The Heat has two open roster spots to fill, but barring a surprising trade or the use of the team’s $4.3 million cap exception, the squad Pat Riley has put together over the past 48 hours is almost certainly what we’re going to see on the court this coming season at AmericanAirlines Arena.
According to the math done by ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks, the Heat stayed roughly $220,000 under the league’s $99 million cap for next season after it signed former Celtics 7-footer Kelly Olynyk (four years, $50 million), forward James Johnson (four years, $60 million), guard Dion Waiters (four years, $52 million) and retained leading three-point shooter Wayne Ellington by picking up his $6.27 million option for next season.
That’s only enough money to add players at the league minimum, although 14-year veteran and team captain Udonis Haslem, 37, would still collect a nice paycheck at $2.3 million for being a veteran of more than 10 years.
Haslem is expected back, a league source said. It’s unclear, however, if forward Luke Babbitt, who made 55 starts last season, will also be back considering his role would likely be diminished.
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So what did Kelly Olynyk tell a remorseful Hassan Whiteside after the Heat’s center was ejected for elbowing him in the back of the neck in a game in Miami in March 2015 and then apologized for it?
“I just told him, he’s a great player, and he’s got superb upside and talent. Don’t let emotions or a temper whatever it is, don’t let that hold you back and prevent you from being great,” said Olynyk, who finalized his deal with the Heat on Friday and spoke to Heat beat writers by phone late in the evening.
“I told him he has a great opportunity,” he continued. “I just wanted to see him succeed and be great. He did. Ever since then we’ve been close. He texted me after I signed my deal and said: ‘Welcome to Miami, and I can’t wait to be out here with you.’ He’s been great. You can see he’s really a truly an unbelievable character.”
So much for any old, festering drama rearing its head.
Even though they went hard at each on the court as foes over the past couple seasons — and delivered a few nasty elbows or forearms in the process — Olynyk, 26, said he’s actually looking forward to learning from Whiteside, 28, and playing alongside him.
“I think he’s a great player,” Whiteside said Saturday before he played in a celebrity softball game at Barry University. “He’s a little bit under-viewed because he looks like a surfer. But he can definitely play.
“He’s a big that can shoot, that can stretch the floor and that can do a lot of different things. He’s not easy to guard. I think he’s a lot better than people are giving him credit for. He’s a very talented player.”
▪ Olynyk didn’t become a free agent until July 4 when the Celtics released him to create cap space for the impending signing of Gordon Hayward. He said he “didn’t even look at the Heat as an option at first.” But as Riley alluded to in a statement Friday, the Heat pounced quickly.
“I think they were talking to my agent right after my rights were renounced,” Olynyk said. “I had a couple teams talking to me, and we were weighing on going with whatever we had and then my agent called me and said: ‘Get over here, we have an offer from Miami I think that can be very special and a great spot for you.’ I got on the phone in with Pat and [coach Erik Spoelstra] after that and talked about it.”
▪ James Johnson said he feels Olynyk fits right in with the Heat even if he has a reputation for being somewhat of a dirty player, especially for having been involved with the season-ending injury to Kevin Love in the playoffs two years ago.
“The Miami Heat culture is not for everyone,” Johnson said. “We don’t fit everybody’s needs or their style of play. I’m sure when Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra talk about it, they’re all on the same page with things. They all have the same feelings — that Kelly Olynyk is a Miami Heat guy. And that’s why they went after him. I’m just happy for him that he can find a home and let that home be the Miami Heat.”
Does Johnson think Olynyk plays dirty?
“He’s just a competitor,” Johnson said. “Every time I see him go out there and play, he plays as hard as he can. I don’t see him doing too much jawing or anything like that. He lets his game do the talking.
“Getting into little physical altercations and all that, that’s all just part of the game. Me personally, I love this stuff. So I’m all for that.”
▪ Whiteside doesn’t just think the Heat will be a playoff team next season.
“We can definitely be a top-four team in the East,” he said. “It’s great having everybody back. We get a Round 2 at this thing.”
Whiteside added “it’s only right” the Heat front office allowed last year’s group, which finished 30-11 over the second half of last season but missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker to the Chicago Bulls after finishing 41-41 overall, a second chance to play together.
Miami was among the league leaders in games missed because of injury. Waiters missed the team’s final 13 games because of a sprained ankle and another 22 because of a groin injury.
“I’m very confident coming into the season,” Whiteside said. “I believe in these guys, and we’re going to keep building and keep doing what we did last year.”