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January 16, 2014

Exploring looming challenges of keeping Heat together; Fins, Marlins, Canes chatter


This week's trade of Joel Anthony somewhat eases the Heat’s luxury-tax hit, but serious financial constraints await this summer, especially if the Big Three doesn’t wish to again play at a discount.

Even in unloading the $3.8 million that Anthony was due next season, the Heat likely will need to surround LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh mostly with minimum salary players next season to avoid an overwhelming tax hit, unless Wade and Bosh take significant pay cuts. And a pay cut is difficult to envision in Bosh’s case and questionable in Wade’s case, considering he already has sacrificed significantly and has pocketed less than James and Bosh each of the past three seasons, as well as this one.

Some points to consider:

### James and Bosh would make $20.59 million next season if they don’t exercise opt-out clauses in July. If they opt out, the most they could earn next season likely would be slightly less --- $20.56 million, NBA salary cap expert Larry Coon tells us. The point of opting out, in that case, would be to sign a multiyear contract or consider other teams.

By opting out, all three would be eligible to receive five years and 7.5 percent annual raises from the Heat, compared with four years and 4.5 percent raises from another team. So James could earn more by staying here.

Wade, who turns 32 on Friday, would make $20.04 million if he doesn’t opt out. He could theoretically make slightly more if he opts out. But if he chooses free agency, it’s safe to assume he wouldn’t be getting a raise. Instead, he likely would be taking less money in exchange for more years.

Remember that the original contracts signed by the Big Three were six-year deals, with opt-out clauses after the fourth and fifth years, meaning the next two summers. None has definitively said if they will opt out.

### Next season’s projected cap is $62.1 million and projected tax threshold is $75.7 million. So let’s say the Big Three stays in Miami at the salaries they are due to earn next season in their current contracts. That would add up to $61 million.

Throw in the $2.15 million due Norris Cole, $4.6 million for Udonis Haslem (who assuredly won’t opt out) and $1.6 million for Chris Andersen (who probably won’t opt out, either), and that’s $69.57 million.

And Miami would still have nine roster spots to fill, which would put it over the tax threshold. (Pat Riley said Wednesday he doesn’t want to discuss next season’s luxury tax issues with the media, at least not now.)

But let’s say Wade and Bosh each settle for $18 million next season. That would bring the payroll down to $65 million. Finding a team to take the last year of Haslem’s contract (difficult) would drop it close to $60 million if Miami doesn't take back anything but an expiring contract.

That would make it easier for Miami to re-sign Mario Chalmers and/or use its taxpayer mid-level exception (which will be $3.27 million) and/or use its $2.2 million trade exception without sustaining a crushing tax hit.

### If Wade and Bosh don’t agree to take less, then the nine remaining roster spots likely would be filled with mostly or all minimum contracts, with the Heat likely hoping to persuade Greg Oden (if healthy and productive) and perhaps Michael Beasley to sign minimum deals again.

Shane Battier and Ray Allen said they haven’t decided whether they will play next season. Re-signing Chalmers --- who’s earning $4 million now and might command a raise this summer --- would be very painful financially in this scenario.

Young players could fill a couple spots, perhaps forward James Ennis (who's playing in Australia) and the Heat’s first-round pick this June.

And the Heat again would try to find veteran free agents who have earned a lot in their careers and ask them to take the minimum here.

Impending free agents who could fall into that category include Paul Pierce (hard to envision him playing here at the minimum, but then again, Ray Allen did), Kris Humphries, Shawn Marion, Antawn Jamison, Chris Kaman, Caron Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Marvin Williams, Boris Diaw and Al Harrington, among others.

By the way, the tax hit on signing a 10-year veteran at the $1.4 million minimum is $500,000 below the $1.4 million, but only if it’s a one-year contract. That makes signing players to the minimum even more appealing for teams hoping to avoid a tax hit.

### The tax is a big deal to the Heat because it becomes a lot more punitive next season. Because the Heat was a tax-paying team the past two seasons and this one, Miami will have to pay a repeater tax next season, combined with the regular tax.

Bottom line: If the Heat is $4 million over the tax threshold next season, its tax bill would be $10 million. If the Heat is $10 million over, the tax bill would top $26 million.


### How badly has the Heat's defense fallen off? This is pretty alarming: The Heat has dropped to 23rd in field-goal percentage against (46.1) after finishing second, fifth and sixth in the first three years of the Big Three Era.

What's more, Miami has been in the top 10 in this category all but twice in the past 14 years, and only once below 13th: The 15-67 team in 2007-08 was 25th.

Who’s to blame? Synergysports.com, which analyzes every play, rates two Heat players as poor defensively this season: Allen and Haslem, who has allowed opponents to shoot an incredible 37 of 59 against him. Three rotation players were rated average, based on points allowed per possession: Wade and Battier (who were both graded as “very good” last season) and Rashard Lewis.

### Among uncommitted players, the most highly-regarded prospects being pursued by UM are the nation’s No. 1 receiver, Louisiana-based Malachi Dupre (ESPN's Jeremy Crabtree told me he will visit UM this weekend but “most believe he’s LSU bound”) and Hialeah Champagnat defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (LSU is his leader, but Miami is very much in it).

### Three-star Jacksonville receiver Isaiah Ford, who wants to play both football and basketball, reportedly plans to visit Miami after attracting recent interest. Louisville, South Carolina and Virginia Tech are among others under consideration... UM needs all the quality linebackers it can get, so the Hurricanes have some reason for concern that Pompano Beach Ely prospect/UM oral commitment Terry McCray plans to visit Alabama and LSU. McCray can play inside linebacker (a big need area for UM) as well as outside linebacker.... Several UM coaches on Thursday visited four-star Imokalee cornerback JC Jackson, a soft UF oral commitment who also is considering Miami and FSU.

### Please see the last post for more UM recruiting news from Thursday.

### Expect more balance from new Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor than what we saw from predecessor Mike Sherman. The Dolphins ran on just 35 percent of their offensive snaps in 2013. In his most recent coordinator job, at Virginia from 2010 to 2012, Lazor’s teams ran 49 percent, 53 percent and 47 percent of the time.

Virginia’s offense improved after Lazor arrived but still finished only 73rd, 86th and 95th (of 120 to 124 schools) in scoring in his three years there, averaging between 23 and 25 points each season.

### Minnesota Vikings assistant general manager George Paton, who previously worked in the Dolphins' front office, reportedly became the fourth person to decline an opportunity to interview for Miami's GM job.

### Three Marlins have filed for arbitration but are trying to avoid going, ideally: Giancarlo Stanton, Steve Cishek and Mike Dunn, with a 1 p.m. Friday deadline looming. (The Marlins stop negotiations after that deadline.)

Cishek ended the season with an MLB-high 29 consecutive save conversions, and his agent said there’s a “wide gap with where we and the Marlins see Steve’s value.” He could end up making more than $3 million in arbitration.

Stanton could make $5 million or so if he goes to arbitration. He won't be a free agent until after the 2016 season. [Update: Stanton settled with Marlins for $6.5 million, Cishek for $3.8 million].