With the Heat about $19 million over the projected $101 million salary cap, the most likely way to reshape the roster would be through trades.
But free agency, which begins July 1, could come into play in four ways:
1) If the Heat uses a $5.4 million taxpayer midlevel exception on someone other than Dwyane Wade. If Wade wants to keep playing, there’s a good chance he gets that exception. The Associated Press has reported Wade is unlikely to accept less than that if he returns.
2) If the Heat dumps salary in the next two months without taking much money back, which would give the Heat the full $8.8 million midlevel exception and room to operate under the luxury tax.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
3) If Miami can lure quality players with the $2.4 million minimum.
4) Through sign and trades for a player who wouldn't otherwise be affordable in the Heat's salary cap predicament.
The Heat does not need to use its exception to re-sign Wayne Ellington because he has Early Bird rights, allowing Miami to exceed the cap to sign him to a contract starting at as much as $10.9 million.
But if the Heat signs Ellington - and both sides would like to strike a deal - then Miami likely would not use its exception if Wade retires (unless there's significant salary dumping).
A Heat-focused look at impending unrestricted free agents who could be in the mix for exception money or in some cases, the league minimum, this summer:
Supplementing depth at center and power forward will become vital if the Heat succeeds in trading Hassan Whiteside this summer, which is 50-50 at best.
The Heat also could sign a minimum-type power rotation player, perhaps two, if Miami doesn’t resign Luke Babbitt or Udonis Haslem to the minimum.
Power rotation players who could command mid-level type money include center Greg Monroe (has some support inside the Heat; averaged 10.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 26 games for Boston after a Suns buyout), Alex Len (8.5 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game for Phoenix), Kevon Looney (his good work for Golden State in the playoffs could make him less affordable) and Mike Muscala (7.6 ppg for Hawks and shot 37.1 percent on threes; has $5 million player option).
The Heat at times has embraced reclamation projects (such as Eddy Curry) and has great faith in its coaching staff, so Miami should at least discuss the merits of high lottery picks Jahlil Okafor (17.5 ppg as a Sixer in 2015-16; 6.4 ppg in 12.6 minutes per game in 26 Nets appearances last season) and Nerlens Noel (4.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, in 15.7 minutes in 30 games for Dallas).
The best potentially affordable shot-blockers available in unrestricted free agency include Golden State’s JaVale McGee (4.45 blocks per 48 minutes led the league) and Len (2.10 per 48). Keep that in mind if Whiteside is traded.
Other serviceable power rotation players who could fall in the range of exception money include Washington’s Mike Scott (8.8 pgg, 40.5 percent on threes), Philadelphia’ Ersan Ilyasova, Houston’s Tarik Black, Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia, Orlando’s Marreese Speights, the Lakers’ Channing Frye and the 76ers’ Amir Johnson.
COMBO POWER FORWARDS/SMALL FORWARDS
There are a bunch of those who could come into play, depending on Heat trades.
Among those who could be in line for exception money: Detroit’s Anthony Tolliver (159 threes on 43.6 percent shooting; Heat has always appreciated his game); Cleveland’s Jeff Green (10.8 points), Brooklyn’s Quincy Acy (three-point shooting fell off from 41.1 to 34.9), Dante Cunningham (5.7 points for Nets, Pelicans); Michael Beasley (13.2 points, 50.7 percent shooting for Knicks, but a fourth reunion here would be difficult to envision); OKC’s Jerami Grant (8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds) and Shabazz Muhammad (just a 25.9 percent three-point shooter for Wolves, Bucks).
SMALL FORWARDS, SHOOTING GUARDS and POINT GUARDS
Using exception money at this position would be unlikely unless two of these three things happen: Wade retires, Ellington signs elsewhere and the Heat succeeds in unloading Tyler Johnson’s contract.
In that scenario, Heat options would include Marco Belinelli (12.1 pgg, 37.7 percent shooting for Hawks and 76ers; Heat tried to acquire him from Hawks in February but he might command more than exception money); Brooklyn’s Joe Harris (10.8 points, 41.9 percent three-point shooting but could get more than exception money) and Pelicans guard Ian Clark (7.4 points but three-point shooting fell from 37.4 with Warriors in 2016-17 to 31.8 percent with New Orleans).
There’s also lottery pick washout Mario Hezonja (9.6 points and 33.7 percent on threes for Orlando), Aron Afflalo, Nick Young (averaged 7.3 ppg for Warriors while playing for $5.1 million), Corey Brewer (10.1 points for Lakers, Thunder but 28.3 percent career three-point shooter), ex-Heater James Ennis (7.1 ppg, 33.3 percent on threes for Memphis, Detroit), Indiana’s Glenn Robinson III (41.2 percent on threes) and point guards Seth Curry (made 137 threes on 42.5 percent shooting for Dallas in 2016-17 but missed all of last season with a leg injury) and Devin Harris (8.4 ppg).
▪ Worth keeping in mind: There’s always a surprising name or two who must settle for exception money after going into the summer expecting more. This year’s example could be Isaiah Thomas, who averaged 15.2 points but was limited to 32 games with the Cavs and Lakers because of hip problems and shot just 37.3 percent overall and 29.3 percent on threes.
But he’s a former All-Star and only 29. Depending on how the Heat’s roster shakes out after trades, this would be a name to keep in mind – especially if Goran Dragic is dealt. (Miami is by no means looking to trade Dragic, but there's nobody untouchable on the roster.)
Several others, such as San Antonio’s Danny Green (if he opts out of $10 million), the Lakers’ Brook Lopez, the Knicks’ Jarrett Jack, Portland’s Ed Davis and Dallas’ Yogi Ferrell, will be looking for more than exception money and might get it. Same with the aforementioned Harris and Belinelli.
There’s also the unrestricted free agents that Miami simply could not afford with a taxpayer mid-level exception but could afford in a sign-and-trade, though most on this list would be unlikely for the Heat this summer.
That list includes the elite (LeBron James, Kevin Durant), the next tier (Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Paul George) and the next tier (Derrick Favors, J.J. Redick, Will Barton, Trevor Ariza, Avery Bradley, Tyreke Evans, a rejuvenated Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Aron Baynes and Austin Rivers). There are a couple others who could be added to this list, such as the Knicks’ Enes Kanter, if they exercise player options to opt out.
We excluded restricted free agents, such as Cleveland’s Rodney Hood and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker, because Miami lacks the cap space to extend offer sheets barring considerable salary dumping.
Our posts in this space will resume in early July.