There are a lot of remarkable things about this Heat regular season, most notably the climb back from 19 games under .500 to 40-41 (and possibly a playoff berth) entering Wednesday’s home finale vs. Washington.
And here’s another: Nearly every rotation player accomplished something meaningful this year that he had never done before. A quick look at those achievements and their futures:
• James Johnson: Set career highs for points per game (12.8), rebounds per game (4.9), assists per game (3.6), three-point conversions (87) and three-point percentage (34.5). The Heat very much wants to keep him, and Johnson very much wants to stay.
Though Blake Griffin is a free agent, we’ve heard sentiment that some Heat people regard Johnson potentially as a better value, at the right price, than a max deal for Griffin. The unknown variable is whether bidding on Johnson reaches Evan Turner type numbers (four years, $72 million from Portland last summer).
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• Dion Waiters: Set a career high for three-point percentage (39.4) and is just one tenth off his high scoring average (15.8 this season) but is unlikely to play Wednesday.
His durability issues this season might somewhat depress the free-agent market for him, making him more affordable to retain.
Before this extended absence, there was talk that Waiters could attract offers in the $14 million per year range. But the small sample size of games (46 games) could allow the Heat to re-sign him for much less.
• Hassan Whiteside: Became the first Heat player with 1000 rebounds in a season and enters Wednesday very likely to become the first Heat player to lead the league in rebound average, with 14.1 compared with No. 2 Andre Drummond’s 13.8.
He also has set a career high in scoring (16.9 per game, fourth among centers).
His “impact on winning,” as Erik Spoelstra would say, has improved to the point that he’s viewed as a keeper, after one year of a four-year, $98 million deal.
• Tyler Johnson: Set career highs in points per game (13.9) and three-point field goals (93) and ranks second in the league (behind OKC’s Enes Kanter) in points per game by any NBA player without a start.
He’s still a bargain next season at $5.8 million, but the contract becomes more onerous the following two years, when he’s due $19.1 million in 2018-19 and 2019-20. More likely to return than not, but a trade can’t be ruled out.
• Goran Dragic: He enters the regular-season finale at 20.2 points per game, barely behind the highest scoring average of his career (20.3 for Phoenix during his third-team All-NBA season in 2013-14).
With a reasonable contract by today’s standards (two years into a five-year, $85 million deal), it’s impossible to envision Dragic not returning, barring the Heat missing the playoffs and defying all lottery odds by landing the No. 1 or 2 pick (point guards Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz). But even then...
• Josh Richardson: Set a career-high for points per game (10.1) and three-pointers (72).
Played well recently filling in for Waiters (14 steals past three games) and reinforced that he’s a rotation piece, due $1.4 million next season and eligible for an extension later this year.
• Wayne Ellington: Set a career high with 146 three-pointers and, so far, points per game (10.5) and Spoelstra loved his professionalism.
If the Heat can’t find top players to take its cap space early in free agency, then guaranteeing Ellington’s $6.3 million salary by the July 7 deadline becomes at least a consideration.
• Rodney McGruder: The rookie exceeded all expectations after beating out Beno Udrih and Briante Weber for the 15th roster spot. The Heat privately acknowledges a bench role would be more ideal, but he has proven to be a rotation player. And he’s cheap, signed for the league minimum next year.
• Willie Reed: Set career highs in every category and likely to opt out of a contract that would pay him $1.5 million next season. Could be an option for the Heat’s $4.3 million room exception, but Miami is unlikely to offer significant cap space to him.
• Okaro White: Signed at the beginning of the Heat’s 13-game winning streak, posted a positive plus/minus (plus 68), injected energy off the bench and shot 35 percent on threes.
A potential spot rotation player next season, and he’s cheap, due $905,000 million.
• Luke Babbitt: He came on strong in the second half of the season before a hip flexor injury and has a career-high 87 three-pointers on 41.4 percent three-point shooting (13th in the league).
Because he has Bird Rights, he would cost only $1.47 million against Miami’s cap if the Heat keeps him. But the Heat needs a bit of roster churn to upgrade a .500 team, and Babbitt’s roster spot might be one of a limited number of available ones beyond Chris Bosh’s.
• The four others: Bosh won’t be back… Josh McRoberts, limited to 22 games, presumably won’t opt out of a deal that would pay him $6 million next season… Justise Winslow, recovering from shoulder surgery, will need to prove his perimeter game has improved after shooting 28 percent on threes last season and 7 for 35 this season… Udonis Haslem said he wants to return, but it assuredly would need to be at a minimum deal.
COUPLE OTHER THINGS
The Brooklyn Nets are doing the Heat no favors, with the Heat’s playoff hopes requiring a Hawks win over Indiana or a Nets win over Chicago combined with a Heat win against Washington.
The Nets announced they will sit six players in Chicago on Wednesday, including their best player, Brook Lopez, and Jeremy Lin, who are both being “rested,” apparently to give them more time to prepare for the October preseason opener. Or May cruises to the Bahamas.
• Atlanta will clinch the No. 5 seed if it beats Charlotte Tuesday, which would give the Hawks less incentive to beat Indiana on Wednesday - hurtful to Miami.