Miami Heat

Willie Reed may have earned himself a bigger payday than Miami Heat can afford

bjackson@miamiherald.com

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) and forward Willie Reed (35) celebrate after Reed scores in the second half as the Miami Heat host the Philadelphia 76ers at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Feb. 4, 2017
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) and forward Willie Reed (35) celebrate after Reed scores in the second half as the Miami Heat host the Philadelphia 76ers at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Feb. 4, 2017 adiaz@miamiherald.com

Willie Reed wanted to sign with the Heat last summer partly because he believed the coaching staff could help raise his game.

The staff has done such a good job, Reed might have priced himself out of Miami.

Reed, 26, appears likely to exercise an opt-out clause that would allow him to become a free agent instead of staying for $1.5 million next season.

But because most teams will have substantial cap space this summer and there’s always interest in skilled, young big men, he could get an offer twice the $1.5 million or more.

Reed’s five starts filling in for Hassan Whiteside include a 22-point, 18-rebound game in Phoenix, a 22-point, 12-rebound game against the Clippers and a 20-point, five rebound game in Chicago.

After his big game in Phoenix in January, Reed said Clippers center DeAndre Jordan approached him and “told me congratulations but also told me I wasn't going to get that against him. Knowing people recognize what I’m doing is amazing.” (Reed then scored 22.)

“I've grown a lot in my game,” he said. “The Heat does a great job of getting you in great shape. My body has changed for the better. I’ve been able to hold my ground better because I’ve gotten stronger. I’ve been a solid defender. I’ve gotten better offensively. I still have a long way to go. If I keep working, the sky’s the limit.”

Reed, who’s averaging 5.2 points on 55.7 percent shooting, 4.6 rebounds and 14.6 minutes, said: “I’ve proved that I belong, that I can be a factor in this league. All I wanted to do was play in the NBA since I was a kid. Once I got here, all I wanted to prove was I belong.”

Though the Heat will have $40 million or so in cap space this summer, its ability to sign several of its backups will depend on whether its can lure high-end players with most of its space. The Heat also has a $4.3 million exception that cannot be combined with cap space.

Does Reed hope to stay? “Once the season ends, I’ll make that decision,” he said. “Right now, I’m not even thinking about that.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday that Reed “earned a consistent role for the first time in his career where he has really embraced backing up Hassan, giving us a lot of the same qualities, a bundle of energy in those 12 to sometimes 20 minutes a game. He’s… been one of our most improved players since the first day of camp.”

This and that

▪ Forward Luke Babbitt missed his second game with a hip flexor and said “the goal is to be back before the end of the regular season” Wednesday.

▪ Asked if there’s a real chance Dion Waiters, who has missed 10 games with an ankle injury, can return before the end of the regular season or whether it’s increasingly unlikely, Spoelstra said: “I'm always open. He’s still day to day. There isn’t a new update. We want to caution on putting a timeline on it but he’s making good progress.”

▪ During Wednesday’s game in Charlotte, Goran Dragic, who is from Slovenia, had a quick response to a fan who heckled him to “Go back to Russia.” Dragic said simply: “I’m not from Russia.”

He likened these comments to a fan telling someone to “go back to Mexico… They want to provoke you. It’s always something.”

Saturday: Heat at Wizards

When/where: 7 p.m.; Verizon Center, Washington.

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).

Series: Heat leads 77-38.

Scouting report: The Wizards and Toronto are battling for third in the Eastern Conference, so Washington isn't expected to rest starters. For Miami, Luke Babbitt is questionable and Dion Waiters remains out. The Wizards won both earlier meetings: 114-111 on Nov. 19 in Washington and 112-101 on Dec. 12 in Miami.

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