Now that the Heat has a rare four-day break with no games, a big picture look at where Miami stands with the cap:
The great cap boon of 2016 will leave the Heat with interesting decisions next summer:
Do Pat Riley and Micky Arison keep most of the team together and leave themselves with very limited cap space to spend on outside free agents?
Or do they use what could be $40 million to $50 million in cap space to dramatically retool the roster?
The answer probably will become obvious next spring, when it will be clear whether this team is good enough to legitimately challenge Cleveland for the Eastern Conference championship. It also will depend on whether the Heat can lure one of the very few elite free agents next summer.
With the salary cap set to spike by more than $20 million to an estimated $89 million next season, the Heat has left itself flexibility to accommodate the salary of any of the top-tier free agents --- from Kevin Durant to DeMar DeRozan to Al Jefferson.
But signing a top-tier player would likely mean the departure of Hassan Whiteside as well as Dwyane Wade needing to make a financial sacrifice.
One thing is clear: The Heat intends to make a long-shot bid to lure Durant, who sold his Miami condo earlier this year.
Here’s where the Heat stands, a year away from a seismic change in NBA economics:
### With Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts and Justise Winslow, the Heat has $47.8 million in guaranteed commitments for 2016-17, about $41 million below the projected cap.
That number rises by $874,000 if the Heat retains promising rookie guard Josh Richardson, as expected. It rises by another $980,000 if Miami exercises its option on forward Jarnell Stokes, who was acquired from Memphis this week along with impending free agent Beno Udrih.
And Miami can exceed the cap to re-sign Tyler Johnson. (Please see the last post for details on that.)
But here’s the catch: As many of you know, the Heat assuredly will need to use salary cap space to re-sign Whiteside next summer because he will not have full Bird Rights. The only way Miami could sign Whiteside without using cap space would be if he agrees to a two-year contract starting at barely above the NBA’s average salary this season (about $6 million). That’s obviously unrealistic, and keep in mind that NBA rules prohibit deals from being heavily back-loaded.
What’s more, Wade will have a big cap hold (above his $20 million salary) and that number will stay on the Heat’s cap next summer until he re-signs, when that cap hold is replaced by his 2016-17 salary, or signs elsewhere.
So the Heat cannot spend $40 million in free agency to get to the cap limit and then re-sign Wade after that.
### It’s too early to know what Whiteside can command next summer, but if the Heat gives him a contract starting at $15 million, that would bring the Heat to about $64 million for six players. And the way Whiteside is playing, it looks like that might not be enough. Some team could give him a deal at or approaching the $22 million maximum.
So even if Whiteside somehow took $15 million and even if Wade took only $10 million for 2016-17 in that scenario, that would leave the Heat with about $15 million in space with at least five roster spots to fill ---not enough to bid for Durant or even DeRozan or Chandler Parsons (player option).
The Heat could clear out another $5.7 million in space by dealing McRoberts for a draft pick, but McRoberts has demonstrated his value early this season.
### For Miami to be able to make a competitive bid for Durant, the Heat would need to either pass on signing Whiteside; or trade McRoberts, somehow get Whiteside at something closer to $10 million for 2016-17 (that’s not happening), cajole Wade to take less than $10 million and fill out the roster with cheap labor.
Even if Wade left, Miami likely couldn't afford Durant if Whiteside commanded a starting salary at close to the max.
The Heat could (wink-wink) promise Wade that it would take care of him with a bigger salary in 2017-18 (when the cap is projected to rise to $108 million) and in 2018-19 ($127 million projection).
### If the Heat re-signs Whiteside, the most realistic option would be signing a free agent wing player such as Wilson Chandler (out for the season with a hip injury), Jeff Green, Aaron Afflalo, Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson, Courtney Lee, OJ Mayo, Nic Batum, Gerald Henderson, Chase Budinger and Jared Dudley. Using cap space to re-sign Deng and Gerald Green also would be an option.
But remember this: Players who might be easily affordable now would be less so next summer, because of the inevitable jump in salaries.
So the Heat might need to trade McRoberts to accommodate a scoring wing, Whiteside and Wade next season --- unless they find another bargain like Green, which is less likely with most teams having tens of millions to spend.
### There’s also the possibility Miami could move on from Whiteside --- if the bidding goes to uncomfortable levels --- and instead sign an unrestricted free agent center from a group including Jefferson, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Timofey Mozgov, Dwight Howard (player option), David Lee, Roy Hibbert, Chris Kaman, Nene and Mareese Speights.
All of these decisions and scenarios take a backseat now that we're nine games into a Heat season that has started so promisingly. Enjoy the games and don't fret about the financial side. But also know we're building toward a summer when NBA teams will have more money to spend than anytime in history.