2018 Free Agency Update: LeBron lays low during early morning madness, as do Heat

Cleveland’s LeBron James during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics on May 27, 2018. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

As LeBron James’ private plane was tracking from Anguilla to Van Nuys Saturday, backroom deals were being struck all over the NBA landscape.

The frenzy started minutes before the ball dropped on the NBA New Year at midnight and continued well into the morning. Within hours about 20 players reportedly agreed to deals, with most not allowed to sign before noon on Friday.

One team sitting out the madness: the Miami Heat. The Heat’s lack of flexibility makes it very difficult for Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg to become a major player this summer, other than through the trade market.

The biggest names – Golden State’s Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City’s Paul George, Houston’s Chris Paul, Denver’s Nikola Jokic – are returning to their old teams. The four will re-sign on deals ranging from two to four years and totaling more than $500 million. (And this is a summer in which the theme is fiscal responsibility.)

The most intriguing names on the move so far are DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers to Dallas, Trevor Ariza from Houston to Phoenix and two players who obviously do not Trust the Process in Philadelphia, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, who will sign with Milwaukee and San Antonio, respectively.

Other than that, few names will tilt the needle as we enter the week, with, of course, one exception.

James spent most of last week holed up in the Caribbean, weighing his options. Saturday morning, he and his financial team boarded his jet for Southern California, where, let’s face it, all signs point to him ultimately staying put as a member of the Lakers. But on Sunday, James’ agent, Rich Paul, reportedly was set to meet with a high-level Sixers contingent in Los Angeles.

Before meeting with Philadelphia, the only reported contact James had with any team after midnight was a phone call with Cleveland general manger Koby Altman. James owes the Cavaliers nothing after delivering on his promise to bring Cleveland a title after returning four years ago but perhaps he learned from the embarrassing way he left his hometown team the first time with a poorly-planned, hour-long infomercial in which he declared he was “taking his talents to South Beach.”

James is not holding this free agent season hostage as he did eight and four years ago, when he bolted Miami and returned to Cleveland. A sign that many believe James’ decision has been made is so many deals being reported in the early hours of free agency. If James had a long list of teams he was considering, everything would have been on hold, much like it was two years ago for Durant and last year for Gordon Hayward.

But James has been trending toward the Lakers for weeks and that narrative become stronger Friday when James informed Cleveland he would opt out of the final year of contract, which realistically narrowed his choices to the Lakers, Cavs and Sixers. The biggest question now is who rides James’ coattails to L.A. With George staying put in OKC, the Lakers (and likely James) have targeted New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins.

Despite the early rush, this will be a tight market for free agents. Just eight teams have cap space of any significance and already two of them, Dallas and Phoenix, have made their big moves. Of those remaining teams, just the Lakers, Philadelphia and Indiana appear willing to hand out substantial contracts. The others – Atlanta, Chicago and Sacramento – could sign mid-tier players and/or use their space for trades.

Many teams are looking back at the summer of 2016 when spending got out of control and some of the worst contracts in league history were handed out, and ahead to next summer when the cap will rise to a projected $109 million and the market will be deeper with Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Kevin Love among those all likely to be available.

As for the Heat, the first bit of news likely will involve free agent guard Wayne Ellington. Miami would like to retain the franchise’s record holder for the most 3 pointers in a season, but at what price? The Heat have Ellington’s early Bird rights and can pay him as much as $10.9 million next season but that could put them above the new luxury tax line, which was revealed last night as $123.733 million, unless other salary is shed through a trade.

Ilyasova, Belinelli and Doug McDermott (Indiana) are long-range shooters like Ellington and their contracts were in the $6-$7.3 million per year range. Ellington will receive interest as the market settles but expect him and the Heat to have several conversations.

[Miami Heat swingman Rodney McGruder’s contract guaranteed for 2018-19]

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2018 Free Agency Primer: We bring you the top five players at each position

LeBron James speaks to the media after Cleveland was swept by Golden State in the NBA Finals. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Free agency starts at 12:01 Sunday. Barring any significant trades that allow them to shed salaries, the Miami Heat lack cap space to become a major player this summer.

