Barry Jackson

Lower cap presents conundrum for Heat; Exploring the new possibilities

Miami Heat President Pat Riley talks to the media during the season ending press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Wed., April 19, 2017 in in Miami.
Miami Heat President Pat Riley talks to the media during the season ending press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Wed., April 19, 2017 in in Miami.

Late Wednesday night’s news that the NBA cap likely will be $99 million, about $2 million less than projected, creates a potential conundrum for the Heat, whether Miami is able to sign a max player or not.

With the Heat holding $64.4 million in 2017-18 salary cap commitments (following the impending release and cap-clearing of Chris Bosh’s contract), that leaves Miami with $34.6 million in cap space. Three small salary cap holds of $815,000 – required for each open roster spot up to 12 – account for $2.4 million of that $64.4 million; those holds eventually will be replaced by actual players.

Under that scenario, Miami likely would be unable to afford free agents James Johnson or Dion Waiters if it succeeds in luring Jazz free agent small forward Gordon Hayward or Clippers free agent power forward Blake Griffin.

Under the revised cap, the first-year max salaries for Hayward and Griffin drops from nearly $31 million to $29.7 million.

So the Heat would have just $5.7 million available (removing one open roster cap hold) if its signs Hayward or Griffin to max deals. That almost assurably would not be enough to keep Johnson or Waiters.

But there are scenarios that would allow the Heat to create more space. Among them:

• Release Josh McRoberts, who’s due $6 million, and stretch his cap allocations over three years at $2 million per season. That would increase the Heat’s space to nearly $38 million, which still might not be enough to keep Waiters or Johnson if Miami signs Hayward to a max deal starting at $29.7 million.

• Trade McRoberts and the No. 1 pick (which has a $2.5 million cap space) for a pick late in the first round or early in the second round. That would reduce the Heat’s cap commitment by as much as $6.9 million (factoring in cap holds), slightly more if the Heat doesn’t get a first-round pick back. That would leave about $41.5 million in space, an amount that perhaps might be enough to sign Hayward and potentially Johnson or Waiters.

• If the Heat is unable to sign Hayward, Griffin or potential target Paul Millsap, Miami figures to use most of its $34.6 million in space on Johnson, Waiters and perhaps keeping Wayne Ellington, who would consume $6.3 million of that space if his contract is guaranteed by the July 7 deadline.

Another possibility that the Heat would be receptive to: Negotiating a multiyear deal with Ellington that would lower his 2017-18 cap number.

But keeping those three players potentially could erode most of Miami’s $34.6 million in cap space, leaving no room to add another impact player.

• The Heat also has available exceptions of $3.3 million and $4.3 million, one of which could be used on a backup center if Willie Reed bolts in free agency. Those exceptions cannot be combined.

The Heat’s current 2017-18 cap commitments are Hassan Whiteside ($23.8 million), Goran Dragic ($17 million), Josh McRoberts ($6 million), Tyler Johnson ($5.9 million), Justise Winslow ($2.7 million, even though his salary is $3.5 million), Josh Richardson ($1.5 million), Rodney McGruder ($1.3 million), Okaro White ($1.3 million), the player the Heat draft at No. 14 ($2.5 million), and the three cap holds.

White could be purged before his contract becomes partially guaranteed July 1, but that wouldn’t have a significant cap-clearing effect. Dumping McGruder before his contract is fully guaranteed would have a negligible effect, seemingly not worth the effort because McGruder proved to be a competent rotation piece.

Richardson’s $1.5 million deal becomes guaranteed June 30, but sticking with the second-year guard is seemingly a no-brainer for the Heat, which values him.

The lower cap also leaves the Boston Celtics several million dollars short of being able to offer a max contract to Hayward or Griffin without further roster machinations.

This season’s cap was $94.1 million. Next season’s cap originally was projected to be $108 million, with projections later lowered to $102 million and then $101 million, before teams were informed Wednesday that it likely will be $99 million. The drop in cap has been attributed to lower-than-expected playoff revenue, a byproduct of several short series.

Here’s a look at power-rotation players in the Heat’s wheelhouse at 14, with analysis from NBA scouts.

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