The Heat doubled down on a committee of above-average role players last summer and have leveraged their depth into unexpected success after a dismal 2016. With an elite head coach and an established culture of winning, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have no reason to believe that they can’t continue to field a winner so long as they’re willing to invest in solid players.
The downside of a team built in this fashion, however, is that it lacks the ceiling to be truly dangerous in the postseason and the financial flexibility to change that. Not helping matters, of course, is the fact that the Heat’s highest paid player, Hassan Whiteside, could barely get off the bench in the club’s most recent first-round playoff exit.
The Heat are on pace to cross the luxury tax threshold in 2017/18 thanks to dramatic escalations in the contracts of players like Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, making it inevitable that a dramatic roster move is forthcoming.
Is the on-court product good enough to justify the luxury tax expenses? Not likely, so all that’s left is for the franchise decide what direction to go when the dominoes start falling.
Luke Babbitt, SF, 29 (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $2MM deal in 2017
The Heat brought Babbit aboard in a minor deal at the deadline and it wasn’t hard to understand why. The career 40.2% three-point shooter is an attractive niche add and he shot 44.1% on threes through the first half of the season with the Hawks. Unfortunately, he didn’t make enough of a splash in an inconsequential stint with Miami to warrant major interest from the franchise this summer. Babbit will have suitors as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and could end up plucked by a team able to invest slightly more.
Wayne Ellington, SG, 30 (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $12MM deal in 2016
Ellington represents this Heat roster as well as anybody — he’s a reliable veteran that can consistently get the job done. In the hands of the right coach and surrounded by the right players, that’s invaluable. If the Heat decide to continue pushing to contend in the East, it would make sense to retain Ellington for a few more years as a solid rotation piece. That being said, simply bringing back Ellington is no small feat considering the luxury tax implications of such an investment. If the Heat suspect their window is closing, all parties might be better off if the nine-year vet latches on with another contender elsewhere.
Udonis Haslem, C, 38 (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $2MM deal in 2017
The Heat don’t have to worry about long-time big man Haslem testing the waters anywhere other than South Beach, the question is whether or not the 15-year veteran will opt instead for retirement. Haslem seems to have enough in the tank to continue playing in his drastically reduced role and, despite the luxury tax implications making even a minimum deal painful for ownership, there’s no reason to believe the franchise wouldn’t be happy to have him.
Jordan Mickey, PF, 23 (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $5MM deal in 2015
Despite cracking the team’s rotation for a few weeks last December, Mickey didn’t make much of an impact with the Heat during his first season in Miami. One thing that the young big man does have going for him, however, is that his team option is for a modest $1.6MM. At a time when the franchise will be hard-pressed to fill out its 15-man roster without going into tax territory, cheap deals will be of particular interest.
Dwyane Wade, SG, 36 (Up) – Signed to a one-year, $2MM deal in 2017
After an awkward season and a half with the Bulls and Cavaliers, Wade returned to Miami. Immediately, the franchise icon fell back into a rhythm and outplayed his minimum contract. If the Heat opt to continue competing in the East, bringing Wade back is practically essential – from a marketing point of view as much any. While he’s more than a simply symbolic figure, he’s not quite a leading man either, so a deal in the same vein as Dirk Nowitzki‘s $5MM annual with team options could be a solid starting point. If Wade is willing to sign another minimum contract, that’d be all the better for the cap-strapped Heat.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.