The impact of Whiteside's emergence on Heat's cap, priorities moving forward; UM recruiting; Dolphins, Marlins
TUESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
If Hassan Whiteside continues to show he’s a quality starting center, it will significantly impact Heat personnel moves and Miami’s allocation of cap space over the next few years.
A few points to consider:
### Whiteside --– who is first in the NBA in blocks and second in rebounds (both per 48 minutes) and fifth in field-goal percentage --- is making $769,881 this season and $981,348 next season.
He will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016, when the Heat could have anywhere from $47 million to $62 million in cap space, depending on how dramatically the cap jumps when the new TV contract takes effect that year.
According to different media reports, the cap is expected to rise from a projected $66 million next season to $80 million to $87 million the following year.
Whiteside will have Early Bird rights, meaning the Heat can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him to a two-or three- or four-year deal, but only if it’s with a starting salary of no more than 108 percent of the NBA’s average salary in 2015-16, with annual raises of 7.5 percent. But that would mean a new contract for Whiteside would start in the range of $6.5 million or so, which would not be enough to re-sign him using Early Bird rights if he continues to perform at this level.
So the Heat likely would need to use some of its ample cap space to sign him, rather than being able to exceed the cap to re-sign him. That would eat into Miami's cap space, though it's well worth it if Whiteside continues to play like this.
### If Whiteside keeps this up, the Heat figures to consider moving Josh McRoberts’ four-year, $23 million contract, which pays him $5.8 million in 2016-17 and $6.02 million in 2017-18 (player option). McRoberts already has been dangled in a rejected proposal for Nets center Brook Lopez, according to Yahoo!
There’s also the very unlikely option of dealing Chris Bosh if Pat Riley concludes this nucleus, with additions, isn’t good enough and decides to blow it all up eventually. (No, we don't expect that to happen. But can anything completely be ruled out with Riley?)
### If Whiteside keeps flourishing, the Heat’s focus in free agency this summer and 2016 will likely be perimeter players --- shooters and point guards.
Even if Luol Deng opts out of the $10.1 million due him next season in the second year of a two-year deal (which seems unlikely) and if the Heat moves on from Norris Cole (which seems likely), Miami still wouldn’t have big cap space this summer, unless it also trades McRoberts or Chris Andersen.
The likelihood is that the Heat's best chance to upgrade this summer is through trades and using its $6 million mid-level exception. (Miami should be well enough below the tax threshold to be able to use the full mid-level, not the smaller taxpayer's midlevel.)
If Miami uses its midlevel on a point guard, options would include 6-0 Aaron Brooks (averaging 11.4 points and shooting 45.7 percent on threes for Chicago); J.J. Barea or Jameer Nelson (size an issue for both 6-0 guards), 6-2 CJ Watson (10.3 points, 38.2 percent on threes); 6-1 Mo Williams (12.5 points, 6.4 assists for Minnesota) or the Lakers’ 6-3 Jeremy Lin (10.4 points, 4.7 assists).
The Heat also could use its mid-level to try to lure a combo guard who can provide scoring punch (Lou Williams, Jason Terry or Rodney Stuckey) or a wing player such as Corey Brewer (player option), Gerald Green, Wesley Johnson, Marco Belinelli, Mike Dunleavy or cheaper options Gary Neal, Wayne Ellington and Marcus Thornton.
Talented Thunder backup point guard Reggie Jackson, who wants to be a starter and now backs up Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, will be a restricted free agent this summer, and OKC presumably would match an offer at the midlevel.
But he could sign a one-year, $3.2 million qualifying offer with the Thunder this summer and then become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016, when the Heat and others could try to lure him with a big contract. That same option also is available to two other impending restricted free agents: Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight (from Fort Lauderdale Pinecrest) and Houston’s Patrick Beverley.
Beyond those three, there are three starting point guards set for unrestricted free agency in 2016: Mike Conley, Brandon Jennings and George Hill, with Conley obviously the most appealing of that group if the Heat is still searching for a top point guard at that time. Damian Lillard will be restricted in 2016 and Portland presumably would match any offer.
