Barry Jackson

How can the Heat replace Wade’s bench scoring? Options emerge, but there are challenges

So how will the Heat replace Dwyane Wade’s 15.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game?

Perhaps not at all.

Here’s the problem: Unless the Heat finds a dynamic, expectation-exceeding, ready-to-contribute wing player in the draft, or can somehow pull off a significant trade, Miami appears in no position to be able to replace Wade’s scoring punch with a similarly productive player, even though it will have a $5.7 million taxpayer’s exception.

Why?

The Heat has said it’s willing to pay a luxury tax when it’s a legitimate championship contender.

But it clearly isn’t now. And with Miami’s payroll (factoring in Ryan Anderson’s likely release) already at $134 million – above next year’s projected $132 million tax line and well above the $109 million cap – even before the modest allocation for its first-round draft pick, this much is clear:

Using that $5.7 million could end up resulting in a tax well above $10 million.

And it’s impossible to fathom the Heat doing that.

Let’s put it this way: If Miami emerges from the draft and the Anderson buyout $5 million above the tax line (as perspective, last year’s No. 13 pick, the Clippers’ Jerome Robinson, earned $3 million this season), a player added with the $5.7 million taxpayer midlevel would cost nearly $15 million between the salary of the player and the tax.

So if money were not an issue, the Heat likely would be able to land a legitimate bench scorer with that exception.

Among looming unrestricted free agents, appealing wing options who could fall into that taxpayer mid-level range (though most assuredly will seek more) include Tyreke Evans, Wesley Matthews, Wilson Chandler, Reggie Bullock, Seth Curry, Rodney Hood and perhaps even Kentavious Caldwell Pope (who likely will command more than a taxpayer midlevel; the Heat has always liked him).

Perhaps Miami could get one of those aforementioned players to take part of the mid-level (Curry, Evans, Hood, Chandler), which would still have painful tax implications, or perhaps someone from that list will surprisingly need to settle for the minimum, which is palatable from a tax standpoint.

Or perhaps impending free agent Isaiah Thomas, coming off a lost year for Denver (12 games, no appearances in Denver’s current playoff run), might take another minimum deal to rebuild his value, though Miami wouldn’t seem the best fit unless Goran Dragic is moved in a trade.

What about wing options at the minimum? There’s 42-year-old Vince Carter, who wants to play another season after averaging 7.4 points and shooting 42 percent on a minimum deal for Atlanta. (How about replacing one Hall of Famer with another?)

Jamal Crawford, one of the top bench scorers of this generation, is another oldie-but-goodie, but 38 now, and showed signs of decline for Phoenix last season (7.9 points per game, 33.2 percent on theee pointers.)

Other options at the minimum: Shelvin Mack, Nik Stauskas, Gerald Green (previous stop here), Omri Casspi, Alec Burks, Jerryd Bayless, Ian Clark, Darrius Miller (more forward than guard), Garrett Temple, Jodie Meeks, Thabo Sefolosha and Troy Williams.

The Heat has always been somewhat intrigued by Anthony Tolliver, a skilled three-point shooter who’s more of a power forward than small forward.

Perhaps guard Iman Shumpert (7.5 ppg for Sacramento, Houston and a skilled defender) might need to settle for a minimum deal. Lance Stephenson (7.2 ppg as a Lakers reserve) can’t be discounted as a stopgap. And Mario Hezonja (8.8 ppg for Knicks) would be a cheap, serviceable bench scorer, though his three-point shooting has fallen off.

It’s unlikely Miami could or would lure Wayne Ellington back, even though there’s a greater need now with Wade retired and Tyler Johnson traded.

We’ve excluded wing players who figure to get more than the taxpayer midlevel, such as Bojan Bogdanovic, Nikola Mirotic, Danny Green, Trevor Ariza, Rudy Gay and Terrence Ross.

There are skilled wing players projected in the range of 13 if Miami doesn’t move up in the May 14 draft lottery - a group including Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson, Indiana’s Romeo Langford, North Carolina’s Nassir Little and Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Southern Cal’s Kevin Porter Jr. is intriguing based on upside, but some mock drafts have him going low in the first round.

Regardless, it’s unrealistic to expect any mid-round wing player to give you 15 points per game as a rookie. So replacing Wade’s scoring off the bench next season might simply be unrealistic.

One possibility would be starting Justise Winslow at point guard and having Dragic as the team’s top bench scorer. But Erik Spoelstra previously has expressed an affinity for the Dragic-Dion Waiters backcourt pairing.

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