Miami Heat

Clock ticks during nervous buildup to NBA free agency

Pat Riley said it was going to be a fun and fruitful July for the Miami Heat. At least he hoped so.

As the clock winds down toward the start of free agency at 12:01 a.m. Friday, nervousness is really what most Heat fans are feeling.

Although Miami has a meeting with the season’s free agency grand prize Kevin Durant set for Sunday in the Hamptons in New York, it’s own free agent priorities, 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade and the league’s leading shot-blocker Hassan Whiteside, are about to begin exploring options with other franchises.

Timing, ultimately, could end up meaning everything for Riley and the Heat, who have roughly $41 million in salary-cap space to utilize.

In the chase for Durant, Miami will make its pitch three days after his current team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, tries to convince the former league MVP to stay. The Golden State Warriors will then meet with Durant on Friday before the Spurs, Clippers and Celtics also get their cracks at him.

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While Riley tries to lure a free agent whale, the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers are expected to come hard after Whiteside with maximum contract offers. Whiteside said Sunday he wanted to get his free agency process over quickly and could be enticed to jump ship before the Heat has even gotten in the room to speak with Durant.

All the while, Dwyane Wade, the face of the franchise, will be looking to settle his business with the Heat. ESPN reported late Tuesday that Wade’s representatives have made it known to multiple teams over the past several days that the 12-time All-Star, currently vacationing in Spain with former Olympic teammates LeBron James and Chris Paul, is on the market and prepared to field offers from other teams.

Signing Wade quickly has its benefits for the Heat.

The way the league’s collective-bargaining agreement and salary-cap rules are structured, teams are required to either re-sign their own free agents first or renounce those players’ rights before they can sign other teams’ free agents when the league moratorium ends on July 7.

Wade, who has spent all 13 years of his career in Miami, poses a $30 million cap hold for Miami — a large chunk of the $54.7 million in cap holds the team has among its nine free agents.

With six players locked in for next season (Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Josh McRoberts and Briante Weber) at a combined $49.7 million in combined salaries, that means the Heat already is slightly above the new $94 million cap without renouncing its own free agents or re-signing them.

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By getting its business squared away with Wade first (and potentially for less money), the Heat not only could go to Durant, Whiteside and other potential free agents with an idea of how much money it could offer, but it also would be a valuable selling point — the franchise’s best player has agreed to come back — in the recruiting process.

Or, the Heat can just renounce Wade, go after Durant or Whiteside, and then come back to him afterward. But that could become problematic.

Last summer, a similar situation played out before owner Micky Arison stepped in and Wade and the Heat agreed to a one-year, $20 million deal. But Wade, who has won three titles with Miami and been to five Finals, wasn’t happy the process took as long as it did.

The good news for the Heat is that Wade is still at least referring to the Heat as his team.

“Hopefully, if everything goes well this summer for this organization and for myself, we’ll give ourselves another chance,” Wade told The Associated Press this week before leaving for vacation in Spain.

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Although the free agency period does not open until Friday, teams have been allowed to have contact with their own impending free agents. Riley has done that with both Wade and Whiteside.

Riley said last month the Heat would try and make negotiations go smoother with Wade this summer.

“He wants to win I think as much as he wants to do anything,” Riley said. “Compensation to a player is not just a way to get paid and live your life. Compensation to a player is about recognition and respect and a place. And so, we know where he belongs.

“When we get down and discuss it will be predicated on a lot of factors. He’s a lifer. What he’s done in this city over the last 13 years is irreplaceable. So, we want to do the right thing. There’s no doubt.”