If Miami Heat owner Micky Arison was trying to send a message about which direction the franchise will be going when the free agent period officially begins in July – consider it strongly delivered.
Roughly 50 minutes prior to midnight Saturday, Arison posted a photo on his Instagram account of himself standing alongside Dion Waiters, James Johnson and a bunny rabbit and a caption which read: “The @miamiheat future looks very bright.”
After the Heat was eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season Wednesday despite a 30-11 finish over the second half, Arison called the team “one of my favorites.”
Johnson, 30, is a free agent coming off a career season with Miami in which he emerged into one of the team’s best and most important players over the second half of the season.
Waiters, 25, played in only 46 games because of groin and ankle injuries, but shot a career-best 39.5 percent from three-point range and brought out the best in point guard Goran Dragic when they were together on the floor. Miami was also 27-19 when Waiters played.
In the last couple months, both players expressed strong interest in returning to play for the Heat, which will have roughly $39 million in cap space for next season once 11-time All-Star Chris Bosh is released and his $25.2 million cap hit for next season is taken off the books.
Johnson and Waiters, who has a $3 million player option for next season will likely opt out of, could each easily command upwards of $12 million in the open market – if not more when you consider what Luol Deng ($18 million per season) and Evan Turner ($17 million per season) received in raises a summer ago.
Still, Waiters and Johnson have said their preference would be to stay with the Heat after having experienced the most successful seasons of their careers here in Miami.
“Whatever it takes [this summer], I just want to be here,” Waiters told our Barry Jackson back in March. “What we’re building here, we have a chance to do something special.”
Johnson told The Herald a couple weeks later: “I hope I spend the rest of my life here.”
Team president Pat Riley, 72, said shortly after the trade deadline back in February part of the reason he didn’t make any move was because he wanted to see what this group could do together.
Now, the question is if Riley feels as strongly as Arison apparently does.