More than 125 players are free to sign with any team, although several are restricted. Here is our list of the top players at this time at each position.

POINT GUARDS

Chris Paul, Houston: The Rockets will try to find a way to bring back Paul – he can sign for $205 million over five years – and add LeBron James or Paul George.

Isaiah Thomas, Lakers: Thomas’ timing could not have been worse. He insists he is a max player but he won’t get close to that after a season in which his production fell and questions still persist about his hip.

Rajon Rondo, New Orleans: Rondo is no longer the player he was in Boston but he has rehabilitated his image in Chicago and New Orleans and continues to be a solid floor general.

Elfrid Payton, Phoenix: The Suns acquired Payton from Orlando at the trade deadline hoping he would be their point guard of the future. Not so and they are moving on from Payton.

Fred Van Vleet, Toronto (R): Van Vleet had a breakout year last season, his third in the league and will receive a nice pay raise from the $1.3 million he made in 2017-18.

SHOOTING GUARDS

Zach LaVine, Bulls (R): LaVine returned from ACL surgery and looked good in his half season in Chicago. If teams are not scared off by the injury he could get close to the max.

Tyreke Evans, Memphis: Evans had a solid year averaging 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists. At 28 he is looking at his last big contract.

Will Barton, Denver: An underrated player who has steadily improved the last four seasons had his best season heading into free agency. Mostly a reserve but proved last season he can be productive starting.

JJ Redick, Philadelphia: Redick made the most of his one-year, $23 million deal with the 76ers, averaging 17.1 points. Now, he is on the market again.

Marcus Smart, Boston: Smart has been a valuable reserve for the Celtics the last two years and helped his cause in the playoffs. One of the top defensive guards in the league.

SMALL FORWARDS

LeBron James, Cleveland: Everything is on hold until James decides where he is headed – he first must decline his player option for $35.6 million. The Lakers appear to be in the lead but the Cavaliers are holding out hope he returns.

Kevin Durant, Golden State: Durant is expected to decline his player option for $26.2 million after signing a two-year deal last summer and re-signing with the Warriors. Durant said he’s ready to ink a long-term deal.

Paul George, Oklahoma City: The Thunder were hoping to retain George after the gamble it took last summer to trade for him and put together a team that could compete for a title. George opted out and will field offers, which doesn’t look good for OKC.

Trevor Ariza, Houston: The Rockets will make an attempt to somehow land James but that will take creativity and certainly would mean losing Ariza. Otherwise, the Rockets are in play.

Rudy Gay, San Antonio: Gay declined his player option for $8.8 million to test free agency for a second consecutive season. He averaged 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in his one year in San Antonio.

POWER FORWARDS

Aaron Gordon, Orlando (R): Gordon is going to get paid – he is seeking a max deal – and the Magic have a big decision as to whether they match an offer to keep him, let him go or try to work out a sign-and-trade.

Julius Randle, Lakers (R): Randle’s future is as murky as anybody’s on the market depending on what happens in L.A. The Lakers are trying to land some combination of LeBron, Leonard and Paul George – or even all three – and how it unfolds will determine whether Randle returns.

Derrick Favors, Utah: Favors is an under-the-radar free agent who will be a nice pickup for somebody if he leaves Utah. The Jazz want him back but his future will have everything to do with how much money is left after the big names move.

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee (R): Parker struggled this season playing just 31 games after returning from a torn ACL. Not sure the Bucks are eager to give him a large contract which could limit his offer on the open market.

Montrezl Harrell, Clippers: Another underrated player who played an important role on the Clippers after being acquired last summer in the Chris Paul trade. An explosive player with great energy who is a tough matchup at 6-8. Can also play center.

CENTERS

DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans: Cousins’ torn Achilles came at a bad time. He would have been a max player but likely will have to take less after suffering the injury in late January. The big question is if the Pelicans really want him back?

