Amid news that LeBron James’ agent has been listening to pitches from several teams, the pressure has escalated for Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who — along with coach Erik Spoelstra — is meeting with center Pau Gasol and others in Los Angeles, hoping to convince a high-end free agent to take considerably less money to sign with Miami.
Problem is, James to this point hasn't made a commitment to return to the Heat, and his agent, Rich Paul, this week met with at least four teams (Phoenix, Houston, Dallas and Cleveland), according to ESPN, which also reported that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is flying to Cleveland to meet with Paul. Yahoo! said Houston was not granted a meeting, spoke to Paul by phone and has moved on.
Yahoo! reported that Paul suggested to Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix that they might be brought back to Cleveland to meet with James next week if Riley doesn't quickly improve the Heat's roster. James was on vacation this week and did not meet with any teams.
The Heat expects that James will re-sign. An associate of James said Thursday he still sees the Heat as the clear favorite to sign James but that James “is weighing all his options” and wants upgrades to the Heat roster. If Riley cannot lure a high-end free agent such as Gasol or Trevor Ariza or Luol Deng, the Heat instead will focus on adding several reasonably priced players.
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The Heat’s cap space is projected to be substantially less than the $12 million cited in one national report. If Chris Bosh accepts a first-year salary of $15 million and Dwyane Wade $13 million, the Heat would have in the range of $6 million to $7 million in space, if James signs at the maximum $20.7 million.
Miami also would have a $2.7 million “room” exception in this scenario.
Unless the Heat can convince one of the pricey free agents to take considerably less than market value, the Heat might be better served by operating as a capped-out team.
Under that scenario, the Heat could not use cap space but could use a $5.3 million midlevel exception, a $2.2 million trade exception and a $2 million bi-annual exception and also preserve Bird Rights to re-sign its own free agents, which would allow Miami to give raises to Ray Allen (who earned $3.2 million last season) and Chris Andersen ($1.4 million).
The Heat has strong interest in adding one or two veteran wing players. Among free agents that Miami has reached out to: New Orleans’ Anthony Morrow (8.4 points, 45.1 percent three-point shooting last season); Oklahoma City’s Caron Butler (10.5, 39.4) and Utah’s Marvin Williams (9.1 points, 35.9 percent).
Other affordable wing players potentially in play include Alan Anderson, Shawn Marion, Jordan Hamilton and restricted free agent P.J. Tucker. The Heat and Nick Young’s agent also had a preliminary conversation. The Heat so far has not pursued Dallas free agent Vince Carter beyond an initial inquiry.
Among point guards, the Heat has been in communication with representation for a few veterans, including Jameer Nelson and Kirk Hinrich.
Among power rotation free agents, the Heat called to express interest in Charlotte power forward Josh McRoberts, among others.
As for Gasol, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New York also are trying to obtain him at a bargain-basement price. Ariza has instructed his agent to try to work out a deal with the Wizards before engaging other teams, The Washington Post reported.
The Heat is interested in Deng, and Deng likes the Heat, but agent Herb Rudoy said “we don’t know yet” if Miami will be a serious contender for him or whether Deng will even meet with the Heat.
“We haven’t talked money [with Miami],” Rudoy said. “We’re waiting for the Big 3 to sort out.” Deng also has interest from the Clippers, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas.
Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer would have interest in the Heat if Chicago uses the amnesty provision on him, according to an associate. The Bulls have until July 18 to decide whether to wipe Boozer’s $16.8 million salary off their cap.
But if the Heat uses all its cap space before the amnesty period, or if uses its cap exceptions instead of cap space, then the Heat would not have the money to make a bid for Boozer in the amnesty process unless it somehow got back under the cap, according to cap expert Larry Coon. The team with the highest bid would get him, and Boozer would become a free agent only if there were no bids.
BIG 3 UPDATE
• Bosh has told associates he plans to re-sign with the Heat, and Wade is also expected to return. Allen has been leaning toward playing but hasn’t informed the Heat definitively. The Heat wants Andersen back, as well. James Jones is expected to be offered a minimum deal, though that has not been conveyed. The Heat called about Rashard Lewis, Greg Oden and Michael Beasley early in free agency and indicated interest in speaking further next week or beyond.
“They didn’t commit to bringing Greg back but they were happy with his progress,” said Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr. All three players have interest in returning.
• As for Mario Chalmers, the Heat called him and made clear the door has not been closed regarding his return. But Chalmers is unsure of Miami’s level of interest, according to a close associate.