July 1 is just about here—the free agency gun will to sound, when the clock strikes midnight on Thursday (technically, Friday). For teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Boston Celtics or the Portland Trailblazers, teams with real cap flexibility or stake in the game, things are about to get pretty interesting. Or, pretty tragic, if OKC loses its former MVP. Either way, there are going to be some barrels of money rolled out and not just for the big names. But what about the other free agency players equipped more peanut-brittle-like cap fluidity. Teams like The Miami Heat.
This free agency is a tricky one for the Heat. This Summer, they’re trying to jump to the moon with no safety net; they’re exploring their options while they still have a long-term girlfriend; and they might look dumb when they don’t end up with either a) a new girl friend or b) their old relationship. The Heat want Kevin Durant. And a day ago it seemed like the Heat might pay the ultimate price for making their 12-time All-Star, Dwyane Wade, wait. It was reported that Wade was open to free agency offers. Though, it should be remembered that last year the Heat had trouble inking Wade to a new contract, too. So, this type of waffling between Wade and the Heat’s front office isn’t exactly unprecedented. Even then, the Heat are playing a dangerous game that could, in the worst case, leave them with nothing.
Still, it’s no secret that Pat Riley & Co. are chomping at the bit to haul in a Durant-like whale. And during Riley’s exit interview, he proclaimed Hassan Whiteside to be the Heat’s “No.1 priority,” continuing to say that they were going to be there for him the minute that free agency kicked off (midnight of July 1). Well, if that’s what the Heat intend to do—and it doesn’t look like what they intend to do—that could crumble their already brittle cap flexibility.
Durant isn’t going to make his decision the first minute of free agency (he won’t even meet with the Heat until Sunday, July 3!), so if the Heat were going to commit to Whiteside so early into the moratorium, they would only be leaving themselves enough cap room for one max player. And where does that leave Wade, the odd man out of his own franchise as he awaits the KD news?
But that’s only if the Heat were to take care of Whiteside the first day of free agency, which is something the Dallas Mavericks have promised to do. (The Mavs tried for an athletic center not too long ago, if you can recall their DeAndre Jordan debacle.) If possible, Mark Cuban will be welcoming the 7-footer with open arms—and a max contract.
You heard it from Whiteside himself: “I really don’t think it’s about loyalty.”
(The Heat’s worst case scenario is sort of in play: Wade nets a lucrative offer and abandons his “Heat Lifer” moniker, the Mavs steal Whiteside and Durant keeps his talents out of South Beach. Oh, and Chris Bosh might not play again. That’s the stuff of basketball nightmares.)
It’s looking more and more plausible that the Heat could be out a center and out of the Kevin Durant sweepstakes. In all likelihood Durant will sign a one-plus-one, player-option deal in OKC, so he can be a free agent next Summer, when Russell Westbrook’s contract is up. Pat Riley is good, but he can’t walk on water. At least, I don’t think.
That would leave the Heat with two aging superstars in Wade and Chris Bosh, a point guard that doesn’t quite fit and some promising young guys. Not exactly world-beaters. And again, there’s no guarantee that Bosh even steps on the hardwood, this year or ever again. Missing out on Whiteside and Durant would at least give the Heat some money to throw around, but at who?
Kent Bazemore is looking to garner $15-plus million this Summer. What would it take to even retain Luol Deng, who was the third-best player on a playoff team, this year? Probably somewhere between $12-to 15 million. Not to mention, if the Heat wait on Durant for too long, the free agent market could dry up.
The Heat might have better luck hoping Justise Winslow develops a reliable 3-point shot.