Clint Capela, Houston (R): The Rockets love Capela and matching an offer would be a no-brainer if it weren’t for their pursuit of LeBron. Ideally, Houston retains Chris Paul and Capela and somehow lands LeBron, but that will be difficult.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Jordan could exercise his player option and be traded to Dallas before free agency kicks off. He is a capable scorer, one of the best rebounders in the league and a huge asset defensively.

Jusuf Nurkic, Portland (R): Nurkic improved during his first full season in Portland but he remains an inconsistent player. The Trail Blazers will have a decision to make when he receives an offer.

Brook Lopez, Lakers: Lopez has expanded his game, making 246 threes on 34.5 percent shooting the last two years. He made just three threes in his first eight seasons. A return to L.A. is unlikely.

2018 Heat Offseason Preview

[Monday’s question: LeBron James could be on the move again, do the Heat have a chance of bringing him back?]

[Tuesday’s question: Will Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem return for a 16th NBA season or retire?]

[Wednesday’s question: Will 3-point specialist Wayne Ellington return to Heat?]

[Thursday’s question: With no cap space, can Heat turn to trades to improve roster?]

[Friday’s question: Does Hassan Whiteside’s contract make him untradeable?]

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Our Miami Heat reporters’ predictions for the 2017-18 NBA season

The Palm Beach Post’s NBA playoff bracket. (By Adam Hirshfield)

The NBA season kicks off tonight with Golden State looking to become the first team since the Miami Heat in 2012 and 13 to repeat. With everybody returning and Finals MVP Kevin Durant even more comfortable after a year in the system, the Warriors could be even better than the team that won 67 games last year and defeated the Cavaliers in five games in the Finals.

But some of their biggest challengers loaded up with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony joining league MVP Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City and Houston gambling on a James Harden-Chris Paul backcourt.

The East underwent changes, too, with Cleveland and Boston pulling off the stunner of the summer by swapping point guards Kyrie Irving (to the Celtics) and Isaiah Thomas (to the Cavs). LeBron James also convinced Dwyane Wade to join him in Cleveland and the Celtics added Gordon Hayward.

Our Heat writers, Tom D’Angelo and Anthony Chiang teamed up to make The Palm Beach Post’s playoff and postseason awards picks.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Boston Celtics

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

3. Washington Wizards

4. Toronto Raptors

5. Miami Heat

6. Milwaukee Bucks

7. Philadelphia 76ers

8. Charlotte Hornets

Eastern Conference playoffs

First round

Boston over Charlotte

Cleveland over Philadelphia

Washington over Milwaukee

Miami over Toronto

Second round

Boston over Miami

Cleveland over Washington

Conference Finals

Cleveland over Boston

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Golden State

2. Oklahoma City

3. Houston

4. Minnesota

5. San Antonio

6. Denver

7. Portland

8. L.A. Clippers

Western Conference Playoffs

First round

Golden State over the Clippers

Oklahoma City over Portland

Denver over Houston

Minnesota over San Antonio

Second round

Golden State over Minnesota

Oklahoma City over Denver

Conference Finals

Golden State over Oklahoma City

NBA FINALS

Golden State over Cleveland

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on while playing the Chicago Bulls during a pre season game at Quicken Loans Arena on October 10, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Cleveland

If nothing else, James will be motivated more than ever thanks to the Irving drama and losing to the Warriors in the Finals. And without Irving, he will take on more responsibility. Let’s face it, LeBron can pick his number when it comes to scoring and he will pick a number that is enough to earn him his fifth MVP Award.

Dennis Smith Jr. #1 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after a basket against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on October 13, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas

The No. 9 overall pick in this year’s draft has been compared to players like Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Damian Lillard just because of the athleticism he brings to the point guard position. With the Mavericks not expected to make the playoffs this season, Smith should get plenty of opportunities to rack up big numbers.

D’Angelo Russell #1 of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket against Josh Richardson #0 of the Miami Heat in the second half during their Pre Season game at Barclays Center on October 5, 2017 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Most Improved Player: D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn

Russell has not lived up to being the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, getting lost in the Lakers rebuilding/tanking mode the last two years. He was traded for two reasons: To make room for Lonzo Ball and as incentive for the Nets to take Timofey Mozgov’s contract. But Russell is skilled and he will become one of the Nets’ top options, which should result in his production soaring.

Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets reacts during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon, Houston

Gordon won this award last season and he’ll win it again this year. He flourished in his first season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, making a career-high 3.3 3-pointers per game at a 37.2 percent rate. Gordon will get even more open looks this season with Chris Paul joining James Harden in Houston.

Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors in action against Nemanja Bjelica #8 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State Warriors as part of 2017 NBA Global Games China at Mercedes-Benz Arena on October 8, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, Golden State

Golden State finished with the NBA’s second-best defensive rating last season. Want to know why? Just look at Green play defense. He can guard every position on the floor. The Warriors’ defense will be one of the best in the league again and Green will win this award for a second consecutive season.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts during the game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State Warriors as part of 2017 NBA Global Games China at Mercedes-Benz Arena on October 8, 2017 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota

The Timberwolves are headed in the right direction after adding Jimmy Butler to the improving Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Minnesota had the third-worst record in the West last season (31-51) and we predict a big jump to around 48 wins.

All-NBA

First team

G: Russell Westbrook, OKC

G: Stephen Curry, Golden State

F: LeBron James, Cleveland

F: Kevin Durant, Golden State

C: Anthony Davis, New Orleans

Second team

G: James Harden, Houston

G: Kyrie Irving, Boston

F: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee

C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota

Third team

G: John Wall, Washington

G: Chris Paul, Houston

F: Draymond Green, Golden State

F: Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers

C: Hassan Whiteside, Miami

[Anthony Chiang’s Miami Heat predictions: Josh Richardson will have a breakout season]

[Tom D’Angelo’s Miami Heat predictions: Hassan Whiteside will be recognized as one of the league’s best]

 

 

Miami Heat 2017-18 schedule: 10 games on their schedule you won’t want to miss

MIAMI — The Heat’s regular-season schedule is set.

The NBA released the full 2017-18 schedule Monday evening and, as always, there are plenty of intriguing matchups to be excited for. For the Heat, there are two home games against Dwyane Wade and the Bulls, an early-season game against Gordon Hayward and the Celtics, and even an international contest against the Nets that will be played in Mexico City.

Here are 10 games that you won’t want to miss from the Heat’s 2017-18 schedule Continue reading “Miami Heat 2017-18 schedule: 10 games on their schedule you won’t want to miss”

How LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony could form Heat’s next superteam

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade playing for the Miami Heat. (AP Photo)

The Gordon Hayward sweepstakes has come and gone, and the Miami Heat were left empty handed.

So what’s next for the franchise that has secured a meeting with the top free agent two years in a row? For the Heat, the answer to their future may be their not-so-distant past.

Whether you call them the “Banana Boat Crew” or “The Brotherhood,” LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul can all be free agents next offseason. Piece that information together with the lesson learned from Hayward’s decision to join Brad Stevens in Boston — the idea that relationships matter — and Miami may have found the key to its next super team.

Let’s start with the obvious: James and Wade both had long and fruitful relationships with the Miami Heat organization, namely Pat Riley, and in both cases, those relationships ended in messy divorces. On the surface, that would complicate, if not eliminate, Miami’s chances at luring the two long-time stars back to South Florida. But Riley’s own words may offer an indication that he is ready to mend fences, if he hasn’t already.

Riley opened up to ESPN in April about his relationships with Wade and James and, in the case of Wade, the openness about hurt feelings has been mutual.

Wade, in a podcast with The Vertical, told Adrian Wojnarowski, “the fact that we didn’t talk, that hurt. And that was my deciding factor. … It wasn’t about the Arison family, I know they love me and I know they wanted me there. I know Spo wanted me there. I know Udonis and those guys. But at the end of the day, I didn’t hear from the guy I needed to [hear from].”

Perhaps more importantly, Wade also noted he loves Pat Riley and knows that the feeling is mutual.

