Pat Riley chose to stand for the introductory news conference of his newest player on Monday, and the Heat’s president positioned himself as close to the door as the dais would allow.
The symbolism was there, and Riley’s message was clear. With the start of free agency only hours away, there was no time to waste. Riley officially welcomed draft pick Shabazz Napier to Miami, posed for the requisite pictures and then exited stage right.
“I just wanted Shabazz to know that this is the last day of his amateur career,” Riley said before finishing with a well-timed joke. “Now I’m going to go back upstairs with Andy [Elisburg] and crunch some numbers.”
Elisburg, of course, is the Heat’s general manager and walking abacus. It was Elisburg who made the math work in 2010, and it will be Elisburg who balances the ledger once again this offseason. Free agency began at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, and the framework of the Heat’s plan over the next week is already taking shape. As a starting point, LeBron James apparently wants to be paid like the best player in the NBA.
James is expected to seek a max contract from the Heat, and a report by ESPN suggested that the Heat’s star isn’t planning to shop around his talents this offseason like he did in 2010. James isn’t opposed to listening to other teams, but most teams won’t be able to realistically meet James’ lofty criteria quite like the Heat.
The Heat has the cap space to sign James to a max deal, the built-in advantage of four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and two NBA championships in the past three years, and apparently the financial commitment from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to help populate the team with new talent.
With Wade, Bosh and Udonis Haslem opting out of their contracts over the weekend, the cap space is now expected to be available for Riley and Elisburg to lure more free agents to Miami. Bosh has stated several times that he would be willing to restructure his contract to allow for more roster flexibility. According to reports, he could be seeking between $15 million to $16 million per season.
If Bosh had opted into his contract, he would have been on the books for $23 million next season, or close to a max contract. Bosh likely could command a max deal from several teams around the league, but he is happy in Miami and would like to end his career in South Florida. A new contract for five more years could give him that option.
Wade was set to make more than $22 million in each of the next two seasons but could be sacrificing the most in the short term to build upon a legacy that would last a lifetime. It was Wade who brought first Shaquille O’Neal and then James to Miami, and it might ultimately be Wade who keeps James in a Heat jersey by agreeing to a new contract.
“For the last 10 years, this has been a Dwyane Wade-driven thing,” Riley said last week. “Now, does he have to reinvent himself a little bit? Absolutely.”
Wade hasn’t spoken publicly since the Heat lost to the Spurs in five games in the Finals, but Wade, James and Bosh did have a very public dinner on South Beach last week to apparently discuss their futures together. A blueprint similar to the Spurs’ salary structure would give the Heat the ability to attract a few new players.
“He had a couple bad games, OK, in the Finals,” Riley said of Wade, “but it really is time for everybody to take heed in a lot of ways in the message that was sent to us by the Spurs — not by anybody else, by them — and they went home and they looked at themselves.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra fielded questions alongside Napier on Monday during the draft pick’s introductory news conference. On Riley’s recent comments that Spoelstra needed to “reinvent” himself over the offseason, Spoelstra said, “We’re not going to reinvent our entire operation. There has been some great success with it.”
• On Napier, Spoelstra said the former star point guard for the University of Connecticut “fit our style of basketball — to be able to play on the ball, off the ball.”
• As for Napier’s ability as a shooter, Spoelstra said, “He has the range already. He has to get on a specific program to make sure he has NBA three-point range and set the tone for our defense.”
• Napier isn’t yet under contract but said he plans on participating in the summer league circuit with his new team. Summer league in Orlando is July 6-11. The team then will travel to a second summer league in Las Vegas.