Big Summer Ahead for the Miami HEAT

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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.