Herald sports writer Barry Jackson examines looming issues for the Miami Heat, with free agency beginning July 1
The Big Three
As part of their six-year contracts, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all have early termination clauses that can be exercised either this summer or next summer.
If they stick to those contracts and eschew free agency, James and Bosh would each make $20.6 million in 2014-15 and $22.1 million in 2015-16. If Wade does not exercise his early termination clause, he would be paid $20.2 million in 2014-15 and $21.7 million in 2015-16.
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If all three decide to become free agents this summer and re-sign with the Heat, James and Bosh would be required to take very slight pay cuts next season (to $20 million) — under terms of the labor agreement — but would each be eligible to re-sign with the Heat for as many as five years and $115.1 million.
Wade would be eligible to re-sign with the Heat for four years and a maximum of $87.2 million, but he realistically likely would not command anywhere close to that if he opts out.
If James and Bosh exercise their early termination clauses and join other teams, they would be eligible to sign four-year contracts for as much as $85.5 million.
Wade and Bosh have both said they want to remain with the Heat but have not said whether they will exercise their early termination clauses. Bosh, in fact, has said all three players want to stay together.
James declined to discuss his future when asked Sunday night.
Chris Andersen plans to bypass his $1.4 million player option and become a free agent, Yahoo! reported Monday.
Who remains under contract if the Big Three become free agents
Udonis Haslem has a player option for $4.6 million that he said he plans to exercise, unless the Heat convinces him to take a pay cut in exchange for a multiyear commitment. Norris Cole has a guaranteed contract at $2.15 million next season. Justin Hamilton has a non-guaranteed deal for $816,482.
Heat free agents
Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, James Jones, Rashard Lewis, Greg Oden, Michael Beasley, Toney Douglas and Shane Battier all have expiring contracts. Battier is retiring.
Salary cap situation
If the Big Three do not exercise opt-out clauses, then the Heat will be operating above the projected $63.2 million cap and will be limited to signing outside players only to the minimum (topping out at $1.4 million) or with its $3.27 million taxpayer midlevel exception.
The Heat might not even necessarily use the taxpayer midlevel exception in this scenario because it faces an onerous “repeater” luxury tax because it has surpassed the luxury tax threshold at least three of the past four seasons.
But if at least one of the Heat’s Big Three decides to become a free agent this summer, then the Heat would have cap space. That space would immediately evaporate if the player who opts out re-signs with the Heat for a 2014-15 salary in the range of $15 million or more.
The only way the Heat could achieve meaningful cap space to add a high-impact, costly free agent would be if one or more of the Big Three leave or if James, Wade and Bosh all accept large paycuts. In this scenario, the Heat could not exceed the $63.2 million cap except to sign players to the minimum. Miami also would have a $2.7 million “room” salary cap exception in this scenario.
Available outside unrestricted free agents that would probably be too costly unless one of the Big Three leaves or all three take pay cuts
That list includes Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng, Marcin Gortat, Boris Diaw, Channing Frye, Spencer Hawes, Trevor Ariza and possibly Paul Pierce, Darren Collison, Danny Granger and Jordan Hill. Nevertheless, Pat Riley always thinks big and the Heat likely will make calls to several of them.
Available outside unrestricted free agents that would be more affordable
The Heat likely will explore point guard options from a group including Chalmers, Kirk Hinrich, Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake, Devin Harris and Shaun Livington, among others.
At least one more wing player is expected to be added, with dozens available in free agency, including Shawn Marion, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams, Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler, Rodney Stuckey, Vince Carter, Al Harrington, Jordan Hamilton and Jimmer Fredette. Because of amnesty rules, the Heat is not permitted to sign free agent Mike Miller anytime before July 2015, when his original Heat contract was due to expire.
Among power rotation players, players in the Heat’s price range figure to include Chris Kaman, Emeka Okafor, Kris Humphries, Elton Brand, Nazr Mohammed, DeJuan Blair, Charlie Villanueva, Jason Smith, Cole Aldrich, Aaron Gray, Matt Bonner and Drew Gooden.
The Heat has the 26th and 55th selections in the June 26 draft. Because Miami traded its first-round pick last year, it is not permitted to trade its 2014 first-rounder before it selects a player. But the Heat is permitted to draft a player on behalf of another team and trade that player after the draft. The first-round pick will cost $958,100 against the salary cap.
The Heat’s two draft picks and other prospects will play for Miami’s summer league team that will compete in Orlando and Las Vegas in July. Among other prospects expected to be on those teams: small forward James Ennis, the Heat’s 2013 second-round pick who played in Australia this past season.