SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The most pertinent question of this Heat offseason: What can $3.1 million get you? It landed Miami a pretty significant piece last December, with Shane Battier’s signing looking much smarter today than two months ago.
Beyond trades, the only avenues for the Heat to improve are the $3.1 million mini-mid level exception given to tax-paying teams, veteran’s minimum contracts topping $1 million and the 27th pick in Thursday’s draft.
If Mike Miller is ruled out for next season after back surgery (which remains to be seen), the Heat could apply for a $2.9 million disabled player's exception, as well. (Houston was awarded one for Yao Ming and Portland for Greg Oden in the past couple years.)
The Heat will be judicious with the exception because it will be at least $7 million over the luxury tax threshold, with the tax becoming more onerous in 2013-14. The hope would be to find a quality player – such as Steve Nash, Lamar Odom or Ray Allen – willing to settle for less to play here.
If Miller, who’s due $5.8 million next season, retires or is amnestied, the tax would be less of an immediate concern. A look at Miami’s options entering free agency July 1:
### Power rotation: Miami doesn’t have a strong chance of finding a center good enough to warrant moving Chris Bosh back to power forward, and the Heat is comfortable with keeping Bosh at center.
Perhaps the only affordable, somewhat appealing center option would be Kwame Brown, who got $7 million from Golden State last December but played just nine games before tearing his pectoral muscle while defending Udonis Haslem. He averaged 7.9 points and 6.8 rebounds for Charlotte two years ago and his price tag will be lower off injury.
The Heat is in no position to land free agents Kevin Garnett, Marcus Camby (insists he wants to stay in Houston), Tim Duncan (will stay with the Spurs), Chris Kaman or Spencer Hawes, or probably even Jordan Hill or Ian Mahinmi.
All that’s left are cheap backup types:Aaron Gray, Jermaine O'Neal, Jason Collins, Nazr Mohammed, Daniel Orton, Joel Pryzbilla, undersized Boris Diaw. None are better than what Miami already has.
Here’s a better option: Leave Bosh at center and add a rotation-worthy power forward to supplement Haslem and Battier, who proved he can play either forward spot.
Odom, 32, would be appealing if both he and the Mavericks agree to a buyout, as expected; he averaged 14.4 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Lakers in 2010-11. Odom always has liked the Heat, even after being traded, but reportedly prefers a return to Los Angeles – with either the Clippers or the Lakers (who could not re-sign him until Dec. 11, per NBA rules). And it’s questionable if he would settle for $3 million.
Also worth exploring would be a $3.2 million bid to Cavaliers power forward Antawn Jamison (17.2 points, 6.3 rebounds), though he presumably will command more elsewhere, even at age 36.
If Odom or Jamison don’t materialize here (and the odds are against both), it would make sense to use the $3.2 million exception on a bench scorer who can back up Dwyane Wade or play with Wade at times - perhaps Allen or Jamal Crawford.
Under that scenario, Miami then could address the power rotation by adding a power forward at the veteran’s minimum from the likes of Reggie Evans, Shelden Williams and Kenyon Martin.
Forget the top restricted free agent big men: Roy Hibbert, Omer Asik, Javale McGee, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez and Marreese Speights. All are out of Miami’s price range. The Heat is aware of Greg Oden’s interest, but he might sit out next season while getting healthy.
### Point guard: The Heat is expected to be among several teams that will at least place a call inquiring about Nash, who averaged 10.7 assists (second in the league) and led all NBA guards by shooting 53.2. Though Nash has publicly expressed interest in Miami, it would be surprising if he takes $3 million; the Suns reportedly plan to offer $10 million a year. A Canadian report Friday listed Phoenix, Portland and Toronto as front-runners.
“I’m considering everything at the moment,” Nash told Slam Magazine a week ago. “I would love to win a championship, yes. But I’m not one of those people who believe I must win one to have a fulfilling career. So other factors such as salary, family, playing time, and opportunity for team success also factor in.”
Unless Nash signs here, Miami likely would stick with Mario Chalmers starting and Norris Cole backing up, though several veterans will be available for modest money (Jason Kidd, Kirk Hinrich, Keyon Dooling, Derek Fisher). Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, Andre Miller and Goran Dragic are too expensive, and Chauncey Billups reportedly wants to stay with the Clippers.
