Miami Heat

Mailbag: How do Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside decisions impact Heat’s cap space?

Riley: “I can give him some help on it because I have a background in coaching.”

Miami Heat President Pat Riley talks to the media during the season-ending press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday April 13, 2019 in Miami.
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Miami Heat President Pat Riley talks to the media during the season-ending press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday April 13, 2019 in Miami.

The Miami Herald Heat mailbag is here to answer your questions.

If you weren’t able to ask one this time, send your questions for future mailbags via Twitter (@Anthony_Chiang). You can also email me at achiang@miamiherald.com.

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@PurpleBuckets: So if Goran and Hassan opt out, does that free enough cap space to add a max contract? I’m sure it’s more complicated than that.

Anthony Chiang: You’re right. This is a complicated one with a lot of different layers. Let me start with this disclaimer: It’s unlikely that Goran Dragic or Hassan Whiteside will opt out of the final year of their respective contracts before the June 29 deadline. But the fact is their pending decisions will make a big impact because they are the Heat’s two highest-paid players next season if Ryan Anderson is waived by July 10, as expected, to reduce his 2019-20 cap hit from $21.3 million to $15.6 million.

Now, back to the question. Dragic has a player option in his contract for next season worth $19.2 million, and Whiteside has a player option in his contract for next season worth $27.1 million. If both players surprisingly decide to opt out, the Heat still would not have enough cap space to sign a max player. But it would get the Heat a lot closer to opening a max slot, with just a few additional moves needed to get it done.

Here’s a breakdown of what it could look like if Dragic and Whiteside both decide to opt out …

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(Note: Excluding cap holds, the Heat’s 2019-20 payroll (factoring in Anderson’s likely release) is at about $134 million. That includes the four players (Derrick Jones Jr., Yante Maten, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn) who don’t have full 2019-20 salaries guaranteed yet. It also includes Dragic and Whiteside. But it doesn’t account for an allocation for the Heat’s first-round draft pick this year.

The projected salary-cap threshold for next season is $109 million ,and the projected luxury-tax threshold for next season is about $132 million.)

If Dragic and Whiteside both opt out of their player options, it would eliminate about $46 million from the books for next season. The Heat’s payroll would be at about $88 million. That gives Miami about $21 million in cap space, which is not enough to sign a max player.

From there, one way to create space for a max player? If the Heat then waives and stretches Anderson’s contract before July 10 to cut his cap hit to $5.2 million in each of the next three seasons, the Heat would open about $28 million in cap space this summer when also accounting for the salary of this year’s first-round pick. That would be just enough to sign a player with six years or fewer of NBA experience to a max deal.

Of course, the Heat could make additional moves to free space if Dragic and/or Whiteside inform the Heat they will opt out of their contracts for next season. But opening max-level space will be a challenge, which is why the 2020 and 2021 offseasons are still the most realistic for the Heat to make significant changes.

@JohnMichaels929: What is the most realistic trade option for the Heat? Do any of the older veterans have any value to other teams?

Anthony: When looking for the players with trade value on the Heat’s roster, you have to look at the contracts attached to each one of them.

Whiteside and Dragic will be on expiring deals this upcoming season if they do not opt out, so that definitely will have some value. Probably Dragic more than Whiteside because the point guard will make $8 million less than the center. James Johnson and Dion Waiters each has two seasons remaining on deals, with Johnson still owed about $31 million and Waiters still owed about $24 million during the next two years. Johnson and Waiters have not played up to their contracts because of injuries and other issues, so their trade value isn’t too high right now. As for Kelly Olynyk, he also has two years remaining on his deal with about $26 million owed during that time. Olynyk is an intriguing case because he has been solid during the first two seasons of his contract with the Heat and has posted the top plus-minus on the team during that stretch. There’s some trade value when it comes to Olynyk, but Miami’s top assets are still its young players (Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow) and its draft picks.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.
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