SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Now that we’re smack in the middle of the NBA All-Star break, with the trade deadline Thursday, thoughts on Heat personnel matters:
### In many ways, power forward Chris Bosh is the ideal center in today’s NBA game. And he could end up back there next season if the Heat moves on from Hassan Whiteside, whose future here looks increasingly questionable.
Even before his ejection angered Heat officials Tuesday, there have been serious reservations inside the organization about giving Whiteside the type of contract Miami believes he could attract in free agency, one that could start at $17 million or more.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard said the Heat is gauging trade interest in Whiteside, and two people in contact with the Heat told me that Miami appears open to considering a Whiteside trade, if it can dump other salary and get quality talent back, because it knows it’s going to be uncomfortably costly to keep him. Heat officials have expressed frustration with him, for reasons we explained in last Sunday's column.
But the Heat also knows the odds would be against a trade this week because he’s earning just $981,000 (causing cap complications) and the team acquiring him wouldn’t have any financial advantage in re-signing him.
Also know this: Pat Riley is not going to commit long-term financially to a roster that isn’t close to a legitimate championship contender. So that factors into a Whiteside decision this summer if his contract prevents other significant moves (and it certainly would make it very difficult if he commands a stratospheric salary).
If Whiteside makes it past the trade deadline, it likely would take impeccable maturity, elite production, no lapses in judgment, a deep playoff run (with Whiteside playing at a very high level) and/or striking out on a few top free-agent options for the Heat to seriously consider giving Whiteside an enormous deal this summer.
So with the cap jumping from $70 million to $89 million, what could Miami realistically achieve in free agency with or without Whiteside?
Whiteside and Dwyane Wade would potentially command a combined $30 million of the $37 million Miami is projected to have available --- a figure that would grow to $43 million if the Heat can somehow can dump Josh McRoberts’ contract without taking money back.
With at least 24 teams having $20 million in space, $7 million isn’t nearly enough to get you an Eric Gordon or Nic Batum and perhaps not even a Kent Bazemore.
Without Whiteside? Options abound.
Regardless of where Whiteside stands, expect Riley to do what he always does when the Heat has substantial space --- pursue meetings with the limited number of top free agents, a group including Kevin Durant (a long shot), DeMar DeRozan, Al Horford and potentially Pau Gasol, for starters.
Except point guard (where Mike Conley wouldn’t make sense with Goran Dragic here), forget position overlap; Riley pursues the best player available, as he did with LaMarcus Aldridge last summer before Aldridge signed longterm with the Spurs.
If Miami can’t land a star and moves on from Whiteside, one potentially appealing scenario (my opinion here) would be moving Bosh back to center and using the $37 million on Wade and two shooters, perhaps stretch-four Ryan Anderson (averaging 16.7 points and shooting 38.3 percent on threes for New Orleans) and a wing such as Bazemore, though Miami also would need to add another backup big in this scenario, too. Word is Miami likes Anderson, incidentally.
Also, in that scenario, expect Heat free-agent discussions this summer about skilled wings such as Gordon, Batum, Chandler Parsons (player option), Courtney Lee, Jeff Green and Aaron Afflalo, plus more affordable shooters Brandon Rush (45 percent on threes), Jared Dudley (46.6 on threes), Mirza Teletovic, Gerald Henderson, Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson and Marcus Thornton. With most teams awash in cap space, many of these players will cost more than you might think.
### There is one legal way to have cap room for Wade, Whiteside and another high-impact player. As Heathoops’s Albert Nahmad noted, Wade could give the Heat incredible flexibility if he accepted the $2.9 million room mid-level exception this summer, with the knowledge that Miami could pay him up to the max in the summer of 2017.
In that scenario, the Heat would have $37 million or $43 million (without McRoberts) to split between two high-impact free agents, excluding Wade. But that’s not realistic with Wade playing at a high level.
### As for upgrades this month, the Heat is handicapped by not having a No. 1 pick available to trade until 2023; picks can’t be traded consecutive years and Miami isn't even allowed to trade a future pick until after this year's draft. Joe Johnson and Kevin Martin would be of interest if bought out, but the Cavs and Spurs could be more appealing to Johnson.
One scout said skilled shooters who are or could be available include Gordon (but his $15.5 million salary would make a trade difficult within cap confines) and Martin (due $7 million this year and next). Omri Casspi ($3 million this season and next) and Teletovic ($5.5 million) are more affordable and the Heat likes both, but Miami’s lack of assets make even that difficult.
The need for a shooter is magnified because Miami isn’t counting on Tyler Johnson’s return this season after shoulder surgery, though Johnson says an April comeback isn’t out of the question.
### Among cornerbacks who played a lot, Brice McCain (who was cut Friday) actully had the Dolphins’ lowest passer rating against, at 81 last season.
The Dolphins have told people they still believe Brent Grimes (who had a 103.2 passer rating against) can be a productive player, and McCain's departure seems to increase the chances of Miami retaining Grimes because without him, Miami would need to find three quality corners, not just two. But if Miami asks Grimes to take a pay cut and he balks, then it becomes problematic.
Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain remain in the plans. Jamar Taylor (134.8 passer rating against) isn’t being counted on at this point. So the Dolphins plan to enter the offseason intending to acquire at least two corners they believe are ready to help immediately.
### These UM freshman brim with confidence, from Sam Bruce calling himself Samburgini to linebacker Shaquille Quarterman saying, “I’m kind of scared for opposing running backs” who have the misfortune of playing against UM’s three freshmen linebackers, to quarterback Jack Allison answering thusly when asked by Joe Zagacki if there’s a throw he cannot make: “I haven’t found one yet. I’ll let you know, though.”
### UM coach Jim Larranaga said NBA teams “are intrigued” by center Tonye Jekiri, who's a borderline draft pick. “They see his improvement. They like the way he plays team defense. They like his rebounding numbers. But they don’t like old guys; 22 is too old for them.”... Larranaga, by the way, says Jekiri should be ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
### A friend of Jose Fernandez said among the things that upset Fernandez about the Marlins were the team’s trades last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez (replaced by Juan Nieves). The friend said former Marlins player Jeff Baker soured Fernandez and others on the front office.
But Fernandez and the Marlins will make this work until free agency (after 2018) or an eventual trade. The Marlins are under the impression that his representation wants $30 million a year when he becomes a free agent, a figure they have no plans to meet.
### The Panthers still don’t know when or if they’ll get anything from their third-highest paid player, center Dave Bolland, who has seven goals in 78 games since signing a five-year, $27.5 million contract with Florida in the summer of 2014. He remains out indefinitely with ankle problems tracing back to a severed tendon three years ago.
“He hasn’t skated in six weeks,” coach Gerard Gallant said Friday. “The longer it goes the worse it gets. He's doing rebab, trying to get better. We don't know when it's going to be but we're hoping he will be a part of it.”
We hear a buyout has been considered.