Eight Heat players become trade eligible next Thursday (Dec. 15), the start of an interesting two-month process in which the Heat likely will go from being capped out to potentially having $23.6 million in available space, depending on when the franchise chooses to release Chris Bosh and begin the process of removing him from its cap.
A few points to keep in mind:
• While the Heat knows it needs a talent infusion, there will be patience. There isn’t an urgency to make moves beginning next week, and no urgency to start shedding salary, either.
The Heat would like to see this roster healthy in the next month (before the Feb. 23 trade deadline) and Miami isn’t going to jeopardize next summer’s projected $39 million to $43 million in cap space by adding players under contract beyond this season -- unless the player added is a high-quality starter.
Dec. 15 is the first day that teams are allowed to trade most players who signed as free agents during the offseason. For the Heat, that means these eight will become trade-eligible: Hassan Whiteside ($22 million), Wayne Ellington ($6 million), Derrick Williams ($4.6 million), Udonis Haslem ($4 million), James Johnson ($4 million), Dion Waiters ($2.9 million), Willie Reid ($874,000) and Rodney McGruder ($874,000).
A ninth player, Tyler Johnson, becomes eligible to be traded on Jan. 15 but can veto any trade through the end of the season, as heathoops.com’s Albert Nahmad has noted. Johnson is earning $5.6 million in the first year of a four-year, $50 million contract. All other Heat players already are trade-eligible
• Unless Pat Riley can land Blake Griffin or Gordon Hayward in free agency next summer – or snags long shots Steph Curry, Kevin Durant or Chris Paul - he likely isn’t going to find a 2017 free agent who will lift his franchise into serious contention.
Riley has excelled at trading for sometimes-disgruntled standouts (Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Hardaway, Goran Dragic), and has expiring contracts and young players to pull that off again if the right player becomes available.
But from the Heat’s perspective, there’s no available perimeter player considered the ideal fit in a trade. Though Phoenix might make guard Brandon Knight available before the trade deadline, Miami isn’t inclined to pursue him at this point.
Centers Greg Monroe and Nerlens Noel have been bandied about leaguewide in rumors, but that would be position duplication unless the Heat believes the 6-11 Noel (two career three-point attempts) would function effectively alongside Whiteside.
Sacramento small forward Rudy Gay has long been considered available, but the Heat can always sign him in free agency; he loves Miami, a friend said.
The Kings’ Omri Casspi, a bench player, has permission to seek a trade but is shooting 29.4 percent on threes and averaging 5.1 points; the Heat already has Ellington for that role.
• According to a league-employed source connected to Bosh, the mindset at the moment is that he’s more likely to attempt a comeback next season than this season.
The Heat eventually needs clarity on that, because if Miami goes through the process of removing his salary from its cap in February (it cannot happen before Feb. 9) instead of, say, April, it would leave Miami at risk if Bosh makes a comeback elsewhere this season because his salary would go back on the Heat’s cap if he plays 25 games with another team (regular season and/or playoffs).
If the Heat is comfortable that Bosh is not going to try to come back this season, it could likely purge Bosh from its cap --- pending an independent doctor’s ruling --- before the Feb. 23 trade deadline, freeing $23.6 million in space this season (which is not pro-rated, cap expert Larry Coon said). That means Miami would not need to trade similar money away to acquire a player earning substantially more.
• Riley told NBA.com’s David Aldridge that he would like two first-rounders. That would affect Heat cap space, which could swing from $39 million or so to $43 million (without Bosh on the cap) --- depending on where the Heat drafts. Cap space would shrink more if Ellington keeps playing this well and Miami exercises his $6.3 million option - not especially likely but possible if he has a great season.
Dealing Dragic (due $17 million next season) for a pick would add considerable space.
• If the Heat cannot snag one of the aforementioned max-caliber free agents next (a group that also could include Kyle Lowry), the next tier of free agents includes Taj Gibson, Danilo Gallinari, Jeff Teague, Gay, JJ Redick, Zach Randolph, Derrick Rose, Serge Ibaka and Pau Gasol.
For my other Tuesday evening post, updating the Heat’s dire injury situation and Erik Spoelstra’s amusing comment on Phil Jackson, please click here.