Here are 10 questions and answers entering the Miami Heat offseason:
▪ 1. What’s the Heat’s salary cap situation?
Not good. Miami has 11 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due $120.1 million — well over the projected $101 million cap.
What’s more, the Heat is uncomfortably close to the projected $123 million tax threshold, with impending free agents Wayne Ellington and Dwyane Wade not factored into that $120.1 million salary total.
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Excluding Ellington (we’ll get to him in a minute), that leaves the Heat with two avenues to sign players: with contracts at the league minimum (extending to $2.3 million for veterans) or through a mid-level exception.
Unless it sheds salary, the Heat will have a $5.5 million taxpayer mid-level exception this summer and not the full $8.8 million mid-level exception. A team using the full $8.8 million non-taxpayer mid-level cannot surpass the tax apron, which is $6 million above the threshold.
▪ 2. What about the draft?
The Heat doesn’t have a pick. Its first-rounder is being forwarded to Phoenix as part of the 2015 Goran Dragic deal, with the Heat also owing the Suns an unprotected first-rounder in 2021.
Miami also previously traded its 2018 second-round pick.
But the Heat is permitted to trade its 2019 first-round pick once the Suns use Miami’s 2018 pick in the June 21 NBA Draft.
▪ 3. So how can the Heat improve?
Primarily through trades. Expect team president Pat Riley to consider any and all options in pursuit of an All-Star player or someone in the discussion to be an All-Star.
It’s unlikely there will be any untouchables on the roster, though the Heat would prefer to keep Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo, among others.
Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson headline the list of players expected to be made available in trade talks.
▪ 4. What are the chances of keeping Ellington?
Iffy. Ellington will have early Bird rights this offseason, which means the Heat can surpass the cap to pay him 175 percent of his current $6.23 million salary, which would be a deal starting at $10.9 million next season.
He would be eligible for a four-year contract with annual raises of 8 percent off the first year salary.
The Heat would like to keep him, but barring salary-unloading trades, the Heat would go heavily into the luxury tax by paying him likely market value.
So say the Heat gave Ellington $10 million, pushing its payroll to more than $130 million. That deal would cost the team more than $12 million in tax money (beyond his salary) if Miami kept the rest of its roster intact.
The Heat generally prefers not to pay a heavy tax unless it’s a genuine championship contender.
One scout said Ellington easily could command a salary starting at the $8.8 million mid-level exception, if not higher.
▪ 5. What are the chances of keeping Wade?
Wade has said he hasn’t decided if he will play next season but he would definitely play for Miami if he does. The question is whether Wade would accept the $2.3 million minimum or insist on all or a part of the Heat’s exception. It’s difficult to fathom Wade allowing another contract squabble to tarnish what was a relationship-mending reunion this spring.
▪ 6. Any other impending Heat free agents besides Ellington and Wade?
Yes: Udonis Haslem (who hasn’t decided if he will continue his career) and Luke Babbitt also are unrestricted free agents. Two-way contract players Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr. will be restricted free agents if the Heat gives them a small qualifying offer by late June, unrestricted otherwise.
▪ 7. What other decisions do the Heat face this offseason, beyond the major challenge of reshaping the roster and resolving the Wade and Ellington situations?
Whether to pick up the $1.6 million team option on Jordan Mickey by a June 29 deadline and whether to make a long-term offer to Justise Winslow before the Oct. 31 deadline. The Heat previously exercised the $4.7 million fifth-year option on Winslow for 2019-20. Guaranteeing the $1.5 million due Rodney McGruder by a June 30 deadline is a no-brainer.
▪ 8. When’s the earliest the Heat could realistically have significant cap space?
Summer of 2019 is possible, but it would require lots of payroll slashing.
The Heat already has $123 million in commitments for 2019-20 with a projected $108 million cap that summer.
The Heat would have the space to pursue a max player only if Whiteside and Goran Dragic opt out of deals with player options for 2019-20 — Whiteside at $27.1 million and Dragic at $19.2 million — or if both are traded for expiring contracts this offseason. It’s difficult to envision Whiteside opting out of $27.1 million.
But if only one of those two players opt out (Dragic or Whiteside), Miami wouldn’t have the space for a max contract in 2019 unless it’s able to trade at least one (and perhaps two) among Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, Richardson, James Johnson and/or Tyler Johnson while taking no money back.
▪ 9. Who are the top free agent this offseason?
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins can all be free agents this summer. It’s difficult to see any ending up here.
▪ 10. Why will Tyler Johnson's contract be even harder to trade than it appears?
Beyond being owed $19.2 million each of the next two seasons, Johnson has a 15 percent trade bonus amounting to an additional $2.9 million in salary next season if he is traded after July 1.
To lighten the overload at guard and draw the Heat further away from the tax threshold, it’s expected the Heat will aggressively try to trade Johnson. Miami might need to include a sweetener (a future pick or another player) to dump his contract.