount Riley pulling off an offseason stunner.
The Heat will also need to add some frontcourt depth, even if Whiteside is re-signed. Potential additions up front include Bismack Biyombo, although he is likely going to be in line for a significant payday after his strong postseason showing for the Raptors, and Festus Ezeli, if he is cut loose by the Warriors in an effort to clear cap room. Pau Gasol is another possibility, though he’ll likely try and latch on with a franchise closer to contending for a title given his advancing age and relative financial security.
Miami doesn’t currently own a pick in this year’s draft with its first-rounder (No. 24) overall owed to the Sixers and second-rounder (No. 51 overall) belonging to the Celtics. The team can’t purchase a draft pick as it has already used up its allotted $3.4MM in cash for the season in other trades.
The Heat enter the offseason with more uncertainty than they likely care for and less initial cap flexibility than is ideal. The team will have a number of vital calls to make within the first few hours of free agency if it wants to be players and not be left to pick over the free agent scrap heap. Reaching a quick agreement with Wade on a new deal would be a good jumping off point and doing so without upsetting the star in the process would certainly be preferable.
Miami has a number of roster holes needing to be addressed and the best strategy for this summer may be to simply re-sign Wade and Whiteside, surround them and Dragic with solid role-players and veterans, then wait for the strong free agent class of 2017 to retool and reload. But with Riley at the helm, one can never quite know what to expect. The executive has pulled off a number of shockers over the course of his career, though he’ll likely be hard-pressed to improve Miami significantly this summer. But fret not Heat fans, a warm weather locale, no state tax, the presence of Riley and a winning pedigree mean the franchise will remain competitive for the foreseeable future.
- Chris Bosh ($23,741,060)
- Goran Dragic ($15,891,725)
- Josh McRoberts ($5,782,450)
- Justise Winslow ($2,593,440)
- Briante Weber ($218,659) — Partial guarantee; non-guaranteed portion listed below
- Total: $48,227,334
- Josh Richardson ($874,636)
- Briante Weber ($655,977) — Partial guarantee; guaranteed portion listed above
- Total: $1,530,613
- Tyler Johnson ($1,180,431/$1,180,431)
Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)
- Dwyane Wade ($30,000,000)
- Luol Deng ($13,197,096)
- Udonis Haslem ($5,424,386)
- Gerald Green ($980,431)
- Joe Johnson ($980,431)
- Amar’e Stoudemire ($980,431)
- Hassan Whiteside ($980,431)
- Dorell Wright ($980,431)
- Total: $53,523,637
Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.