SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
For a franchise that skillfully cajoles players to take less money than they could probably get elsewhere, this summer becomes the ultimate challenge for Heat president Pat Riley, with salaries about to skyrocket.
As Dallas, Portland. the Lakers and others line up to make their case to Hassan Whiteside, to woo him with a potential max deal, the conflicted Heat goes back and forth about how much to offer its shot-blocking prodigy.
Some important people inside the Heat do not view Whiteside as a max player, according to someone with direct knowledge. Therein lies the conundrum.
Does the Heat ultimately cave and offer him the max even though it prefers not to, but knowing another team will? Or does Miami hold its ground and look to Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard (who is polarizing inside Heat offices)? All of that is being discussed.
But here’s the problem: Horford’s first-year max is larger than Whiteside’s ($26 million to $22 million), and Horford will be hoping for a max deal, though the Heat believes he will be interested if Miami pursues him. The Heat also probably could sign Noah and Luol Deng for a bit more than what Whiteside would cost alone, but that wouldn’t make Miami better.
And as Heat officials deliberate what to do with Whiteside, even while calling him a priority, they assuredly noticed that when asked on Snapchat last week if he’s a basketball player, Whiteside said: “I’m a businessman that plays basketball.”
And here’s the other factor, with free agency starting Friday: With nearly all of the league having space, it will be so very difficult to persuade players – even merely decent players - to take less here, as the Big Three and Udonis Haslem and a bunch of others did.
Let’s say the Heat, which has $42 million in cap space, caves and gives Whiteside $22 million and Wade most of its remaining space. So what could the Heat realistically get for the $2 million to $4 million that’s left?
Among those who would be explored by Miami in that range: Marcus Thornton, Wesley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver and Joe Johnson (who could get more than that and also could take the Heat’s $2.9 million room exception, which cannot be combined with cap space).
Perhaps that amount could snag Josh Smith, Quincy Acy, Steve Novak, Brandon Rush, Randy Foye, Wayne Ellington, Alan Anderson, Charlie Villanueva, Luis Scola, David Lee, Anderson Varejao or Brandon Bass.
But even some of those players likely will command more than that. And unless Miami can find a taker for Josh McRoberts, --- which could create more than $9 million in space while keeping Whiteside --- then signing a higher-quality player (Deng, Mirza Teletovic, Jared Dudley, Marvin Williams, among others) for that low amount ($2 million to $4 million) is unrealistic.
So Riley’s undeniable talent for being able to convince players to take less to play here is about to be tested like never before, amid a cornucopia of cap space unlike the NBA has ever seen.
• Linebacker Kiko Alonso, with his knee problems behind him, was solid throughout the offseason program and the Dolphins believe he could be their best middle linebacker in years. “He’s all over the field, sideline to sideline,” Matt Moore said.
Incidentally, Alonso’s agent, Steve Caric, said an AFC South general manager told him before the 2013 draft that Alonso, who was in that draft, was the best linebacker he had seen coming into the draft since Brian Bosworth….
This coaching staff also has developed a liking for Koa Misi, much like the previous one did.
• Good move by this Dolphins staff to move Chris McCain back to defensive end after the former staff foolishly made him a linebacker. “Real happy; this fills my skill sets better,” he said. “No thinking. Just running, doing what I like to do.”…
Defensive linemen have been raving about the impact pass rush specialist Jim Washburn is making with their unit.
• The Dolphins are having having a military hiring event on Monday and we are trying to get as many veterans as possible to attend. All information can be found at www.dolphins.com/veterans<http
• UM badly hopes that Al-Quadin Muhammad is cleared in its ongoing investigation (football people are cautiously hopeful, but no decision has been made) because so much of the pass rush hinges on him, as well as Chad Thomas.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper told me he expects Muhammad would get 8 to 10 sacks this season. If he’s suspended, UM would need to turn to Trent Harris (5.5 sacks last season) and Demetrius Jackson, who impressed coaches this spring.
• One UM official said suspended linebacker Juwon Young, whose status for the 2016 season is very much in doubt, isn’t viewed as a huge loss, and he wasn’t in contention to start…. At least one of the players being investigated for using luxury cars foolishly called attention to himself by referencing the cars on social media.
• Though the Marlins are searching the trade market for starting pitching, they believe Justin Nicolino (who has had two solid starts in Triple A, allowing two runs in a combined 13 1/3 innings) will be better when he returns because Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said they've convinced him to stop throwing his cutter... Hill said the Marlins have moved one of their top pitching prospects, Austin Brice, to the bullpen at Double A because they believe his stuff is better suited to the pen.
• Marcell Ozuna has risen to sixth in the National League in hitting at .320. The Marlins have three players in the top 10, with Martin Prado eighth at .314 and Christian Yelich ninth at .309. Ichiro Suzuki, at .345, doesn't have quite enough at-bats to qualify.