Barry Jackson

ESPN front office insider offers cautionary warning to Heat and a potential solution

‘I’m still chasing another championship,’ says Pat Riley

Pat Riley speaks about his future with the Miami Heat during an interview with Dan Le Batard on ESPN's SportsCenter.
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Pat Riley speaks about his future with the Miami Heat during an interview with Dan Le Batard on ESPN's SportsCenter.

Bobby Marks, ESPN’s front office insider and the Nets’ former assistant general manager, offered a cautionary warning on Thursday about the Heat’s hope to seize on 2020 cap space to upgrade its roster.

The Heat is already well above this coming season’s $109 million cap, with a payroll that will top $135 million if Miami utilizes its first-round draft pick and doesn’t trim salary.

But the Heat is projected to have more than $35 million in cap space in 2020, and team president Pat Riley has said Miami is eyeing that summer to make a significant move, while not ruling out something significant this summer through trades.

“The likelihood is you are probably going to punt on the offseason because of where your roster is,” Marks told me on an ESPN conference call. “You’ll probably be right at the tax again. The hard part will be waiting until the summer of 2020 because I look at that free agent class as being one of the weakest we’ve seen in a long time here.

“There is a significant drop off from this year and 2021 when you look at outside of whatever happens with Anthony Davis. It’s really kind of Draymond Green and a lot of the players that signed those big contracts in the summer of 2016.”

Marks suggested one potential solution this summer.

“Is there an option for Miami to take some of their expiring contracts like [Hassan] Whiteside and [Goran] Dragic and maybe go out and get a player that has an extra year that eats into that cap space that can help now?” Marks said. “That could be certainly an option you need to look at - it’s hard waiting for the summer of 2020 because that free agent class is not like it’s going to be like it is this year.”

Whiteside and Dragic have the option to void the final year of their contracts, but it would be surprising if either does that, with Whiteside due $27 million next season and Dragic $19.2 million if each opts into the final season of his contract.

As for the 2020 free agent class, that group has one elite unrestricted free agent (Anthony Davis, if he opts out of a $28 million player option with New Orleans or whatever team he’s traded to in the next year) and two previous All Stars (Green and Kyle Lowry).

Also, San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan has the right to bypass a $27.9 million player option for 2020-21.

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, Milwaukee’s George Hill, Golden State’s Shaun Livingston, Cleveland’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 Derrick Jones Jr., the Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari, 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, Dallas’ 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 Dallas’ 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 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 Toronto’s 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.

DRAGIC UPDATE

An associate of Dragic said he would be very surprised if Dragic does not opt into the final year of his Heat contract but said it ultimately comes down to this:

Dragic very much likes playing for the Heat and it’s a good situation for him. The question is whether an incredible different situation should present itself before his June 29 opt-out date.

That could mean a championship contender or another appealing team hinting to him or his associates, through back-channels, that he should opt out and that a rich multiyear contract awaits. Though players under contract cannot talk to other teams before July 1, it’s common for messages to be discreetly delivered in general terms.

ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz said Thursday that Oregon center Bol Bol has the highest upside of players widely projected for Miami’s draft range at No. 13, even more than Southern California shooting guard Kevin Porter Jr. and North Carolina forward Nassir Little.

Bol, 7-2, is coming off a foot injury. Schmitz said he believes he will be ready by the start of the season.

“I don’t think he’s going to miss his entire rookie season; but with a foot injury, I’m sure you want to take things slow,” Schmitz said. “I’m sure it’s a longterm play with him. He’s one of those risk reward guy. He can really shoot the ball, so skilled on the perimeter. He can get a defensive rebound and create some offense. My question is his durability with his thin frame and can he make it through an 82 game season.”

Marks also asks this about Bol: “Are you comfortable with him sitting out a full year, taking a redshirt year and waiting until his second year based on coming off that foot injury. From a skill set, there is a lot of reward there based on his ability to stretch the floor with his length. We haven’t seen a player like that with his length before. Whoever drafts him, you are going to have to play the patient game.”

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