SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
After LeBron James departed this summer, a “devastated” Pat Riley picked himself up and clearly articulated the Heat’s master plan: Be highly competitive this season and next, then try to make a big splash in the treasure trove of 2016 free agency, when the Heat can amass as much as $50 million in cap space, if the new TV contracts result in the huge spike that's widely projected.
The first part of that formula hasn’t gone as envisioned, with the Heat clinging to the eighth seed in the East. Don’t blame Dwyane Wade; he entered Saturday third among shooting guards in scoring (23.2 per game) and first in field-goal percentage (50.9).
Wade was in his 20s when he suffered through the 15-win disaster of 2007-08, then first-round playoffs exits the next two seasons. With his mid-30s creeping up, it isn’t quite as easy to be patient now as Riley eyes 2016.
And Wade, who turns 33 on Jan. 17, cautions there are no assurances the Heat will land another star in 2016.
“As you get older, anytime you’re in a situation where you’re not in the team position you want to be in, the years get shorter every year,” Wade told me recently. “You’re not 21 when you have so many years in front of you where you say, ‘It don’t matter.’ It does matter.
“But you know me. I’ve always been confident in this organization. They’ve always done what they can. I understand every year it’s impossible to be in the Finals. Sometimes you have to build to get to that point.
“For me, I’m not looking at it as, ‘Oh, I’m 32, I’ve got to do it now.’ I’m looking at it as I have to do the best job I can, the best I can with this unit, and if it changes, it changes. If it doesn’t, it’s doesn’t.”
But he also makes clear: "I want to win more than anything."
Asking Wade and Chris Bosh to wait before high-powered reinforcements arrive is probably unavoidable, and Riley is making a pragmatic decision by taking the long view here, as he did by patiently waiting out one hellish year and two mediocre ones before striking gold in 2010 free agency.
Even if Riley wanted to fast-track this rebuilding job, it’s not realistic. Miami already has $74 million in 2015-16 commitments, with the cap projected to fall at $66.3 million.
That commitment number would drop if Luol Deng opts out of his $10.1 salary for 2015-16, if the Heat parts with Norris Cole (who will be a restricted free agent if the Heat makes him a $3 million qualifying offer by July 1) and if Danny Granger ($2.2 million) opts out. But that still wouldn’t be enough to be a major player in free agency this summer unless Wade opts out of his $16.1 million salary next season, which he sounds disinclined to do.
Miami can use its $6 million mid-level exception this summer to add size (free agents include Amare Stoudemire, Luis Scola, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis) or a free agent point guard such as Aaron Brooks, Lou Williams, CJ Watson or Jeremy Lin.
Wade --- who will be a free agent himself in 2016 but has never shown any inclination to leave --- said Riley has not discussed that long-term master plan with him.
Wade helped the Heat last summer by taking a $11 million paycut to $31 million over this season and next, hoping it would help the Heat add talent around him if James left.
But this season so far has been a mess, and Wade said: “I’m not really focused on waiting until 2016. I don’t know what that means. That’s their organization. They do what they want from that standpoint. I’m not involved in that. I’m a player. Whatever decision they make from a 2016 standpoint is on them. The only thing I can control is the decisions I make and what I do.
“Whoever is here, whatever we decide to do, you just want to be competitive. That’s all I ask for myself and for our guys.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen in 2016; 2016, to me, is so far away and I hope people aren’t waiting on it thinking we’re going to land this quote, unquote Big Fish because it might not happen for you. No one knows if Riley is going to wait until 2016. It’s all speculation.”
To be clear, Riley is open to improving the team before 2016, and though he prefers not to take back contracts that extend beyond 2016, he would do it if he could somehow trade for a great player, according to an official in contact with him.
But that seems unlikely because he has limited assets to deal, with the Heat’s 2015 first-round pick (top-10 protected) already traded away to Philadelphia, via Cleveland and Minnesota.
As for the future, the Heat’s only cap commitments for 2016-17 are Bosh at $23.7 million, Josh McRoberts at $5.8 million, and if it chooses, Shabazz Napier (team option at $1.3 million) and James Ennis, with a non-guaranteed $980,431.