Riley, for his part, expressed regret for the way he handled Wade’s free agency, telling ESPN that he was “very sad” when Wade bolted for Chicago.

>> Dwyane Wade reflects on time with Miami Heat, praises Erik Spoelstra, discusses Pat Riley on ‘The Vertical Podcast’

A recent Twitter exchange between Wade and Dion Waiters, along with a tweet about where Wade’s son and nephew are expected to attend school in the fall, may also lend credence to the belief that Wade is open to a Miami return.

As for James, Riley has seemingly let go (or is willing to let go) of his initially anger over James’ decision to return to Cleveland. While it does take two to tango, in LeBron’s own words upon announcing his decision to return to a team owned by Dan Gilbert, “who am I to hold a grudge?”

LeBron has also expressed nostalgia for his time in Miami in a pair of Instagram posts.

Now that the prerequisites are out of the way, why would the “Banana Boat Crew” want to play in Miami?

For starters, the Heat play in the Eastern Conference and the Golden State Warriors do not. Working off the assumption that the quartet would like to stay in the much weaker East, only a few cities offer the type of big-market location they would covet. Essentially their options would be limited to Miami, New York and Brooklyn.

Of those three franchises, Miami is the most stable and set up better for both short- and long-term success.

All four members of the “Banana Boat Crew” are renowned for their basketball IQs, and seeing as the Warriors seem locked into their core for several more years, the four stars may realize they need to sacrifice financially to add the players necessary to get past the reigning NBA champions. Even if that isn’t the case, the Heat, as they did in 2010, should be able to purge their roster of big-money contracts and clear enough cap space for the quartet.

Financially, Miami would have some hurdles to clear, especially considering the long-term investments that they made to James Johnson, Dion Waiter and Kelly Olynyk this offseason. The salary cap is projected to increase to $103 million next summer, a small jump from the $99 million this offseason.

Assuming that James and Paul will command max contracts, Miami would likely need Anthony and Wade to split a third max salary for the scenario to be feasible. Considering James and Paul both have more than 10 years of experience, their max contracts would consist of up to 35% of the cap, netting each player an annual projected salary of a little over $35 million. That would leave Wade and Anthony around $30 million to split in order to fit the quartet under the projected cap.

Should “The Brotherhood” choose to convene in Miami, the Heat would likely be able to trade valuable pieces such as Goran Dragic or Hassan Whiteside for future draft picks or younger, cheaper players to fill out the roster. Depending on the financial flexibility of the incoming quartet, they could hang onto Dragic or Whiteside, or both, but that scenario seems far-fetched.

>> Heat president Pat Riley in ESPN story: ‘I need one more (championship) and I know this will be the toughest to get’

Dion Waiters’ new four-year, $52 million contract is tradeable, as is the poison pill deal that the Heat matched last offseason to keep Tyler Johnson. The same can be said for the deals given to James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. If Timofey Mozgov and his $16 million annual salary can be traded, as was the case this offseason, Miami shouldn’t have too much trouble unloading the long-term deals necessary to accommodate “The Brotherhood.”

It’s also reasonable to assume that by next offseason, Wade and Anthony will be past the days of big-money contracts, making the financial gymnastics needed to get all four players on the same team easier.

James, Wade, Paul and Anthony are four of the most powerful voices in sports, and all have advocated for and influenced a power shift that has, essentially, turned the NBA into a player-controlled league. Ultimately, the quartet holds the decision of where they will play in their collective hands. For Pat Riley and the Miami Heat, the 2018 offseason rests on the hope that relationships built in the past can lead the franchise to a brighter future.

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Report: Blake Griffin to re-sign with Clippers; off the board for Miami Heat

According to a report, Blake Griffin will be returning to the Clippers. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

ORLANDO – Blake Griffin is off the board.

The Clippers’ power forward reportedly is returning to L.A. for a max deal of five years and $175 million according to reports. Griffin had meetings with Phoenix and Denver he has cancelled.

Griffin, 28, was reported as a possible candidate to sign with the Heat and some speculated he would wind up in Miami. But no meeting between the parties had ever been set and it never was clear if Pat Riley actually had a great interest in pursuing Griffin.

