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Big Summer Ahead for the Miami HEAT

The Miami HEAT’s season is over. Now, they enter one of the most important offseasons in franchise history.

Alex Kennedy

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Basketball Insiders caught up with center Jakob Poeltl, who’s projected to be a lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Big Summer Ahead for the Miami HEAT

The Miami HEAT’s season came to an end on Sunday when they were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

All things considered, it was a successful campaign for the HEAT, who were without Chris Bosh (blood clot) for the second half of the season and Hassan Whiteside (knee) for the end of their second-round series. Miami finished the regular season with 48 wins and secured the third seed in the East. They had the NBA’s seventh-ranked defense (allowing just 101.6 points per 100 possessions) and 12th-ranked offense (scoring 104.2 points per 100 possessions).

Now, Miami’s focus will shift to one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. Depending on what happens this summer, the HEAT could have a drastically different roster when next season begins.

As of right now, Chris Bosh ($23,741,060), Goran Dragic ($15,891,725), Josh McRoberts ($5,782,450) and Justise Winslow ($2,593,440) are the only HEAT players with guaranteed contracts for next season. Josh Richardson and Briante Weber will likely be back as well since both players are on bargain deals under $1 million, but each player has a non-guaranteed salary for the next two seasons.

Everyone else currently on Miami’s roster will be a free agent on July 1. Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, Udonis Haslem, Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudemire and Dorell Wright will be unrestricted free agents. Tyler Johnson will be a restricted free agent once Miami issues a $1,180,431 qualifying offer.

Assuming Richardson and Weber are back as expected, Miami will have $50,938,378 on the books for next season. With the NBA’s salary cap rising to $92 million, the HEAT could have a lot of flexibility this summer. However, if they do have significant money to spend, that would mean that they didn’t retain some of their key free agents and they’ll have to replace that production. It will be very difficult for Miami to keep their own players and add a marquee free agent (such as Kevin Durant, whom they’ve been rumored to pursue), although Pat Riley and his staff are very good at maneuvering under the cap and will try to get creative.

Entering the offseason, some of Miami’s best players have uncertain futures.

Bosh’s availability has been up in the air since February, when he experienced a second blood clot. He tried to make a comeback in the postseason, but the HEAT ruled him out. Everyone around the organization is hoping the 11-time All-Star can play as soon as possible, but no timetable has been given for Bosh’s return. This is a serious and complex health issue, so it’s unclear when (or if) Bosh will be able to take the court again (especially if he remains on blood thinners, as I wrote about here). Bosh is one of the best bigs in the game, and his status will greatly impact the HEAT’s future. He has three guaranteed years remaining on his contract. In the event of a medical retirement, Bosh’s contract would come off of Miami’s books on February 9, 2017 (one year from the date of his last game). However, we hope that Bosh’s terrific career doesn’t end in that fashion.

Whiteside is the most interesting free agent for Miami, since they don’t have his full Bird rights. That means they have to use their cap space to sign him (rather than going over the cap to re-sign him, as teams can typically do with their own players). The 26-year-old averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks in 29.1 minutes per game, emerging as one of the best centers in the NBA. In fact, he led all centers in Player Efficiency Rating (25.7) and Win Shares (10.3) this season. Now, Whiteside seems poised to sign a maximum contract – either with the HEAT or a new team. A number of teams are reportedly preparing to pursue Whiteside such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets among others. As previously mentioned, it would be difficult for Miami to keep the big man and add a new star since they must re-sign Whiteside using cap space. Riley could have a tough decision on his hands if a marquee player wants to join the HEAT.

Wade inked a one-year deal worth $20 million to stay in Miami last summer. That worked out perfectly for him since the cap is rising drastically and he’s coming off of a strong campaign in which he was healthy enough to play in 88 of 96 games. Wade is beloved in Miami and has played there for all 13 years of his NBA career. It seems likely that he’ll stay with the HEAT, especially considering he was talking about next season after the Game 7 loss. However, crazier things have happened. If Miami is hesitant to commit to Wade long-term since he’s 34 years old and has a history of injuries, there will be plenty of teams lining up to meet with Wade. The three-time champion averaged 19 points, 4.6 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals during the regular season, and 21.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and a block in the playoffs. Wade silenced the critics who said he could no longer play at a high level, and now he’ll get a significant pay day.

Deng is also coming off of a strong postseason, but it’s unclear if the HEAT intend to re-sign the 31-year-old. The team drafted Winslow with the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft and the 20-year-old is poised to move into the starting lineup at some point. If Deng’s price becomes too expensive, it’s possible that Miami will let him walk and hope Winslow and others can replace his production.

Joe Johnson, Green, Stoudemire and Wright all joined Miami at some point over the last year on bargain contracts (with none making over $947,276) in hopes of making a title run. It’s unclear which of the veteran contributors (if any) will re-sign with the HEAT. Of this group, Johnson (24 starts) and Stoudemire (36 starts) would likely be the toughest to replace (although Johnson is 34 years old and entering his 16th season, and Stoudemire is 33 years old and entering his 15th season).

Haslem, like Wade, has spent his entire 12-year career with Miami. After the Game 7 loss, the 35-year-old made it clear that he hopes to re-sign with the HEAT and wants to retire in Miami (which is also where he was born). Riley will surely welcome him back, but it’s hard to imagine him getting anything more than a minimum deal since he played in just 37 games this season and averaged seven minutes per contest. He’s a three-time champion and a great guy to have in the locker room, but it’s clear that his playing days are nearing an end.

Tyler Johnson is the team’s lone restricted free agent and he has said he wants to return. Last season, he was called up from the D-League on a 10-day contract and played well enough to stick around. This year, Johnson played in 36 games and averaged 24 minutes per night. He would’ve played more, but he was forced to miss three months due to shoulder surgery. When healthy, the 24-year-old put up a solid 8.7 points, three rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range. It’s unlikely Miami will overpay for Johnson since it’s not too difficult to find a back-up point guard in today’s NBA, but they’ll likely retain Johnson if his price tag is reasonable since he’s comfortable with Erik Spoelstra’s system and has produced when given a chance to play.

At the moment, Miami doesn’t have a selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Their first-round pick (No. 24) is owed to the Philadelphia 76ers and their second-round pick (No. 51) is owed to the Boston Celtics. It’s typically not too hard for teams to acquire a pick if they desire, but that may be more difficult than usual with the salary cap rising to $92 million (especially in the case of first-round picks). Rookie-scale contracts won’t increase with the rising salary cap since those numbers were locked in during the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations in 2011, so talented rookies are huge bargains and the best bang for a team’s buck.

With no picks in the upcoming draft and so few players under contract, it seems unlikely that Miami can go the “splashy trade” route to improve their squad. Sure, they could move someone to free up additional cap space, but any kind of blockbuster deal seems very unlikely.

Free agency is where the franchise will have to do really well in order to remain one of the top teams in the East. When the calendar flips to July 1, keep an eye on the HEAT because Riley and his staff have plenty of important decisions to make this offseason.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland

Basketball Insiders

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The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.

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