Even if Miami cannot land one of the most coveted stars in 2016 --- Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah or Dwight Howard (has an opt out) or Anthony Davis (restricted free agent) --- there will be plenty of other attractive names potentially available: Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan, David Lee, Danilo Galinari, Mike Conley, Nicolas Batum and Chandler Parsons.
Plus, a slew of 2015 free agents figure take deals with opt-outs to become free agents again in 2016, when the cap likely skyrockets. That group could include Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Danny Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe, Eric Bledsoe, Monta Ellis, Tyson Chandler, Thaddeus Young and Roy Hibbert, among others.
For now, Wade is realistic about this roster. “This is what we got guys, this is it,” he said after the embarrassing home loss to Philadelphia.
“Our job is to come in here and whatever team we have to give maximum effort. Sometimes at the end of the year it results in you going to the Finals. Sometimes it results in you being eliminated in the first round.”
### Sun Life Stadium, which can now accommodate 76,000 for football, will plunge in capacity beginning next season to 66,000 (for the Dolphins) and about 55,000 (for UM, according to the school), because of stadium modernization that will put some seats closer to the field and eliminate others.
UM’s decision against selling upper level end zone season tickets accounts for the difference, though additional seats could be opened for select games if UM wishes.
### Two four-star local players recruited by Miami --- Westminster Christian safety Tim Irvin and Booker T. Washington defensive end/tight end Devonaire Clarington --- both announced Saturday they're orally committing to Texas.
But UM snagged an oral commitment from Towson, Md.-based four-star receiver Lawrence Cager, who chose the Hurricanes over Virginia Tech, Alabama and Georgia. Rivals.com rates him the nation's 36th-best receiver.
Cager, 6-5, caught 50 passes for 580 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He said he wants to play with Brad Kaaya and also mentioned his strong relationship with Al Golden and receivers coach Brennan Carroll.
### A day after four-star running back Dexter Williams de-committed from UM, St. Thomas Aquinas four-star running back Jordan Scarlett told The Orlando Sentinel he's "85 percent" committed to the Hurricanes but plans to also visit FSU and UF, which are both pursuing him.
### Former Dolphins receiver Mark Duper has an interesting perspective on the sideline antics of Mike Wallace, whose pouting and initial refusal to go back into last Sunday’s game led to his second-half benching and has left his Dolphins future in jeopardy.
“Mark Clayton got twice as many balls thrown to him as I did,” Duper said. “A couple times, I said to Dan [Marino], ‘Don’t forget about me.’ But there was never any tantrum. [Wallace’s alleged behavior] is petty. It's kids’ stuff. There is a line you don’t cross. I would never tell a coach I’m not going back in the game.
“We had a lot of great receivers and never had that problem. If that were Marino out there, he would have taken over the whole situation. But Ryan Tannehill is young. Joe Philbin is the coach and they need to respect him. Wallace is a good player. Is he a dominant player? I don’t think so.”
Whereas Wallace gets furious with Tannehill when he’s not thrown enough passes to his liking, Duper said he kept it light with Marino.
Duper recalled the time that Marino, who served as the team’s union representative, asked Duper for his union dues, “and I told him, ‘Throw me 12 balls, and I’ll pay my dues.’ Dan threw me a bunch of balls. I caught two touchdowns. I said after the game, ‘Consider it paid.’”
One difference, of course, is that Duper was targeted on more deep throws (and more accurately-thrown ones) than Wallace was this past season.
### It’s ironic that a couple weeks before last Sunday’s incident, Wallace told me he hadn’t complained about not getting more passes this season because “the last thing you want to be looked at is selfish. In Pittsburgh, people looked at me as selfish. You have younger guys looking at you. You don’t want to complain. Everything is not going to go your way all the time.”
Wallace is well-liked by teammates and coaches during the week because he’s amiable and hard-working. But festering frustration occasionally turns him into a much different person on game days. Tannehill publicly says he can deal with that. The question is whether Philbin can.
The view here is that Wallace and Philbin/Tannehill need to make this work, because the Dolphins have enough other needs to fill without worrying about finding a new No. 1 receiver.