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Sunday buzz column: Exploring Heat's longterm future; Dolphins, UM, Marlins chatter


Now that the dust has settled after LeBron James’ move to Cleveland, a few points to consider on the Heat’s future:

### Everyone is pointing to Kevin Durant’s free agency in the summer of 2016. What's encouraging is that the Heat has only about $29 million in guaranteed cap commitments for 2016-17, with the prospect of an $80 million cap, according to ESPN projections.

But Durant easily could stay in Oklahoma City (“I love it here,” he said recently) or go to his hometown Washington (he admired James for returning to his roots) or sign with another marquee-market team with a lot of cap space that summer (Lakers, Bulls, Knicks).

So even though Durant owns a condo in Miami --- he’s remodeling it but hasn’t decided whether to sell it --- Durant would be more wishful thinking than a likelihood for the Heat. So if not Durant, then what could Miami do to build a team to genuinely compete with the James/Kevin Love/Kyrie Irving troika in Cleveland?

The hope in that scenario would be to land blue-chippers from among a 2016 free agent class potentially including centers Dwight Howard (if he opts out of $23.2 million), Joakim Noah, Al Horford and David Lee, and wing players Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, Danilo Galinari, Nicolas Batum and Chandler Parsons (opt out), Brandon Jennings, Joe Johnson and declining Deron Williams. Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade will be free agents that summer but look like lifers with their franchises.

That’s not a long list of quality players considering most teams will have at least $10 million in 2016 cap space, as Pat Riley noted. But here’s the big caveat: The list of 2016 free agents will grow if some of the top players in a deep 2015 class take contracts with player options after one season, which is very likely.

That 2015 class, some of which will be available again in 2016, includes DeAndre Jordan, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Danny Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Goran Dragic, Marc Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Monta Ellis, Tyson Chandler, Thaddeus Young, Wesley Matthews, Rudy Gay, Corey Brewer, Amir Johnson, Robin Lopez and Brook Lopez and potentially, Love, Greg Monroe, Eric Bledsoe, Roy Hibbert and David West.

### If the cap rises as much as projected, the Heat would have enough to sign one max-caliber player and a pretty good player (or two good but not max players) in 2016 to complement Chris Bosh and Wade. But signing two new max-caliber players would be unrealistic because max contracts would rise significantly if the cap rises.

Cap expert Larry Coon said max contracts will increase from $3.8 million to $5.3 million per year (depending on years of experience) if the cap jumps by $15 million in 2016. That would make James and Howard eligible for potentially $27 million in 2016-17.

And with teams flush with cap space in 2016, there would be little incentive for a Horford or DeRozan to take substantially less to sign anywhere.

Besides Bosh at $23.7 million and Josh McRoberts at $5.7 million, the Heat’s only other cap commitments for 2016-17 are Shabazz Napier (team option at $1.3 million) and James Ennis, if still around, with a non-guaranteed $980,431.

The Heat’s flexibility will depend, to an extent, on whether Miami adds any long-term salary next summer (probably not much, if any) and whether Wade --- who’s curious to see what he can command with a higher cap --- would take another big cut from the $16.1 million he’s due in 2015-16.

Another factor: Will Bosh and Wade still be top players at that point, to the point that other stars want to join them here?

### What about accelerating the plan a year and making major upgrades next summer? That’s not how the Heat has positioned itself; Miami already has $74.3 million in 2015-16 commitments, with the cap projected to fall at $66.3 million.

That commitment number would fall if Luol Deng opts out of his $10.1 salary for 2015-16, if the Heat parts with Norris Cole (restricted free agent with a $3 million qualifying number next summer) and if Danny Granger ($2.2 million) opts out.

But that still wouldn’t be enough to be a major player in free agency next summer unless Wade opts out, which he sounds disinclined to do.

Riley could be tempted to blow it up a year earlier if this team flops. But he wouldn’t have the space to sign another star and he seems resolute about waiting to 2016.

The Heat will have a midlevel exception of close to $6 million next summer, with Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer among those potentially shopping in that mid-level market.

### High-level Heat people have been telling people this team will surprise people and will be better than people think. We’ll see. One pointed to defensive deficiencies in Cleveland’s roster.

“There are a lot of people counting us out,” Udonis Haslem said last week. “We still think we can compete for the Eastern Conference title.”

### The Heat lost out in its pursuit of free agent forward Shawn Marion, who reportedly has agreed to terms with Cleveland.

