The NBA starts a new fiscal year at 12 a.m. Sunday, which also signals the start of free agency and what once again will be a busy offseason. The Miami Heat may not be as big a player as usual this offseason because of roster and payroll limitations, but president Pat Riley still will be busy trying to find a way to upgrade his roster, however difficult that may be.
This week we take a look at the biggest offseason questions surrounding the Heat. Today’s question: Can the Heat improve through trades this offseason? We’ll shift to a different question each day leading up to the start of free agency.
[Wednesday’s question: Will 3-point specialist Wayne Ellington return to Heat?]
MIAMI — The NBA’s free-agency frenzy is about to begin, but the Heat are expected to be bystanders.
Miami is capped out and close to the luxury tax line. The Heat currently have 10 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due about $119 million (assuming Rodney McGruder’s $1.5 million salary is guaranteed by the Saturday deadline), which is way above the projected $101 million salary cap and just a few million dollars away from the projected $123 million luxury tax threshold.
That leaves the Heat with their hands tied entering free agency. Miami can still improve its roster this offseason, though.
The Heat could look to trade their way to a better team. Without cap space this summer, a trade is the most realistic way for Miami to revamp its roster.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing this summer, with some big names already mentioned in trade rumors such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins, Oklahoma City’s Carmelo Anthony, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker.
“There has been a lot of discussion with a lot of teams about a lot of players,” Heat president Pat Riley said last week regarding trade dialogue around the league. “I just feel that there’s a restlessness on the part of teams and also there’s a reluctance to do things. Teams that there was a high expectation level for, maybe even higher than ours, that the season didn’t end up well for them and they have very good players, maybe even All-Star players that there’s been some contemplation. But it’s pretty hard to pull the trigger on that kind of thing.”
The Heat could also use a trade to help their long-term cap situation at the price of taking a step back in the short term. One example of that would be Miami trading Hassan Whiteside and the two seasons remaining on his max contract for the expiring deal of Chicago’s Robin Lopez.
What do the Heat have to offer in a trade this summer? Here’s a list, not including Miami’s impending free agents: Luke Babbitt, Wayne Ellington, Udonis Haslem, Dwyane Wade, Jordan Mickey, Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr.
Bam Adebayo: As a 20-year-old on a rookie-scale contract (set to make $3.0 million in 2018-19) with what looks to be plenty of untapped potential, Adebayo is one of the last players the Heat want to trade this offseason. He’s one of the most valuable assets on Miami’s roster. The Heat probably won’t agree to a deal involving Adebayo unless it brings them a star.
Goran Dragic: This is an interesting one. Dragic is arguably the best player on a starless roster, and that’s good enough to make the playoffs. But the Heat aren’t going to make a deep playoff run with Dragic as their top player. So is it time to trade him before the 32-year-old starts to decline? Miami can definitely still use Dragic, and his contract isn’t a bad one (set to make $18.1 million in 2018-19 and has a player option worth $19.2 million for 2019-20 — the final season of his deal). However, if dealing Dragic is going to help Miami’s long-term future then it will probably be explored. That’s the only way he’s not back next season.
James Johnson: This is one of the Heat’s contracts that will be difficult to trade. The 31-year-old Johnson is entering the second season of a four-year, $60 million free-agent deal he signed with the Heat last summer. He’s set to make $14.7 million in 2018-19. Miami has to hope Johnson continues to grow because it’s going to be difficult to move his contract this summer unless a sweetener like Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo or a draft pick is attached.
Tyler Johnson: It’s going to be extremely difficult for the Heat to move this contract, as he’s set to become the second-highest paid player on the Heat’s roster behind only Hassan Whiteside. Johnson will make $19.2 million in 2018-19, which is the third year of a four-year deal he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2016. Unless the Heat are willing to get a bad contract in return or include one of their young assets like Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow and/or Josh Richardson in a deal, it’s hard to imagine any team willing to take on Johnson’s salary for the next two seasons. The smart move for the Heat could just be letting Johnson’s contract play out or trying to trade him next offseason when he’s on an expiring contract.
Rodney McGruder: On a Heat roster that includes a few questionable contracts, McGruder has one of the team-friendly deals. He’s set to make $1.5 million in 2018-19, assuming the Heat guarantee his salary by the Saturday deadline. With no cap space, Miami needs contracts like this on its roster — especially for a player who has proven he can be relied on to play consistent minutes. The Heat aren’t just going to trade McGruder. It would have to be part of a deal to acquire a star or get rid of a bad contract.
Kelly Olynyk: When grading last summer’s Heat signings, Olynyk’s contract has turned out to be the best value so far. He’s set to make $12.5 million in 2018-19, which is the second season of a four-year free-agent deal he signed with the Heat last summer. Olynyk is due $13.1 million in 2019-20 and has a player option worth $13.6 million in 2020-21. Miami is pleased with Olynyk’s development in just one season with the organization and is not looking to trade him. The Heat probably won’t agree to a deal involving Olynyk unless it brings them a star or, maybe, gets a bad contract off Miami’s books.
Josh Richardson: He’s one of Miami’s top assets. Richardson is a young player who has continued to improve on both ends of the floor and is under a palatable contract for the next four seasons — set to make $9.4 million in 2018-19 as part of the four-year, $42 million extension he signed last offseason. It doesn’t make sense for the Heat to deal him, unless they’re required to include him in a trade to move one of their bad contracts or the deal brings back a big-time star. At this price point, Richardson is an asset the Heat must make the most of — whether that means continuing to develop him or including him in the right trade.
Dion Waiters: Before Waiters underwent season-ending ankle surgery in January, he was the Heat’s starting shooting guard. He’s one of the only players on the roster who can create his own offense consistently, but the Heat would like to see him to do it more efficiently. Is this a good or bad contract (set to make $11.6 million in 2018-19, which is the second year of a four-year, $52 million free-agent deal he signed with the Heat last summer)? Nobody really knows yet because Waiters’ ankle seemed to bother him even when he was playing this past season and it eventually cut his year short. It will be difficult to trade Waiters this offseason because of that uncertainty.
Hassan Whiteside: What will the Heat do with Whiteside? That’s the big question surrounding the organization this offseason. Whiteside has been vocal about his displeasure with his playing time and how Erik Spoelstra uses him. As the Heat’s highest paid player (set to make $25.4 million in 2018-19, which is the third season of a four-year, $98 million free-agent deal he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2016), Whiteside averaged just 15.4 minutes of playing time in the playoffs. Reserve centers Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo ate into his minutes. Now, Miami must figure out if Whiteside is still in its future plans. If the Heat decide they want to trade him, there’s one problem: Whiteside’s trade value looks to be pretty low right now.
Justise Winslow: At $3.5 million next season, Winslow is a bargain. But how much are the Heat willing to invest in him past next season? That’s the big question. The Heat have until Oct. 31 to decide if they want to keep Winslow by extending his contract beyond 2018-19. With big money already committed to Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters past 2018-19, Miami could be limited in how much they offer Winslow when it comes to an extension. If money is going to prevent the Heat from keeping Winslow around beyond this upcoming season, it could be time to see what they could get for him in a trade.
* Along with these 10 players under contract, the Heat are also currently eligible to trade their 2019, 2023 and 2024 first-round picks and 2022 second-round pick.