- With Chris Bosh off the books, the Heat face a critical decision this summer: Do they add to last year's overachieving cast or do they undergo a full-scale rebuild?
While the NBA playoffs are still going on, the 2017 off–season is rapidly approaching for many teams with massive decisions to make. CBA expert Danny Leroux breaks down the major challenges and opportunities for the Miami Heat in The Crossover's NBA Summer Preview series.
With Friday’s news that Chris Bosh’s tenure with the Heat has reached a dispiriting conclusion, Miami’s off-season has come into clearer focus. Moving his $25.3 million off the books takes a heavy burden off the Heat's cap sheet. Pat Riley and the team's front office needs to figure out where they want to go from here, because they shocked the league with a 30–11 close to the season after an 11-30 start, but retaining key contributors from that team will be significantly more expensive for next season and moving forward. Should Miami rebuild or reload?
Here are three key storylines to watch for the Heat this off-season:
• Cap Space: Miami has a dynamic with their cap space that was far more common last summer thanks to Tyler Johnson’s unusual contract. Due to the offer sheet he signed with the Nets last year, Johnson will make $5.9 million in 2017-18 and then $19.2 million the following season, making it much more logical for the Heat to spend in 2017 than 2018. However, Miami needs to avoid the trap that befell so many franchises last season, as imprudent spending carries serious long-term consequences.
• Dion Waiters: The enigmatic shooting guard revitalized his career in Miami this season after being cut loose by the Thunder. Waiters averaged 15.8 points per game and the Heat would have likely made the playoffs if he dids not suffer a major ankle sprain in mid-March. He is now in an unusual circumstance as a former top-five pick who is an unrestricted free agent at just 25 years old—yet possesses serious value. Since he only played in Miami for one season, the team only possesses non-Bird rights, which in his case means they need to use cap space to retain him. The negotiations will be especially complicated because of the likely variance in other teams' offers and Waiters’s well-publicized desire to stay with the Heat.
• James Johnson: Like Waiters, Johnson is a non-Bird free agent since he signed with Miami on a one-year contract. A long-term deal is a different proposition for the 30-year-old veteran whose combination of defense and three-point shooting (34% in 2016-17) will compel contenders and playoff hopefuls alike. It feels more likely that Johnson will parlay a successful season in Miami into a contract somewhere else—Miami also has Justise Winslow returning—but he was a meaningful part of what made the second half of their season so remarkable.
Potential Free Agents: Dion Waiters (Unrestricted, declined $3M Player Option), James Johnson (Unrestricted), Wayne Ellington (Non-Guaranteed), Luke Babbitt (Unrestricted), Willie Reed (Unrestricted, declined Player Option), Udonis Haslem (Unrestricted) and Okaro White (Non-Guaranteed)
Likely Summer of 2017 Cap Space: $31.1 million
Realistic Maximum Summer of 2017 Cap Space (using $101M estimate): $37.1 million
2017 Draft Assets: Own first round pick (14th overall). Owe second–round pick to Philadelphia.
Potential Targets: It is never wise to write off Miami with elite free agents, but it looks like Gordon Hayward will have more dynamic suitors this summer. If he is off the board, the front office needs to decide where they want to go for the next few years. Going after Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap would be a fascinating win-now move that lines up with Goran Dragic’s timeline but they could easily pivot and look more towards the future. Since Waiters and Johnson would have to re-sign using cap space, they factor in here as well and will be clear calibrators of where Riley wants to take the team. One big benefit for Miami is that they have cultivated a reputation as a place for talented players to revitalize their careers and get in the best shape of their lives, meaning they should be able to attract low-cost talent to ensure reliable depth.
Pressure Scale: 8. This pretty much has to be the summer for the Heat considering Johnson’s unusual contract that will be very hard to move with the massive pay bump and Miami still owing Phoenix two first–round picks to complete the Dragic trade. That said, it would be possible for Riley to shift focus to their young talent, with this year’s No. 14 pick added in to that mix. It is unclear if this will matter but their 2018 first–round pick is only top-seven protected (unprotected in 2019) and it would be hard for a team coached by Erik Spoelstra to fall that far without wholesale change. Either way, the rubber will meet the road this summer with notable free agents and likely expiring cap space.
State of the Franchise: To be determined, partially. While it looks like Miami has factors lined up which indicate win-now pressure, the possibility of looking to the future should not be overlooked. As of this moment, the only significant contracts the Heat have on the books beyond this season are Dragic, Johnson and Hassan Whiteside. The Heat could create max space in 2018 by moving one of the three if they do not make significant additions this off-season. That said, it would be hard to slam the brakes on a team that ended last year on such an encouraging run. A more likely outcome is that they try to bring back Waiters and/or Johnson on reasonable deals while making a run at a high-level free agent like Hayward or Griffin. If either of them takes their talents to South Beach, the Heat become a clear-cut playoff team and possibly a first-round host in the playoffs. If not, they can look at some of the lower tier options and take the more patient approach. Considering their well-established ability to attract elite talent and rehabilitate value, the Heat are a team worth watching this off-season.