Pat Riley and the Miami Heat went whale hunting Sunday morning in the Hamptons, and like the rest of the NBA went to bed Sunday night still waiting to hear where Kevin Durant will play next season.
The former league MVP and four-time scoring champion spent two hours Sunday morning meeting with six members of the Heat’s front office including Riley, owner Micky Arison and coach Erik Spoelstra. When that meeting ended, Durant met with execs from his own team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, for one last round of discussions.
While the Heat remain a longshot to land the 27-year-old star, speculation remains that the 73-win Golden State Warriors, who blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, are the biggest threat to lure Durant away from the only franchise he’s played for.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Where will it leave the Heat if Durant chooses not to take his talents to South Beach? In short, rescue and recovery mode.
With $20 million left in cap space and only seven players on the roster (Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Briante Weber), Miami’s first move would be to try and re-sign 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade, who reportedly wasn’t happy with the first offer the Heat dangled his way.
According to the Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bucks, Bulls, Nuggets and Mavericks have all had discussions with Wade on potential $20 million multiyear deals. Sunday, the Bulls reportedly agreed to a two-year, $28 million deal with point guard Rajon Rondo, leaving Chicago with roughly $12.7 million in available cap space.
ESPN’s Mark Stein reported Sunday evening the Nuggets, who have $27.5 million in cap space, continue to have active interest in Wade.
After signing a one-year, $20 million contract with Heat last season, Wade said on multiple occasions in the past year he would like to finish his career in Miami. But the Heat may need to make some concessions to please him now including retaining longtime teammate Udonis Haslem, who does not want to play for the minimum and would prefer the Heat’s $2.9 million room exception.
Considering that two former Heat reserves, James Ennis (Grizzlies) and Justin Hamilton (Nets), reportedly agreed to two-year, $6 million deals this weekend, that could end up being a discount for Haslem, who has received interest from Minnesota and Denver.
With the NBA salary cap jumping from $70 million to $94.1 million, teams are spending big to reel in free agents whose resumes aren’t necessarily extensive.
Sunday morning, restricted free agent Tyler Johnson, a former NBA Development League pickup by the Heat two seasons ago, agreed to sign a four-year, $50 million offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets when the league’s moratorium ends on Thursday. A source, who confirmed the news, said the Nets are expecting to sign Johnson because the way the contract is structured is not conducive to the Heat to match.
Johnson, 24, played 36 games last season before undergoing rotator cuff surgery in February. He returned in time to participate in five playoff games. The Heat initially sent Johnson a $1.2 million qualifying offer. Starting Thursday, Miami will have three days to match the offer by the Nets or will have to let Johnson walk.
Johnson will remain affordable for Miami this coming season thanks to the Gilbert Arenas provision, created back in 2005 to help teams keep their own restricted free agents. Johnson’s salary cap hit next season for the Heat would only be equal to the team’s $1.2 million qualifying offer (even though Johnson would actually get paid $5.6 million his first year).
But after that, Johnson’s salary for Miami would skyrocket to as much as $18.9 million and $19.6 million in the third and fourth years of his contract. With Miami already locked into deals worth $70.3 million for the 2018-19 season with Chris Bosh ($26.8 million), Hassan Whiteside ($25.4 million) and Goran Dragic ($18.1 million), it puts the Heat in the precarious position to make that kind of a commitment to Johnson, who made $845,000 last season and has played in only 68 NBA regular season games.
Johnson was a rotation player last season for Miami before he went down with a shoulder injury in January. He returned in time for the playoffs and appeared in five games. He averaged 8.7 points, three rebounds and 2.2 assists in the regular season.
If the Heat let Johnson walk he would become the third rotation player from Miami’s Eastern Conference semifinal playoff roster to sign elsewhere with forward Luol Deng (4 years, $72 million) and Joe Johnson (2 years, $22 million) agreeing to deals with the Lakers and Jazz, respectively on Saturday.
To this point all the Heat has been able to accomplish in free agency is keep center Hassan Whiteside, who agreed to a four-year, $98 million maximum contract on Friday.
Sunday morning, Whiteside, who was also a D-League pickup, tweeted to Johnson: “man [I’m] going to miss you bro wow it feels like yesterday we were playing each other in the d league. I was cooking of course, lol.”
Johnson replied: “lol crazy how the world works.. still remember when they were like who TF is hassan whiteside.”
Look at them both now.