MIAMI — The Heat now face a decision regarding Josh Richardson’s future.
Starting Thursday, Richardson is eligible to receive a contract extension. The 6-foot-6 combo guard is eligible for an extension up to four years in length and for as much as $42 million in total value.
The extension would begin in the 2018-19 season, as Richardson is already under contract with the Heat on a salary of $1.5 million for this upcoming season. The 23-year-old can either accept the extension or pass on it and take a chance as a restricted free agent next summer.
Before Richardson’s decision, the Heat must decide whether they will even offer him a contract extension. With a total of roughly $133 million already invested in guards Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic over the next three seasons, Miami has to figure out if it wants to pour even more money into its backcourt.
With Waiters injured, Richardson played his best basketball at the end of last season. He averaged 15 points, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks, and shot 53.1 percent from 3-point range over the final six games of the schedule.
But Richardson, a Heat second-round pick in 2015, struggled to avoid injuries last season. A partially torn MCL in his right knee, a sprained ankle and a sprained left foot kept him out of 29 of the Heat’s first 57 games.
Defense and versatility is a consistent part of Richardson’s game, though.
Among NBA guards who defended at least 400 shots last season, Richardson was seventh-best as he limited the player he was guarding to 41 percent shooting (215 of 524). And Richardson has received minutes at point guard, shooting guard and small forward over the first two seasons of his NBA career, and is expected to play at all three spots this upcoming season.
If the Heat feel like Richardson is the player who made a league-best 53.3 percent of his 3-point shots after the All-Star break as a rookie and later went on to open eyes at the end of last season, offering him some sort of extension makes sense. To put the possible four-year, $42 million extension into perspective, Tim Hardaway Jr. signed a four-year, $71 million deal with the Knicks, Jrue Holiday signed a five-year, $153 million deal with the Pelicans, Kyle Korver signed a three-year, $22 million deal with the Cavaliers, and CJ Miles signed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Raptors in free agency this summer.
If no extension is agreed to, Richardson will be a restricted free agent next summer. Teams have the right to match outside offers for their own restricted free agents.
The Heat will also have his full Bird rights after this season, which allow teams to exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign their own free agents up to the player’s maximum salary.
While the Heat must now address Richardson’s future, they just made a decision regarding Okaro White and Rodney McGruder.
With an Aug. 1 deadline on their next contract guarantees, Miami guaranteed $453,000 each for the 2017-18 salaries of McGruder and White. If the Heat had not guaranteed these amounts, they would have become free agents.
McGruder and White are both set to make $1.3 million this season, with that full salary scheduled to become completely guaranteed for 2017-18 if they are on the Heat’s roster for the season-opener.
The Heat currently have 16 players under contract for the 2017-18 season: center Hassan Whiteside ($23.8 million), guard Goran Dragic ($17 million), forward James Johnson ($14 million), guard Dion Waiters ($11 million), center/forward Kelly Olynyk ($10.6 million), guard Wayne Ellington ($6.3 million), guard Tyler Johnson ($5.9 million), forward Justise Winslow ($2.7 million), center/forward Bam Adebayo ($2.5 million), forward Udonis Haslem ($2.3 million), guard Josh Richardson ($1.5 million), guard Rodney McGruder ($1.3 million), center A.J. Hammons ($1.3 million), forward Okaro White ($1.3 million), Derrick Walton Jr. (two-way contract) and Matt Williams Jr.
Teams can carry up to 20 players during the offseason, but must get it down to 15 for the regular season. In addition to the 15-player regular-season limit, teams can carry up to two two-way players.