The Miami Heat have been very successful in their current big 3 era.
That may be an understatement.
The Heat have won back to back championships and have reached the Finals 3 straight years. As they barrel towards their 4th, the Heat do not seem to notice the giant issue looming over top of them in this 2014 offseason. That problem is Free Agency.
No, not the big 3 in free agency. While the star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all can exercise their early termination options this summer and become unrestricted free agents, that is unlikely. The chances that those three find a better circumstance than what Miami has provided is slim. But that issue is a whole other topic. The Heats main issues in free agency lie with the huge amount of unrestricted free agents to be in a Heat uniform right now. The list includes the following:
Mario Chalmers – UFA
Ray Allen – UFA
Shane Battier – UFA
Toney Douglas – UFA
James Jones – UFA
Rashard Lewis – UFA
Michael Beasley – UFA
Justin Hamilton – Team option
Greg Oden – UFA
While some players on this list, like Toney Douglas and Justin Hamilton, have little to no affect on the Heat and their success (or failure), many of these players are crucial to the teams success.
Ray Allen has been one of the most important players on the Heat for the last two years. His All time leader in 3 point shooting status and veteran presence off the bench are some of the X factors that the Heat have over the other teams they compete with. He also was able to bail out the Heat in game 6 of the NBA finals last year. Allen has won the Finals with the Heat both years of his contract. That says a lot about what he brings to the team. Allen may retire this offseason, and losing Allen would be a heavy loss for the Heat to deal with.
Mario Chalmers is another guy that would be a huge loss to the Heat. His 9.8 PPG and 4.9 APG are not great numbers, but his contribution is more than that. Chalmers has been the starting point guard for the Heat in three straight Finals appearances. That has to account for something. Chalmers could make somewhat good money somewhere else, but would be foolish to look elsewhere. Also, it would be foolish for the Heat to not pursue resigning him. Chalmers may not be the flashiest or the best starting point guard, but he is the Heats point guard. It would be good for the locker room to retain him. The problem is, he may bolt for the cash.
Shane Battier is likely to retire after this year, barring a miracle. That may be the best case for his career, as the story veteran has seen a lot in his NBA days. Walking away from the game with 2 (possibly 3) Finals rings would be completely respectable for Battier. The Heat have appreciated his contributions over the past seasons, but he has fallen out of the rotation this playoffs (see no playing time in postseason section).
James Jones, Rashard Lewis, and Michael Beasley all provide solid depth behind LeBron James at small forward and Greg Oden is a project that saw success in limited minutes this season. They all would be missed and most likely expensive or will retire this offseason.
With the entire roster besides the big 3, Norris Cole, Chris Andersen, and Udonis Haslem (player option) off the squad next season, the Heat will need to get busy in free agency trying to re-sign some guys and sign some new faces. There is just one hiccup in that plan.
Their cap space.
With all the contracts of the aforementioned players off the books,all player options picked up, and all ETOs not exercised, the Heat’s salary number for next season stands at $69,446,678. To put that in perspective, the rosters of playoff teams like Charlotte, Atlanta, Houston, and Portland all cost their current teams less than or equal to $65 million. The title contending roster of the Indiana Pacers only costs just over $68 million and the Oklahoma City Thunder do not exceed $70 million.
With the Heat having their salary next season for 6 players costing nearly as much as the entire Thunder current roster, they have some issues to address.
The first step in that process will be finding cheap role players to come in and sign for the title. The Heat do not have money to offer, only a chance at championships. While this will be easy for finding older veterans thirsty for playoff success, younger players may not be interested and rather chase that payday that they dreamed of for so long. Often times, younger players are more productive than older ones. The Heat will need some youth to give the big 3 relief. They will need some players that can make their own offense, rather than the typical Heat bench player of a 3 and D wing. They will need scorers and depth and a solution to the long time hole at center in Miami. They will have a lot of needs to fill this offseason and they will not have the cap space to get it done.
While players like Danny Granger, Evan Turner, and Paul Pierce all may have some mutual interest with the Heat organization this summer, more influential and game changing players like Lance Stephenson and Isaiah Thomas will not be interested in signing minimum deals to join this super squad. Those guys are looking for huge deals to capitalize off their career years.
The Heat will struggle to find good talent this offseason and, with sparse room to play with before hitting the Luxury tax, the Heat will have an expensive summer. Unless Pat Riley and owner Micky Aronis determine that the only way to continue winning is to shoot up their salary expenses, the Heat will have nothing on their roster but the big 3, Birdman, Udonis Haslem, Norris Cole, a few D-league players if they’re lucky, and maybe some Junior Magic players to sign for cheap.
A good bench is crucial to success in the NBA, especially in the playoffs. For example, the champion Dallas Mavericks of 2011 had a stellar bench that helped them defeat the goliath Heat. That bench included players like Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, Corey Brewer, Caron Butler, Peja Stojaković, and Ian Mahinmi among others. The Heat will require a deep, weapon-filled bench like they have currently to continue their consistent Finals runs and top of the rankings play.
How the Heat manage to keep their core intact and sign impact free agents that increase their chances of winning will be an interesting plan to unravel and an interesting story to cover this summer. If they cannot pull it off, then the big 3 era may be well on its way out of successful times.
salary info via hoopshype.com