When teams around the league were creating the necessary cap room to poach a single superstar in 2010, Heat team president Pat Riley cleared the decks so that he could sign three. It's under that context that the latest reports of Miami's free agent interests make a great deal of sense. Not yet satisfied with having three stars (including the best player in basketball), Riley and the Heat are reportedly investigating the possibility of pursuing a fourth in free agency this summer: Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com.
Sources told ESPN.com that Heat officials and the team's leading players have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony this summer in free agency.
The mere concept would require the star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to all opt out of their current contracts by the end of the month and likely take further salary reductions in new deals that start next season to give Miami the ability to offer Anthony a representative first-year salary. The Heat also are prevented from making any formal contact with Anthony until July 1 and can do so then only if he opts out of the final year of his current contract. Anthony has until June 23 to notify the Knicks of his intentions, according to sources.
Anthony, who could become an unrestricted free agent if he chooses to exercise his early termination option, could in theory be an addition to the three-star core the Heat already have in place. The salary cap math of such a signing, though, only checks out if James, Wade and Bosh all opt out of their own deals as well. Each of those three is slated to make $20+ million in 2014-15, which -- when supplemented by Norris Cole's $2 million guaranteed salary -- is enough to put Miami over the projected salary cap ($63.2 million). A mutual opt-out between all three stars would clear the Heat's cap almost entirely; Cole would be on the books along with player options for Udonis Haslem ($4.6 million) and Chris Andersen ($1.5 million), leaving room for James, Wade, Bosh and Anthony to all sign on new deals.
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From there, Miami could go about trying to sign those four stars in a few different ways, all of which would require significant pay cuts across the board. When James and Bosh joined the Heat in 2010, their contracts kicked off with a first-year salary of $14.5 million. Making room for Anthony this summer would likely require re-upping on an even smaller deal at a time when all three stars have much higher earning potential. It was remarkable that all three max-worthy free agents were willing to make slight concessions to play together, but it would be considerably more so were four stars to leave $7-8 million apiece on the table in first-year salary alone. The arrangement is possible, but even superteam aspirations have their limits.
That won't keep Riley and the Heat from trying to make the numbers work, nor should it. Anthony is in some ways an odd fit with the Heat, but he has the potential to make the best offense of the 2014 playoffs even more potent. In that, there's distinct competitive value in this kind of addition even if it does nothing to rectify specific weaknesses. Anthony is not a rim protector. He's no defensive ace, nor would he dramatically improve Miami's team rebounding. He is, however, a high-order shot creator capable of spelling James, hedging against Wade's absences and spacing the floor. Anthony would have to make some changes to his game in the same way that Bosh did upon signing with the Heat, spurred by the promise of contending for a title.
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Maybe Anthony is ready to take that plunge: The pay cut, the supporting role, the change in responsibility, the statistical depression. Even if so, Anthony's interests aren't the only ones in play. Stein's report notes that James might be willing to sacrifice some salary on a new contract as a tradeoff for off-court business interests. Anthony could perhaps benefit similarly, as might Wade and Bosh to a lesser extent. But before we even get that far, where is the motivation for Haslem -- who, again, has a player option that could complicate this entire, delicate arrangement -- to drop his $4.6 million player option when he's unlikely to fetch much more than the veteran minimum on the open market? That would be an incredible gift, even for a player with as positive and long-lasting a relationship as Haslem's with the Heat.
All of which brings us to the stark difference between possibility and plausibility. Anthony could wind up signing in Miami as a free agent this summer. To do so, though, he would need to decide to opt out of his deal, pass on the chance to re-up with the Knicks, concede well into eight figures over the life of a new contract and decide to sign with the Miami over every other suitor (Chicago, Houston, etc.). The Heat, meanwhile, would need to get four stars with distinct interests on the same page as far as their free agency, convince three of them to opt out and then take far less than they could reasonably demand, talk Anthony into a very different role than he's accustomed to, convince Haslem (and perhaps Andersen) to drop his option, likely ditch their first-round pick and renounce the cap hold of every other player on their current roster. Every facet of the above is possible. Working out all of those threads to precision and mutual satisfaction, however, seems rather unlikely at the least.
Yet when the boldest franchise in the NBA examines its options in this fashion, we have no choice but to pay close attention. The idea of uniting Wade with James and Bosh was implausible once. Now it's the status quo -- a fall-back option if Miami's latest outlandish play doesn't quite work out.
Salary data courtesy of Sham Sports.
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