MIAMI — The Heat enter the offseason with very little financial flexibility to make significant changes.
Decisions over the past two years have helped put Miami in this position. Signing Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Josh Richardson to four-year deals that combine to cost them $200 million last summer, and investing $98 million in Hassan Whiteside and $50 million in Tyler Johnson the previous summer has left the Heat with very little wiggle room to make changes to their roster.
Miami currently has 10 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due $119 million. That puts the Heat way above the projected $101 million salary cap and very close to the projected $123 million luxury tax line.
Heat president Pat Riley took time to defend the organization’s decisions — specifically the ones made last offseason in signing Waiters, Johnson, Olynyk and Richardson to four-year contracts — during his April 30 post-season press conference.
“All of our guys that we paid last year — and everybody talks about how much money we have committed to them — the average salary is $8 [million] to $9 million,” Riley said. “We’re $9 [million] to $14 million with some guys we think have an upside. We’re going to add to that if we can. But we’re not afraid of paying those kinds of deals to those players because I think they were very committed to what we are doing.”
Johnson (averaged 10.8 points on 50.3 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds and a career-high 3.8 assists) and Olynyk (averaged career-highs in points, rebounds and assists) each played a big part in the Heat’s sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference during the first season of their new four-year contracts. And the 24-year-old Richardson is considered an asset at his price point, with his four-year, $42 million extension beginning this upcoming season.
But Waiters had his season cut short by left ankle surgery after just 30 games. He averaged 14.3 points on 39.8 percent shooting before he was sidelined for the year.
“I’ve had conversations with Dion. He was hurt,” Riley said. “He was playing hurt for a year and a half for the most part. I’m glad he had the surgery. I hope the surgery is 100 percent successful. You got a very talented 25-year-old, 26-year-old player that still wants to make his mark and we don’t have to go out and pay somebody $25 million to get him to play. We’ll see what happens.”
The Heat will also see what happens this offseason. They don’t have much flexibility to spend in free agency, but they can make changes through trades.
And Riley made it clear the Heat will try to improve their current roster this summer.
“If we wanted to go home on vacation right now and take off five months, we’ve got 10, 11 players under contract,” he said. “It would be pretty easy to come back with the same team. Now, I don’t know if that would make you happy or our fan base happy because they’re all clamoring for more. We’ll try to give them more. That’s what I’ve been trying to do since I’ve been here.”