### Small forwards or shooting guards: Guards Allen, 36, and Crawford, 32, reportedly have interest in Miami, but it’s debatable whether either - or Jason Terry, 34, or Grant Hill, 39, for that matter - would take the mini-mid level. Allen might be most likely of those four to accept $3 million. Don’t rule out Brandon Roy, who is 27, has a 19.9 career scoring average, and is planning a comeback after retiring before last season with knee problems.
The need for a bench scorer who can back up Wade will become even greater if Miller doesn’t return.
Other options: Gerald Green, Randy Foye, Mickael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels, Anthony Parker, Matt Barnes, Von Wafer and Michael Redd. Nick Young, Marco Belinelli and Carlos Delfino probably would be too pricey.
### Juwan Howard and Eddy Curry are the Heat’s free agents, and Terrel Harris is a restricted free agent. The Heat has a team option on Dexter Pittman. Ronny Turiaf must decide whether to exercise a $1.2 million player option.
MORE HEAT CHATTER
### After meeting with doctors, Wade will decide in the next week or so whether to have knee surgery and miss the Olympics.
### The admiration for LeBron James was evident on Twitter Friday. “Great year for LeBron – comes out a winner on all counts,” Minnesota’s Kevin Love tweeted. “LeBron James [equals] NBA champion. I wonder if this will set in for Skip Bayless.”… Tweeted Metta World Peace: “LeBron is playing exactly how any superstar should – unselfish [and] together.”
### Yankees star Alex Rodriguez said, “I was very happy for [LeBron] and I know he’s going to take a deep breath now and really enjoy the rest of his career. We probably haven’t seen the best of him and I think we will now.”
### As Oklahoma City players met with the media for a final time Saturday, Kevin Durant admitted crying after Game 5 and said, “I’m not ashamed of it. If you put that much into it, you’re allowed to cry.” Asked if he could see himself and LeBron having a Bird/Magic type rivalry, he said: “Well, I hope so. I would enjoy that.”
### Meanwhile, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Saturday: “LeBron, it wasn’t natural what you were seeing on the court. He was at a special level that I’ve never seen before.” Classy move from Brooks to tell his players in a late-game huddle that Miami beat them “fair and square” and that he expected them to to shake Heat players’ hands afterward.
### James closed these Finals with 14 points (4 for 7 from the field) in clutch situations using the NBA’s statistical definition (final five minutes of games with a margin of five or fewer). In last year’s Finals, he shot 0 for 7 in clutch moments, with no points and no free throw attempts.... James will appear on David Letterman's show on CBS Tuesday night.
### While Heat players were spending more than $200,000 at Club LIV after winning the title, Pat Riley had a quiet dinner at Prime 112, where he received a standing ovation when he walked in at 2:45 a.m. and was approached with congratulations from Charles Oakley and Tim Hardaway. Also at Prime that night: Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, sitting silently at a corner table (which he requested) and looking miserable.
### Rip job of the week: Former Jets defensive lineman Kris Jenkins, now a New York-area broadcaster, on Sirius XM Radio: “Chad Ochocinco is all about self. I don’t think [his act] has any positive place in football. It’s really in his best interests to stick to reality TV, instead of possibly weighing a team down because he wants to go out there and be pretty. It is definitely going to be to the detriment of the Miami Dolphins. They don’t have the type of talent to get things done.”
### But Ochocinco was impressive at minicamp last week. Roberto Wallace and Julius Pruitt appeared to be the best of the receivers battling behind Ochocinco, Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee.
### Dolphins safety Reshad Jones – who has emerged as a heavy favorite to start - says he has no grudge against Jake Long, who tore into him in front of everybody last week when Jones made contact with David Garrard on a blitz at minicamp (a no-no), and Long ran on the field shouting: “Reshad, don’t [expletive] touch the quarterback, [expletive] hole.”
Jones cursed back and explained later: “When coaches tell me to let off, that’s when I will. Jake was just mad because I had a sack on him.”
### The Marlins are looking to trade for outfield help but do not want to take on a lot of payroll. Among others, they are open to trading first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who has hit just .208 since last year’s All-Star break, but his value has plummeted.
### FIU is closing in on a raise (from $550,000) and extension (through 2016) for Mario Cristobal, who rejected offseason overtures from Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Houston and Southern Mississippi.
Note: For an amusing look back at some of the best of the worst, so to speak, that was said about the Heat this season, see our last post.