Phoenix's Goran Dragic can be an unrestricted free agent this summer but he's out of the Heat's price range unless Miami drastically sheds salaries.
### If Whiteside keeps playing at this level, the other Heat priority (besides point guard) will be small forward, with Deng’s deal expiring after next season.
After Kevin Durant (whom the Heat and many others figure to target) and potentially LeBron James (who says he isn’t leaving Cleveland), there’s a big drop-off among potentially available small forwards in the 2016 free agent pool, to Chandler Parsons (player option), Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Nic Batum and restricted free agent Harrison Barnes.
Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton could end up available in 2016, depending on what they do as restricted free agents this summer.
So is the sample size big enough for the Heat to know what it has in Whiteside?
Not yet, ESPN’s Hubie Brown said off the air. “We can’t look into the future to see the work ethic, the maturity of dealing with pressure, the coachability,” Brown said.
“He’s in the early stages of catching a pass with his back to the basket. That has to be refined. [But] he’s blessed with great timing, [great] length of arms, great hands. His athletic quickness from side to side is incredible. I’ve been around since 1973 and what he did [against Chicago] was a happening. He’s a diamond in the rough with major upside.”
### Tough few days for UM, which not only lost former oral commitment Jordan Scarlett to UF, but also lost out in battles for Royal Palm Beach offensive tackle Fredrick Johnson (to UF) and four-star St. Thomas Aquinas receiver Devante Peete to Louisville. Peete didn't have UM as a finalist.
### UM’s priorities Wednesday: beating out Kentucky for four-star Washington D.C. based defensive back Marcus Lewis (FSU and Texas are now also in the mix, according to Rivals.com); landing a quality defensive tackle --- either Jacksonville’s Kendrick Norton (UM and Auburn neck-and-neck) or Los Angeles-based Kevin Scott (down to UM, Mississippi, Southern California)... snagging Louisiana-based receiver Terrell Chatman (UM, Arizona State, TCU) and/or luring Booker T. Washington four-receiver Antonio Callaway (will pick UM or UF at 9 a.m. Wednesday)... and luring one of two defensive ends: Delray Beach Atlantic’s Shelton Johnson (UM, FSU, Virginia Tech, Michigan) or New York-based Austrian Robinson (UM, Maryland, Mississippi even).
Also, Orlando four-star running back Dexter Williams will choose between Miami and Notre Dame.
Most, if not all of these players, are expected to announce on Wednesday.
Incidentally, Carol City three-star cornerback Rashad Fenton eliminated UM from consideration; he's down to UF. Louisville and South Carolina.
### Jim Larranaga, on his UM basketball team, which has plunged out of the top 25 after losing two in a row, said: "The difference between this team and a lot of teams I coached in the past is we don't have a low-post threat. [Seven-foot center] Tonye Jekiri is more comfortable shooting the face-up jump shot. It allows opponents to focus on defending strictly the perimeter. They don't have to worry about someone going inside. We don't create enough opportunities out of our defense to create layups."
He says it's hard to find low-post players "when you're being investigated by the NCAA."
UM plays host to Louisville on Tuesday night.
### The Dolphins haven’t told defensive end Dion Jordan if he will move to linebacker, and the front office has decided not to get involved and instruct the coaching staff what to do with him. But Jordan said he can play at 265 pounds regardless of position.
“I just want to be used,” he said. Teammate Jason Trusnik said Jordan “is athletic and smart enough” to be a 4-3 strongside linebacker but “you won’t know until he does it.”
### The Marlins have two players in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects: pitcher Tyler Kolek (27th) and catcher JT Realmuto (70th).
### Quick TV note: With 114.4 million viewers, Super Bowl 49 on NBC was the most-watched program in U.S. TV history, beating the 112.2 million for last year's Super Bowl. Among 56 major markets, Boston had the highest rating (a 61.0) and Miami-Fort Lauderdale the lowest (38.7). Seattle, curiously, was 18th of the 56, with a 52.1. New Orleans was second.... The 47.5 rating for the game (equaling 47.5 percent of U.S. homes with TV sets) was fourth-highest among 49 Super Bowls, according to NBC.