### Ray Allen is understandably peeved that the Coral Gables police filed no criminal charges against the teenagers who walked univited into his home late Wednesday night. If you missed it, please see our post from Friday night to read Allen's comments and remarks from his attorney.

In response to Allen's comments, the Coral Gables PD said it's now working with the Allen family and the State Attorney's Office regarding the possible filing of charges.

Here's how the Gables PD responded this weekend to Allen's comments:

"After further investigation and completion of the suspect interviews, the detectives, following established procedure, consulted with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office.  Upon learning from the detectives that, although the individuals had entered the residence, there was no proof that they had the intent to commit any crimes inside, the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office advised the detectives that no arrests should be made at that time, in that, the elements of a Burglary had not been met. 

"The Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office advised that the appropriate charge in this case was the crime of Trespass in an occupied structure, a misdemeanor.  Law enforcement officers are not permitted by Florida law to make an arrest for a Trespass of this nature unless the crime occurs in their presence. Accordingly, the Coral Gables Police Department is continuing to work with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office and will work with the Allen Family regarding the filing of criminal charges."


### What if Jake Heaps (a former starter for BYU and Kansas) and freshman Brad Kaaya end up about even in the UM quarterback competition? “If it’s dead even, then the experience probably overrides not having it,” offensive coordinator James Coley said Friday.

Besides his ability to see the field, coaches love Kaaya’s instincts, accuracy and knack for escaping pressure with his feet. UM people cite Heaps’ pre-snap recognition among his greatest strengths.

Kaaya’s high school coach said he’s not a typical teenager. As Kaaya noted Friday: “I would stay up until 1 a.m. on school nights watching film in high school. I sacrificed having that social life and going out a lot.”

He was very superstitious earlier in his life --- he felt he needed to knock on wood four times before he put on his helmet --- but stopped doing that last year because “I figured I don’t need it. Let my talent just win games.”

Kaaya has established relationships with two Heisman Trophy winning UM quarterbacks: Vinny Testaverde (“I’ve talked to him a whole bunch”) and Gino Torretta (“he gave me good advice”). He studies New England’s Tom Brady a lot on tape because the Patriots “run a lot of our play fakes, play actions and protections.”

### As for Kevin Olsen, we hear his suspension was not an extension of last year’s bowl suspension but a new one for a new failed drug test.

For now, I’m definitely here longterm,” Olsen responded when I asked him about possibly transferring. An associate say Olsen was discouraged when Heaps was brought aboard, though Olsen insists he never viewed it as “a bad thing.”

### The representation for tight end Charles Clay, the Dolphins’ most important 2015 unrestricted free agent, has spoken to the team about a new deal, but said nothing has materialized. The Dolphins are holding off for now, though that could change at any time. Waiting, should they choose to continue to take that approach, would allow them to make sure his surgically-repaired knee (which was aggravated two weeks ago) holds up and that he repeats last season's breakout year.

Clay had much better numbers last year (69 catches for 759 yards) than Kyle Rudolph (30-313), who recently landed a five-year, $36 million deal with Minnesota.

Clay told The Palm Beach Post in Tampa on Saturday night that he definitely will be ready to play in the Dolphins' regular-season opener against New England.

### One Dolphins player said one reason the move of Koa Misi to middle linebacker was needed was that Dannell Ellerbe, now playing weakside, made mental errors and wasn’t quick enough in diagnosing plays and changing the calls at middle linebacker last season.

### Please see the last post for postscripts from the Dolphins-Tampa Bay preseason game.

### Perhaps the Marlins need to stop signing American League catchers coming off career seasons. They were convinced that Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 29, wouldn’t be anything like the John Buck disaster of 2011, but Saltalamacchia’s first season here (.219, 10 homers, 34 RBI and an MLB-catcher-high 12 errors) has been even worse than Buck’s first year here (.227, 16, 57, five errors).

What's more, Saltalamacchia is hitting just .165 with runners in scoring position. There also have been grumblings internally about his defense, but the Marlins believe he will be better next season after a full year in the National League.

If he’s not, they could eventually trade him back to an AL team (he’s due $7 million in 2015, $8 million in 2016), especially if well-regarded prospect J.T. Realmuto (.295, 6, 51 at Double A) keeps emerging. Realmuto easily has surpassed Rob Brantly (.259, 3, 31 at Triple A) as a prospect. “I would have expected better,” a National League scout said of Saltalamacchia. “His swing is too long.”

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... And again, please see last night's post for a lot more Dolphins chatter.