SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Should the Heat wait until 2017 to make a splash in outside free agency?
Not only might that be the most prudent plan, but if Hassan Whiteside re-signs – a very good possibility, if not a probability amid Pat Riley's comments last week --- that would seem to be the only realistic approach.
Though the Heat fully intends to make a run at Kevin Durant in July, it privately knows that Durant signing with Miami this summer is a longshot. That made it easier for Riley to say that Whiteside is the priority this summer.
"To me, the only way you can make a dramatic change in your team is to get a proven superstar… in free agency,” Riley said last week when asked whether his master plan extends into the summer of 2017. “Every now and then, it happens. You have to keep yourself a little bit flexible for that opportunity."
Even if Whiteside signs a huge multiyear deal with Miami in July, the Heat can create that flexibility in 2017, provided Dwyane Wade agrees to a one-year contract this summer or a one-year deal with an option that all parties agree will not be exercised.
A few points to keep in mind, while also remembering that either the league or union can opt out of the current labor deal after next season, providing they disclose their decision by Dec. 15, 2016:
• If Chris Bosh plays even just one game next season, he would be on Miami’s cap for the 2017 offseason.
That means Miami, barring trades, would go into the summer of 2017 with Bosh, Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson accounting for $52 million in cap space, with the cap projected to rise from $92 million this summer to a projected $107 million in 2017.
If Whiteside and Tyler Johnson sign longterm in July, let’s hypothetically project them for accounting for $27 million, with most of that going to Whiteside. Factoring in cap holds for open roster spots, that leaves $26 million in 2017 Heat cap space, which would rise to just below $32 million if McRoberts is traded or exercises an opt out in the summer of 2017.
With salaries set to erupt, that $32 million probably would not be enough for Wade and a genuinely elite player. But it could get you Wade and one or two good players from a free agent tier including Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Danilo Gallinari, Taj Gibson, Andre Iguodola, Tony Allen, JJ Redick, plus many of this summer’s free agents who sign deals with 2017 opt-outs.
But trading Goran Dragic (due $17 million in 2017-18) for no money back potentially could create space for a max player such as Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, while keeping Whiteside, Wade, Bosh and the Heat’s young players.
Because max salaries are a percentage of the cap, max contracts for players with seven or more years of experience could top out with first-year salaries of between $32 million and $36 million in 2017-18.
• If Bosh cannot play next season and Miami waives him, then the Heat’s cap space (with Whiteside signed) would mushroom to about $56 million in this no-McRoberts scenario, even with Dragic on the team, because Bosh’s $25.3 million salary would be wiped from the books.
That would immediately give the Heat room not only to sign Wade but also add a player who will get max money: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Paul, Griffin, plus Durant and ultimate longshot LeBron James if those two superstars sign deals this summer with 2017 opt-outs. If the Heat can't snag a star, Miami also could sign a player in the next tier such as Serge Ibaka or Paul Millsap, plus have money left for Wade and another good player.
Trade Dragic and McRoberts for no money back in this no-Bosh scenario, and Miami’s 2017 space easily tops $70 million, enough to potentially add two All-Stars around Wade and Whiteside.
And a new labor deal could make the economic climate even more favorable to the players. So the Heat should be in good shape in the summer of 2017, provided its only multiyear deals this summer are given to Whiteside and Johnson (at modest money, in Johnson's case).
• Though the Heat is expected to explore the market for McRoberts to clear cap space, the flipside, as one Heat person conceded, is he offers protection at power forward in case Bosh has a setback.
Luol Deng would be the internal preference over McRoberts. But the Heat privately must gauge from Deng whether cap space left after signing Wade and Whiteside and hypothetically dealing McRoberts –-- perhaps $8 million or more --- would be enough to persuade Deng to re-sign, and whether Deng would be willing to accept a one-year deal.
Deng probably could command more than $11 million in the open market but said he likes it here.
"When you watch players play with [McRoberts], who know how to play with him, they're very effective,” Riley said. “He's very unorthodox. He has the ability to make plays at 6-10, 6-11, and the consistency of being able to shoot 38, 37 percent from three, which I think he's capable of. He never got enough opportunities. We're still high on him. We're praying all the time he stays healthy."
Albert Nahmad, who does an excellent heathoops.com blog, raised another available option for McRoberts: using a stretch provision that would allow Miami to waive him and incur a cap hit of $2.4 million each of the next five years instead of his scheduled cap hits of $5.8 million and $6 million over the next two.
My personal choice would be to trade him (and take no money back) or keep him as protection in case Bosh has another health problem.
• The thing we keep hearing from inside the Dolphins locker-room, including from players who privately complained about Joe Philbin: There’s a different vibe with Adam Gase. Players like his energy and how he communicates with them. Dan Campbell had a lot of that too, but Gase has the critical bonus of being a skilled play-caller and quarterback mentor.
“I like the fact he's confident, he's calm, very smart, knows what he's doing,” said Jelani Jenkins (who, for the record, never complained about Philbin). “Those are the first impressions. Seems like he's 80 years old coaching with how smart he is, how much he knows about the game.”
• One peculiar aspect of MLB’s suspension policy is that players can’t do anything once fans who paid admission enter the ballpark. So Dee Gordon can take batting practice at Marlins Park during his 80-game suspension but must leave as soon are fans are admitted. And he can’t play in minor league games where admission is charged.
According to the Marlins, Gordon – who has been at extended spring training in Jupiter and isn’t playoff-eligible - has not offered to give back the expensive, custom-made diamond-studded pendant that Jeffrey Loria bought for him after winning last year’s batting and stolen base title.... After Saturday, Giancarlo Stanton was mired in a stretch of 15 strikeouts over 18 hitless at bats. He's also 4 for his last 48.
• Though Mel Kiper has UM junior-to-be Brad Kaaya as a top-15 draft pick next year if he turns pro early, one NFC scout told me he doesn’t consider him a first-rounder (yet), and worries about his mobility, plus this: “He can’t throw with people in his face.”
• Deejay Dallas, who orally committed to UM today, is only the second four-star commitment in UM's 15-member list of 2017 oral commitments, though 247sports.com and ESPN generally have higher regard for more of the players in this Hurricanes class than Rivals does.
UM intends to use Dallas at receiver. Miami Central guard Devaughn Donaldson is the only other player given four stars by Rivals.
• Baseball America ranks UM catcher Zack Collins the No. 16 prospect in June’s draft, and he stands to be UM’s first first-rounder since Yasmani Grandal went 12th in 2010.... UM ended the regular season 43-10, and 21-7 in the ACC, while winning its second ACC regular season title in three years.
• UM basketball believes it is firmly in the mix (with Southern Cal, Washington and Kansas) for five-star point guard Derryck Thornton, who had a good visit to Miami's campus this past week and is transferring from Duke after one season.
Though he spoke earlier of wanting to play closer to his family's home (he went to high school in Nevada), he has a good relationship with Jim Larranaga and UM’s offense fits his skills. So UM believes it has a legit chance, although not necessarily greater than the other three contenders for him.
Virginia Commonwealth 6-10 forward Michael Gilmore, another transfer option, will visit UM in early June. He produced modest numbers last season (3.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 11.5 minutes per game).
UM has two scholarships left for next season after James Palmer's transfer to Nebraska. UM is looking at transfers who would need to sit out a year (such as Thornton and Gilmore) and grad transfers who would not.