Barry Jackson

Heat mulls summer strategy, with interesting options available

Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters drives the ball against the Hornets in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat vs Charlotte Hornets, NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters drives the ball against the Hornets in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat vs Charlotte Hornets, NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.

With NBA free agency starting in less than a month, some of the buzz around the Heat:

• The Heat very much wants to keep James Johnson and Dion Waiters but is expected to explore at least three high-level players whose salaries would be too high to afford the combo of Johnson and Waiters, as well.

Expect inquiries on Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap.

But the odds are against the Heat acquiring any of them, and the most likely scenario remains Johnson and Waiters staying (unless one gets an enormous offer elsewhere that the Heat isn’t comfortable matching) and Miami then supplementing the roster. Everyone with the Heat would love Johnson back, and Waiters – a personal project of Pat Riley – is also valued.

According to a source close to him, Hayward has given no indication that Miami is on his radar, with Boston viewed as the most serious challenger to Utah. Remember, Hayward can get five years and $179.2 million if he stays in Utah, four years and $132.9 million with another team.

And even though the Heat likely would embrace Griffin if he surprisingly wants to leave the Clippers for a much lesser financial deal with Miami, there are some inside the Heat who see the merits of instead signing Waiters, Johnson and another player for the same $30 plus million it would cost to sign Griffin, who has missed 15, 47 and 20 games the past three regular seasons.

For Millsap, 31, the interest from the Heat likely would be at a salary well below his $35 million max.

And considering the Heat doesn’t consider itself a serious contender for Steph Curry or Kevin Durant (if he opts out), that could be the extent of top-tier free agents of interest to the Heat whose salaries could preclude signing the Johnson/Waiters combo.

Miami isn’t expected to pursue the top point guards available (Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry) or the next tier (Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague) or make enormous offers for Danilo Gallinari or Serge Ibaka, with Ibaka viewed as a secondary option if Johnson bolts.

With Johnson, the concern is that some team gives him an offer like the $17 million per year that Portland gave Evan Turner last year. With Waiters, the concern is that a team with a ton of cap space overbids, potentially his hometown 76ers. Remember, Atlanta gave four years and $70 million to Kent Bazemore last summer - with a starting salary of $15 million - and Waiters had better numbers this season than Bazemore in his contract year.

The Heat doesn’t need to decide until July 7 whether to guarantee Wayne Ellington’s $6.3 million salary for next season. There is support internally for keeping him – he is valued - but that won’t be decided until Miami sees how the first six days of free agency go. The Heat also might instead work out a multiyear deal with Ellington at a more cap friendly number, but with multiple years.

• What else could the Heat add if it keeps keeps Johnson and Waiters? Depending on how much it takes to keep both, Miami realistically could have anywhere from perhaps $8 million to $20 million, which would shrink by $6 million if Ellington is kept and also depend, in part, on whether the Heat keeps Josh McRoberts with a $6 million cap hit or releases him and takes $2 million hits each of the next three years.

Here are some players the Heat likely would consider with that leftover money, with some of these unaffordable if Miami needs to spend on the high end to keep Johnson and Waiters and opts to keep Ellington: small forwards Rudy Gay (he has interest in the Heat), PJ Tucker and Jeff Green, power forwards Patrick Patterson, Zach Randolph, Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko.

Omri Casspi, Ian Clark, Kyle Korver, Justin Holiday, Jodie Meeks and Brandon Rush would be available shooters if Miami parts with Ellington, but again, Ellington has a lot of support internally.

• The Heat also could tie up cap space for a few days with an offer to a restricted free agent such as Tim Hardaway Jr., Otto Porter Jr., Nikola Mirotic, Jonathon Simmons, Bojan Bogdanovic or Joe Ingles. But that’s risky and probably fruitless, because a team could match and players could come off the board while the Heat is waiting for an answer. And teams generally don’t let quality restricted free agents walk away.

• There is nothing percolating with trades for a major player. Indiana has given no indication that it’s trading Paul George, nor has Chicago been pushing Jimmy Butler. Miami hasn’t been pursuing Carmelo Anthony.

• The Heat isn’t sure it will be able to afford to keep center Willie Reed, though Miami might dangle its $4.3 million or $3.3 million exceptions, which cannot be combined. Miami hasn’t ruled out a Luke Babbitt return at the minimum. And the Heat has said it wants to keep Udonis Haslem, presumably at the $1.6 million minimum.

• Heat cap space (without Waiters and Reed and Ellington) varies from $37 million to $40 million depending on whether you count cap holds. Teams must have cap holds for any open roster spots up to 12, with each costing the minimum $815,000. But those holds are eliminated when replaced by actual players. So the Heat likely will enter free agency with two or three cap holds; without them, Miami’s space would be close to $40 million.

Here are some Marlins nuggets, including Derek Jeter’s South Florida visit in pursuit of the Marlins.