When the Heat dealt two first-round picks in a package for Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, they acquired the Bird rights to a valuable player, but lost all leverage in doing so. Dragic and his agent, Rade Filipovich, are aware of Miami’s situation. The Heat have nearly $60 million in committed salary without accounting for the cap holds of Dragic and Dwyane Wade, meaning that Miami would not have adequate means to replace either should they leave.
That kind of power has historically nudged teams to pay whatever is necessary to keep players of this caliber. Surprisingly, Dragic let the Heat off relatively easy. Multiple reports indicate that the former All-NBA point guard has agreed to return to Miami on a five-year, $90 million deal—well below the max when Dragic could have demanded it. While we don’t yet know the exact structure of the deal (save that the last year is a player option), Dragic’s compromise may have allowed the Heat to format his salary to level out or even dip in 2016-17 when Hassan Whiteside will enter free agency without full Bird rights and the pursuit of Kevin Durant will begin in earnest.
To squeeze the salaries of Dragic, Wade, Whiteside, and an impact free agent under even the vaulted 2016-17 salary cap will require real ingenuity. That very mix will also, in the interim, likely send the reluctant Heat into luxury tax territory unless they manage to shed salary. Chris Andersen, Josh McRoberts, and Mario Chalmers could all be realistic salary dump candidates should Miami move into that mode, though giving up any of the three would sacrifice depth on an already shallow roster.
That said, a starting five solidified by Dragic and a returning Wade has a chance to be one of the best in the league. The lineup in question actually didn’t play a single minute together last season; the timing was as such that Dragic’s first game in Miami came just after Chris Bosh, whose season ended after a blood clot was found in his lung, had played his last of the year. With Bosh's return the Heat to the lineup and Dragic's return in free agency, the Heat could have dual pick-and-roll ball handlers, an outstanding shooting big and a powerful finisher in the frontcourt, and a fill-the-gaps wing picking up the toughest defensive assignments and cutting to maintain offensive balance.
Dragic, as much as any of those starters, is the piece that makes that complete vision work. He is the shot-creation insurance policy if (when?) Wade should again go down with injury. His aggressive drives, once worked into Miami’s continuity, should unlock even more opportunities for its efficient bigs. Dragic is experienced in working opposite another ball-handler from his time in Phoenix and has shot well enough to help stretch the floor. His upgrade over the likes of Chalmers and Shabazz Napier is so significant as to make the healthy, full-speed Heat a legitimately dangerous team. That’s ultimately where Miami aims to be, even if it could do without the luxury tax repercussions.