What's in store for the Heat this offseason?
After being blown away in the 2014 NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs in five games, the Miami Heat’s future seems to be more unpredictable than ever. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James all have the opportunity to test the free agency market this offseason. Bosh has repeatedly mentioned on radio shows and television that he plans on staying in South Beach. Wade has publicly declared that he doesn’t plan on taking another pay cut. James has kept his thoughts private, focusing on the game instead of talking about the future. The team played well down the stretch, but ultimately they did not have enough firepower to defeat a Spurs team that was rolling on all 15 of its cylinders. The Spurs are poised for another title run next year, but what about Miami? The team’s owner, Micky Arison, declared during an ESPN radio interview that the chances of the three players remaining with the team were “one hundred percent”. But what can we realistically expect in this crucial offseason from the Heat? What moves will they make in hopes of returning back to the pinnacle of NBA basketball?
Keeping the Big 3
The most important action that Miami’s management must take in the coming months is retaining the team’s stars: James, Wade, and Bosh. All three have early termination options, and counter intuitively, it may be best for the team if the three stars all opt-out. This way, the players can restructure their contracts, take less money, and create some financial breathing room for Pat Riley to acquire additional contributors in the offseason. In a perfect world all three would sign contracts on the lower end of the fiscal spectrum, but only Bosh and James seem compliant with that notion at the moment. If all three players decide to stick with the Heat for at least one more year, this conversation about the Heat’s future will simply be delayed until next offseason. The best outcome in this situation would be inking up these core pieces with long-term contracts, with Wade taking a hefty pay-cut. It will be a complicated situation but if there is one priority for the Miami Heat this offseason it’s this: Hold onto the best player in the world, LeBron James.
The Wade Conundrum
In all honesty, Wade shouldn’t be making much money anymore. He is an All-Star talent and one of the league’s best guards at his best, but when he only dresses for a third of games his salary fails to match his production. Wade was largely a disappointment in the Finals, which is interesting to note because he loves to insist that the playoffs is all that matters when he has an off night. Still, Wade led Miami to a championship in 2006 and the respect and adoration that he’s earned from the city almost guarantees his stay in South Beach. Pat Riley and Micky Arison will have a difficult time convincing Wade to take less money considering Dwyane’s success was a major reason why LeBron came to Miami in the first place. It will be interesting to see what other teams would offer Dwyane in terms of years and dollars taking into account his 2014 Finals performance.
Shane Battier, one of the NBA’s peskiest defenders, is retiring. He established that in the middle of the season, which in my opinion was not a positive sign of the team’s confidence or health. He’s been checked out since last year though, as his play has been on the decline for a while. Battier’s exceptional defense and occasional burst of shooting will be missed, but overall this loss doesn’t hurt them too badly. Battier is joining ESPN as an analyst, which opens up a new roster spot for the Heat.
Ray Allen has stated that he is thinking about retiring and will announce his decision in the coming days. He played at a high level this past season, but he could get more money elsewhere. The Heat would need him to sign for the minimum in order to construct a better supporting cast and after winning a championship in 2013, it’s hard to be sure if Allen is willing to make that sacrifice once again. The Heat should be looking to get younger, so maybe it’s time to let Allen go and find someone with fresher legs who can fill his role off the bench.
There should be plenty of room on the Heat roster next season, as a good portion of the players in Miami are slated to become free agents this offseason. Though veterans like James Jones, Udonis Haslem, and Rashard Lewis will probably sign for little money in order to return to the team, there are others who will be taking a different approach to contract negotiations.
The Miami Heat have problems at the point guard position. Mario Chalmers was benched in favor of Norris Cole during the 2014 Finals, but neither guard played well enough to earn Coach Spoelstra’s confidence. It may be better at this point for Chalmers and the Heat to part ways, but this doesn’t mean another franchise won’t recognize his value. Look for him to excel in another city once he finds his place. Norris Cole played well against Indiana and is a serviceable back up, but Miami desperately needs a high-level ball handler not named LeBron James. Kyle Lowry, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas are all outstanding guards that will be looking for a new home this summer. But Miami doesn’t have enough money to bring one of them in. More reasonable options include Nick “Swaggy P” Young of the Lakers and Ramon Sessions of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat need a starter here but can afford to take a below average player due to James’ ability to play point. They’re looking for someone who can create off the dribble, operate the pick and roll, and defend. If Chalmers isn’t back, they’ll search long and hard to find their guy this offseason.
Center is another position where the Heat are troubled. Chris “Birdman” Andersen is showing signs of his age and could probably secure more money in a deal with a different team. The Greg Oden experiment was a failure and who knows if he’ll be back in Miami next year or even in the NBA. Heck, he may be in a wheelchair within the next six months the way his knee strength is dwindling. Bosh has always been a stretch at the 5. What the Heat want is a solid rebounder and inside presence that can occupy a big man on both offense and defense. This would be an answer to the likes of Roy Hibbert or a potential matchup with Dwight Howard in the Finals. Marcin Gortat and Greg Monroe could solve the problem in a hurry for the Heat, but this is only if they are willing to earn less money than they are worth. Otherwise, free agents like Spencer Hawes and Jermaine O’Neal, if available, would get looks from Miami.
There are other ways to build a team than through free agency. James Ennis, a developing Miami Heat draft pick, will likely upgrade from the D-League to the 15-man squad this coming season. Ennis is athletic and has played well on the Heat’s farm team, but he will have to prove himself early in the NBA. As a small forward, hopefully Ennis will be able to extend the longevity of LeBron James’ career by relieving the King when he needs a breather. The Heat are not used to building a team from the draft like the Spurs have, but getting a boost of energy and youth from Ennis in the 2015 season would be a step in the right direction.
The Big Four?
The rumors have been rampant about Carmelo Anthony coming to Miami. Technically, the Heat have the cap room and flexibility to make it work. Considering Melo’s uneventful and distressful career in New York, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him leave town. But would he go to Miami? Don’t they already have enough scorers? Sources have reported that the Heat have been exploring that option. And Melo, looking for his first championship despite being a perennial MVP contender, might be willing to listen. He would be leaving more than $50 million on the table, but there’s no state income tax in Florida and he would be able to further his brand in Miami. The Bulls, Rockets, and Celtics will be intensely competing for Anthony’s services, but if Melo wants to join the enemy instead of attempting to beat them, he may decide to sign with the Heat. That’s a big if, though. Over the course of Carmelo’s career he’s proven two things: No. 1: He’s a prolific scorer and No. 2: He loves money. He might be more mature after struggling mightily in New York, but odds are this dream scenario doesn’t play out the way that Miami fans hope it will.
These options all sound terrific, but ultimately it depends upon the cap room that is freed up after the Big Three make their respective decisions. If any of the Heat’s stars choose to leave town, the entire roster may be facing an overhaul in free agency. In the end, the fate of the Heat’s franchise rests in the hands of #6. Your move, Mr. James. The Heat, and the rest of the NBA, await.