With Griffin off the table the likelihood increased that James Johnson returns to Miami.

Speculation on how the trade the sent Chris Paul to Houston would impact Griffin’s decision was all over the board. Some believed he would be more apt to leave the Clippers if they were blowing it all up and starting over and other speculating Griffin was more likely to stay in L.A. considering he and Paul never really got along and the Clippers were making him their priority.

Griffin has spent his entire seven-year career with the Clippers. While L.A. could offer him a five-year max deal the most he could have made with another team was about $127 million over four years .

Griffin averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists last season while shooting 49.3 percent but he would have come with a risk. He has missed 80 games in the last three regular seasons combined and the last two years his postseason was cut short, including playing in just three games in the 2017 playoffs because of a toe injury.

In 2016 Griffin partially tore his left quadriceps tendon in Game 4 of the Clippers first-round series and did not return.

[2017 Miami Heat Free Agency Primer: What you need to know about the Heat’s salary cap situation]

[Add ‘culture’ to the Miami Heat’s list of selling points in free agency]

[Heat have balancing act to consider early in free agency]

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Miami Heat have balancing act to consider early in free agency

 

President Pat Riley and the Miami Heat will start chasing free agents at 12 a.m. Saturday.

MIAMI – Every season, the anticipation for midnight July 1 builds. Every team is poised with a big board of free agents that most years tops 100 names, phone numbers are programmed into cell phones and meetings have been arranged.

Nothing – not the start of training camp, the regular season or even the Finals – has executives, coaches, players and fans more lathered than the start of free agency.

The Miami Heat hit the open market with one thought: To never experience another season like last, which ended with the team missing the playoffs because of tiebreaker. And if you think coming from 19-games below .500 to finish 41-41 was celebrated? Think again.

“I’m not all goose-bumply and fuzzy-haired. That’s not my makeup,” Riley famously said days following the end of the regular season. “I was pissed off. I was upset.”

Now, to see that does not happen again, Riley and GM Andy Elisburg have some work to do.

[Mailbag: Will James Johnson really give the Heat a hometown discount?]

[2017 Free Agency Preview: What mid-level free agents should the Heat pursue?]

First up is trying to squeeze lemonade out of a free agency class that mostly is filled with lemons. Okay, it’s not that bad, but with the biggest names (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry) re-upping with the Warriors, and the Clippers’ Chris Paul already being traded to the Rockets, this is not a stellar class.

Who does that leave? Utah’s sharp-shooting forward Gordon Hayward, Clippers multi-faceted forward Blake Griffin, Toronto’s ever-improving Kyle Lowry. When it comes to max free agents that should do it.

Not exactly LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade now, is it?

The next tier – Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, Denver’s Danilo Gallinari, New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday – certainly will help but are not exactly foundational pieces for a super team.

The Heat find themselves in a precarious spot. They will have at least $35 million in cap space once Bosh is released, a number that can be increased by sign-and-trades and stretching Josh McRoberts’ contract.

Miami has set up a Saturday meeting with Hayward, according to reports, and likely will kick the tires on Griffin, although their level in interest in the power forward is unknown.

But the sticky part is the timing. Miami remains interested in bringing back its top two free agents, Dion Waiters and James Johnson, but they essential play same positions as Hayward and Griffin (wing, power forward), though different styles.

Will the Heat be burned if they put Waiters and Johnson on hold while gauging the chances of signing either Hayward or Griffin or both? And do other teams swoop in and try to steal Waiters and/or Johnson Waiters early?

“We hope we’ll have some information on that first night,” Riley said last week.

This balancing act is key even though Waiters and Johnson have said all the right things. Both credit the organization for putting them in this position to cash in for the biggest payday of their careers. Johnson is 30 and looking at tripling his career earnings of about $16 million in one contract. Waiters is 25 and likely will do the same after making about $20 million in his first five years.

