MIAMI — February is going to be an interesting month for the Heat.
With Miami on a nine-game winning streak, the trade and transaction discussion has quieted down. The Heat (20-30) will go for 10 straight wins Saturday against the 76ers at AmericanAirlines Arena (7:30 p.m.).
But Miami will have no choice but to address several roster decisions this month.
First, the Heat are eligible to apply for salary-cap relief from Chris Bosh’s contract starting on Thursday — the one-year anniversary of the last game Bosh played. Second, Miami will have to decide whether to make any moves before the Feb. 23 trading deadline.
But before all that, the Heat will have to address the Okaro White issue.
White’s second 10-day contract expires Sunday. With teams limited to two 10-day contracts per player, the Heat will have to decide whether to sign the 24-year-old forward for the remainder of the season or release him when the current deal expires.
“We don’t have to make it today,” Spoelstra said after Friday’s practice when asked about the looming roster decision. “I’m day-to-day. Simple way to live.”
Considering that White has played in each of the Heat’s past eight games, averaging 15.4 minutes per game, the expectation is that Miami will try to sign him for the rest of the season. But in order to do so, the Heat will have to open a roster spot by trading or releasing a player.
The most obvious move would be to release or trade forward Derrick Williams, who has fallen out of the Heat’s rotation. The former No. 2 overall pick has logged 48 seconds of playing time over the Heat’s past nine games and has not played at all in 25 games this season per coach’s decision.
Williams signed a one-year, $4.6 million contract with the Heat as a free agent this past summer, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Miami would be responsible for paying that full salary if they release him.
But it’s possible that one of the teams that has not reached the NBA-required salary cap floor — Minnesota, Phoenix, Utah, Denver, Philadelphia, Brooklyn — could trade for Williams and assume responsibility for the remainder of his season salary, prorated at about $1.8 million.
“It’s not really up to me,” Williams said of the possibility of being moved. “I’m just here to play basketball. At the end of the day, if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. I’m ready to just play basketball.”
With the Heat flying to Minnesota on Sunday afternoon for the start of their upcoming four-game road trip, there’s a possibility that White or Williams could be left in Miami if a decision is made before the team travels. For now, White and Williams are preparing like they are making the trip.
“I’ve never been in this position before so I’m not sure,” White said when asked how he will handle the situation. “The only thing I’m trying to look forward to is what’s ahead. At the end of the game [Saturday against Philadelphia], I’ll see what happens. But right now, I’m just focused on the next game.”
White has averaged four points and 2.5 rebounds per game since signing his first 10-day contract with Miami on Jan. 17. As a member of the Heat’s D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, White averaged 18.4 points and 8.7 rebounds in 33 minutes per game before joining the Heat.
With White’s playing time probably not going to be as consistent with the Heat as it would be with the Skyforce, another option Miami has is to sign him and then send him back to Sioux Falls for further development. This would prevent other NBA teams from signing him away while continuing White’s progress as a go-to player playing big minutes with Sioux Falls.
This looming roster decision began when the Heat were granted an additional roster spot on top of the NBA’s standard 15-player limit under the NBA’s hardship rule. With 16 roster slots, Miami was able to sign White to a 10-day contract without releasing anybody.
In order for Miami to qualify for the 16th roster spot under the hardship rule, an NBA doctor had to confirm that four total players would miss an additional two weeks after sitting out at least three consecutive games. With Josh Richardson (sprained left foot), Chris Bosh (blood clots), Josh McRoberts (foot) and Justise Winslow (shoulder) out, the Heat met that requirement.
But since the Heat are not allowed to sign White to a third 10-day contract, they would need to make room for him on the 15-man roster to sign him for the remainder of the season.
“It’s been great,” White said of his NBA experience so far. “I keep saying, I couldn’t dream for it to get any better. It’s been a great experience and I’m looking forward to the next day. I’ve just been taking it day-by-day and each day has been better than the last. So I’m just looking forward to everything.”