With the start of free agency set for Saturday at midnight, we’ll take a look at the biggest free-agent questions surrounding the Heat. Today we ask, should Miami bring back last season’s core? We’ll shift to a different question each day leading up to the start of free agency.
[Tuesday’s question: What will it take for the Heat to re-sign James Johnson?]
Why wouldn’t the Heat make an effort to bring back the core of a team that recorded a 30-11 record over the final 41 games of the season? But some will ask, why would the Heat want to bring back the core of a team that finished with a 41-41 record and didn’t make the playoffs?
This is the conundrum Miami will have to figure out when free agency kicks off Saturday.
So, who are the impending free agents the Heat would need to sign to bring back last season’s core?
Forward James Johnson, and guards Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington are the three biggest names who played big and consistent roles for Miami down its 30-11 stretch. But bringing the band back would also mean trying to retain reserve center Willie Reed, and forwards Luke Babbitt and Udonis Haslem, who will also be free agents.
The Heat should have just enough money to bring those players back, as they are expected to enter free agency with about $35 million in cap space. But bringing back the core would probably leave first-round pick Bam Adebayo and a healthy Justise Winslow as the only notable upgrades to next season’s roster because just re-signing Johnson, Waiters and Ellington could eat up about $30 million of Miami’s cap space.
Johnson and Waiters, who will be unrestricted free agents, are expected to get big pay raises this summer after making a combined $6.9 million with the Heat last season. It could cost a combined $24 million to retain the duo in free agency.
Meanwhile, the Heat have a team option worth $6.3 million to bring back Ellington. But Miami could try to restructure Ellington’s contract so his cap hit next season is less than the $6.3 million team option in his current deal, by offering him a lower 2017-18 salary but on a longer contract to free up additional cap space this offseason.
Either way, fitting Johnson, Waiters and Ellington under the Heat’s cap would almost certainly mean no “whale” this summer. That means no Gordon Hayward and no Blake Griffin.
Heat president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg must figure out the best route to take.