Barry Jackson

Heat will need to get creative in future star search

For the Miami Herald

The upshot of the Heat’s summer spending spree is Miami has a core of a half dozen quality in-their-prime NBA players contractually committed for the rest of the decade. The flipside, though, is Miami has no cap space next summer, and likely the following one, without dumping contracts in trades.

For next summer, Miami will be capped out as the roster is currently constructed, with the ability to exceed the cap to re-sign Wayne Ellington or match an offer to 2018 restricted free agent Josh Richardson if he doesn’t sign an extension (that could be worth up to four years and $43 million) before then.

I wouldn’t be too concerned about next summer’s flexibility now for two reasons: 1) The Heat can create space by trading Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk or most anyone to a team with cap space. Miami has tradable assets on palatable contracts.

Heat president Pat Riley, while noting his team “deserves a chance to grow organically,” added: “Even though we have some long-term contracts, they are assets…. If something comes along somewhere along the way, there are opportunities to do other things. I don't have plans to do that, but you need those kinds of assets."

2) Next summer’s free-agent class doesn’t necessarily include the ideal, realistic whale for Miami.

Let’s look at next summer’s top potentially available names. LeBron James’ Instagram posts Saturday might raise hopes among some Heat fans of a James return, but the Heat does not believe James has serious interest in returning, with the thought that he will stay in Cleveland or go to the Lakers.

(James, while riding in a boat on Biscayne Bay during a South Florida vacation, posted a photo of AmericanAirlines Arena with the caption "A ton of great memories riding past her today!! #AAA #striveforgreatness." James then posted another photo from his boat, with Miami in the background, with the caption: For all those that had anything to do with me being where I am today I jus wanna say THANK YOU! #blessed. #striveforgreatness.")


A ton of great memories riding past her today!! #AAA #striveforgreatness

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

Again, the Heat has been given zero indication that James - a free agent next summer - would have interest in coming back and isn’t expecting that.

As for the other 2018 free agents...

The Heat doesn’t have much interest in Carmelo Anthony at anything close to max money.

If Goran Dragic sustains his play from last season, then it’s unlikely Miami would pursue Isaiah Thomas or Chris Paul. Paul George has told associates he wants to sign with the Lakers. DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan play the same position as Hassan Whiteside, though the Heat could always trade Whiteside if he regresses or this team bombs.

So who does that leave? Russell Westbrook, who’s a long shot for Miami to lure. There might be mutual interest with LaMarcus Aldridge, but he will be 33 to start the 2018-19 season, his numbers declined last season, and he doesn’t make you a championship contender. If Miami had interest, a sign-and-trade with the Spurs would always be an option.

The other notable players who can become free agents next summer: Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Dwyane Wade, Wilson Chandler, Trevor Ariza, Lou Williams, Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe. No franchise-altering names in that group.

If Anthony Davis were a free agent next summer (he can’t be until the summer of 2020), then I could see the compelling case for preserving cap space. Same with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s signed through 2021, because those two are franchise type players who might be able to be lured to more appealing NBA markets such as Miami.

As for the summer of 2019, Miami won’t have space if Richardson is retained and nobody else is traded, unless Dragic and Johnson opt out of deals that would pay each of them $19.2 million in 2019-20 or unless Whiteside opts out of $27 million.

There could be more urgency to create space that summer, with Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, John Wall, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love, Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton all eligible for free agency then.

Riley’s best shot at finding a top player in the next 22 months? Probably pouncing when a disgruntled one is made available via trade, as he did with Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal and to a lesser extent, Dragic.

But for now, don’t fret about lack of cap space in 2018 and potentially 2019. If an All-Star wants to come to Miami, Riley has tradable contracts to create the space to do it.