The Heat hasn’t had the best of luck in the post-LeBron James era, losing Chris Bosh to blood clots and then Dion Waiters to a serious ankle injury for a year after giving him a big contract.
So perhaps it’s appropriate that the year the Heat will finally enjoy cap relief — 2020 — is shaping up as a class shallow in high-end talent.
Miami has $72.2 million committed to six players for 2020-21, with the cap projected to be $118 million.
But here’s the problem: That 2020 class has one elite unrestricted free agent (Anthony Davis, if he opts out of a $28 million player option with New Orleans) and two All Stars (Draymond Green and Kyle Lowry).
Also, San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan has the right to bypass a $27.9 million player option for 2020-21.
And that’s where the list ends for clear-cut All Stars whose contracts allow them to become unrestricted free agents that summer.
The Heat won’t have any cap space this summer but is poised to have $40 million plus in the summer of 2020, and more if Kelly Olynyk opts out of $13.6 million for 2020-21 or far less likely, if James Johnson opts out of $15.8 million for 2020-21.
Beyond Olynyk and Johnson, the only other Heat players under contract for 2020-21 are Dion Waiters ($13.9 million), Justise Winslow ($13 million team option), Josh Richardson ($10.9 million) and Bam Adebayo ($5.1 million team option). The Heat also could have modest allocations for 2019 and 2020 first-round draft picks on its books that summer.
So barring trades, the Heat would essentially have $40 million or so to fill six roster spots — one of whom could be Derrick Jones Jr., who will be a free agent that summer.
That $72.2 million in 2020-21 salary cap number doesn’t include Rodney McGruder (who will be a free agent this summer) and Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson, who have player options that seem unlikely to be exercised this summer and whose deals expire after next season.
The Heat assuredly will pursue Davis if he makes it to free agency in 2020, but LeBron James has been public about his interest in luring Davis to the Lakers, and Davis is reportedly intrigued. And Davis’ future could be resolved this summer instead — with an extension with the Pelicans or a trade and subsequent extension with the Lakers or another team that appeals to him.
Add DeRozan or Green to a core of Richardson, Winslow, Adebayo, Waiters and two upcoming first-round picks, and there’s a chance to compete for something more than a low playoff seed.
But beyond those two, Lowry and of course Davis, there’s nobody among potential 2020 free agents who would seemingly elevate the Heat into the top tier of the East.
The best of the rest of the 2020 unrestricted free agents:
▪ Point guards: Dragic (set for free agency that summer presuming he doesn’t opt out of the Heat’s $19.2 million this summer), Detroit’s Reggie Jackson, Cleveland’s George Hill, Golden State’s Shaun Livingston, Houston’s Brandon Knight, San Antonio’s Bryn Forbes, Toronto’s Fred Van Vleet (meaning both he and Lowry become Raptors free agents at the same time).
▪ Other wings (shooting guards or small forwards): The Heat’s Jones Jr., the Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari and Avery Bradley, San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli, Houston’s Eric Gordon, Utah’s Jae Crowder, Brooklyn’s Joe Harris, Cleveland’s Jordan Clarkson, Golden State’s Andre Iguodola, New Orleans’ E’Twaun Moore, the Knicks’ Courtney Lee, OKC’s Andre Roberson, Orlando’s Jonathon Simmons and Evan Fournier (if he bypasses a $17 million player option), Portland’s Evan Turner and Maurice Harkless and the Knicks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. if he opts out of $18.9 million.
▪ Power rotation players: Whiteside (presuming he doesn’t opt out of the Heat’s $27.1 million this summer), Utah’s Derrick Favors, Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell, OKC’s Jerami Grant, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, Milwaukee’s John Henson, San Antonio’s Pau Gasol and Washington’s Ian Mahinmi.
The 2020 free agent class could add a few good names. For example, Boston’s Al Horford would be a 2020 free agent if he opts into a $30 million player option for 2019-20 instead of becoming a free agent this upcoming summer.
Dallas’ Harrison Barnes and Memphis’ Marc Gasol would be 2020 free agents if they both opt into $25 million player options for 2019-20. So would Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton in the unlikely event he opts into $13 million next season.
And there’s always the possibility some 2019 free agents, such as Kevin Durant, could sign one-year deals and test free agency again in 2020.
Then there’s this bit of good news: The class of 2020 restricted free agents is very good, though those players’ current teams assuredly would exercise their right to match outside offers in most or all cases and likely will extend some of these players before then.
The top projected restricted free agents in 2020:
▪ Wings: Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Boston’s Jaylen Brown, Atlanta’s Taurean Prince, Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert, Denver’s Jamal Murray, the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram, Chicago’s Kris Dunn, Minnesota’s Dario Saric, Sacramento’s Bogan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield and San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray.
▪ Power rotation players: Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam.
And to reiterate, it’s difficult to see the top players from that restricted free agent group escaping their current team’s grasp.
Bottom line: For the Heat, trades for disgruntled All Stars might provide the better opportunity to seize on 2020 cap space than a free agent class that’s underwhelming after the top four.