Barry Jackson

Heat knows it will be tougher to lure top free agents; Heat nuggets

pportal@miamiherald.com

Some Heat news and notes as Miami returns home to play Indiana on Saturday:

• Heat president Pat Riley suggested Thursday it’s going to be more difficult for teams to lure star free agents going forward.

“The fact teams that have real stars and don't want to lose them is that that player has a decision to make about ‘I don't want to be here anymore so I'm going going to take a $70 million pay cut and go somewhere else’,” Riley said. “That in itself is going to change it where players probably might stay home a little bit more because those are significant dollars.”

Under the new labor deal, players finishing their rookie contracts can sign extensions for an extra year with their current team than they would with a new team. And after that first extension has expired, star players can sign a super max extension and make $76 million more by staying with their current teams.

Here’s one example: Steph Curry this summer can sign a four-year, $133 million contract if he changes teams but a five-year, $209 million deal if he remains with Golden State.

So high-end players would really need to be unhappy in their current situations to leave. That’s the challenge that Riley and other league executives face.

And that makes the draft and internal development more important than ever. (Nobody does player development better than Miami.)

Riley, by the way, expects another summer of astronomical contracts before cap increases start leveling off.

“We will all find out the consequences of this CBA two or three years from now,” he said. “Last year, with the influx of a lot of dollars into the system, there were some eye opening contracts that were signed. You might have one more round of that this year. Then there will be a new analytic out that will value players even more as to how much you will pay them versus what a guy can get. We don't know. [Heat GM] Andy [Elisburg] is probably the biggest architect in the league as far as helping to create this document and one we're all going to have to live by. We'll all be up to speed on it.”

For an in-depth look at the Heat’s cap situation this offseason, please click here.

• The Heat has been winning with two starting forwards that, as a tandem, likely wouldn’t start for many teams.

But credit Rodney McGruder and Luke Babbitt for doing some of their best work recently.

Babbitt entered Saturday’s game having made seven three-pointers in 10 attempts in Miami’s past two games, impressive road wins in Houston and Atlanta. Overall, he’s 9 for 12 on threes in his last five games.

And after uncharacteristic shooting struggles early in the season, Babbitt has raised his three-point average to 39.9 percent, barely below his 40.2 career average.

Babbitt said he never worried about his shooting early in the season because the sample size was too small to judge.

Though Babbitt starts, he averages just 15.6 minutes per game.

McGruder, who has impressed the Heat with his defense and hustle plays all season, has evolved significantly offensively in recent weeks.

After reaching double figures just eight times in his first 47 games, he has done it six of his last seven.

Over that stretch, he’s averaging 10.7 points and shooting 50.8 percent from the filed (31 for 61) and 42.9 percent on threes (12 for 28).

The shooting percentages represent dramatic jumps from earlier in the season, with McGruder now at 40.6 percent overall and 34.4 percent on threes.

• In the wake of TNT’s decision weeks ago to drop Monday’s Heat-Dallas game, ESPN on Friday dropped next Friday’s Heat-Magic cablecast, replacing it with Cleveland-Atlanta.

That leaves the Heat with no national TV appearances in the second half of the season, though every game will be televised locally by Fox Sports Sun.

So is that a slight?

“A little bit,” guard Goran Dragic told our Manny Navarro. “But we’ll try to turn this into positive things for us and try to demonstrate to people that we’re better than that.”

Dragic believes teams are more leery of facing the Heat now.

“Maybe in the first part of the season, they were like, ‘Oh, we got Miami.’ I think they are looking at us differently [now].”

• Erik Spoelstra has little reaction to the Heat setting a franchise record with 15 consecutive games of 100 points or more.

“Seriously?” Spoelstra said. “I don’t really know what to say about that. But we haven’t been emphasizing trying to score. Sometimes, if you go about it trying to do the right thing and sharing the game, good things will happen for you.”

The Heat was averaging 98.3 points when it was 11-30. Miami has averaged 109.5 in 17 games since.

• According to Elias, Miami’s win over Atlanta extended two long streaks. The Heat has won their first game after the All-Star break in eight straight seasons (2009-10 to 2016-17) and the Hawks have lost their first game after the break in seven consecutive seasons (2010-11 to 2016-17). Each is the longest active streak of its kind in the NBA.

Before the Heat, the last time with an eight-game winning streak after the All-Star break was Sacramento (2001-2008) ? That would be the Kings from February 2001 to February 2008.

• Though Hassan Whiteside scored a season-low two points (on 1 for 9 shooting) in Friday’s win against Atlanta, along with 10 rebounds, he pointed out to Spoelstra that he was a plus-20 in 25 minutes, meaning Miami outscored the Hawks by 20 during his time on the court.

And Spoelstra credited him for setting good screens for teammates.

• After missing 19 games with a foot injury, Josh Richardson played 13 scoreless minutes against Atlanta, missing five shots from the field but dishing out three assists.

“I just like having him out there,” Spoelstra said. “He’s available. He needs some of these minutes to be able to get in a rhythm.”

For my UM post from today, including news on an NFL prospect that UM is hosting this weekend, and a problem that Mark Richt says has been corrected, please click here. And please follow me on Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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