And while Waiters and Johnson likely are not at the top of too many teams’ shopping list, they still will be wooed early. Heat free agents Luol Deng and Joe Johnson were not close to the top of the list a year ago – some didn’t even have them among the top 30 free agents – and both agreed on the second day of free agency, Deng with the Lakers and Johnson with the Jazz.

If Waiters and Johnson are scooped up early, that could leave Miami in the case for Ibaka or Sacramento’s Rudy Gay.

One variable from a year ago, fewer teams have cap space and fewer dollars are available this summer than last. The cap rose about $15 million last summer. This year it will increase by about $5 million.

Still, the Heat have a “plan A. … a plan B” according to Riley, and those plans have worked out more often than not.

“We’ll attack it the way the Miami Heat typically does and well see what happens,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

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2017 Free Agency Preview: What mid-level free agents should the Heat pursue?

Sacramento’s Rudy Gay averaged 18.7 points. 6.3 points and 2.7 assists in 30 games last season before tearing his Achilles. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With free agency set to start at 12 a.m. Saturday, we take a look at the biggest free-agent questions surrounding the Heat. Today we ask: What mid-level free agents should the Heat pursue? We’ll shift to a different question each day leading up to the start of free agency.

[Monday’s question: Should the Heat forget about ‘whales’ and bring back last season’s core?]

[Tuesday’s question: What will it take for the Heat to re-sign James Johnson?]

[Wednesday’s question: Can the Miami Heat find a way to keep Dion Waiters?]

[Friday’s question: Is there more pressure than usual on the Heat to get it right this summer?]

___

The stakes for free agency may have been raised with the Rockets already landing Chris Paul, who will pick up his option with the Clippers and then be traded to Houston. That gives Houston the start of a super team with Paul and James Harden and may put more pressure on the Miami Heat to attempt to think even bigger when the bell rings Saturday.

But landing two max free agents like Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin will not be easy and even if Miami signs one of them and brings back either James Johnson or Dion Waiters, Miami still will be searching to upgrade the roster with any of its remaining cap space or through one of its exceptions.

With just a handful of players set to earn more than $20 million a season, the market is full of players who will be looking for deals not only between $10 and $20 million but many for under $10 million. And when talking about which of those types of players would draw the interest of the team, you have to start with their own free agents – Johnson and Waiters.

It’s very possible Miami could bring both back, and possibly for around $25 million combined. But if only one returns that could depend on who else Miami signs. If the Heat lands Hayward, then a power forward like Johnson would be a better fit. If Blake Griffin decides to leave the Clippers’ sinking ship for the Heat, then Waiters may be the more valuable.

But Pat Riley will have many other options. Among those:

Rudy Gay, SG, Kings: Gay is opting out of $14.3 million for next year so he could be a bit pricey. Still, he has been linked to Miami in trade rumors in the past. He will be 31 when camp starts and is coming off a torn Achilles that limited him to 30 games last season. Still, he averaged 18.7 points. 6.3 points and 2.7 assists before the injury.

Jonathon Simmons, SG, Spurs: Simmons, who is a restricted free agent, is a Heat type of player. He is 27 and once paid money to get a D-League tryout. He would be right at home on a roster that still should include several D-League graduates. Simmons is athletic and can play multiple positions. He averaged 6.2 points in the regular season before stepping it up to 10.5 points in the playoffs.

Luc Mbah a Moute, SF/PF, Clippers: Mbah a Moute is 31 but is coming off his best season and could be ready to break out like Johnson did last season. He’ll never be that kind of offensive player – he averaged 6.1 points in 2016-17 but did shoot 39.1 percent on threes – but it’s his defense that could attract the Heat.

Jonas Jerebko, PF, Celtics: At 6-foot-10, Jerebko is a power forward with an outside shot. He averaged 3.8 points and 3.5 rebounds while playing 15.8 minutes per game last season. He is 30 years old and had his best season three years ago, averaging 7.1 points and 4.8 rebounds, in his first year in Boston.

Omri Casspi, SF/PF, Timberwolves: The Heat have had interest in Casspi before. He is 6-9 and plays both forward spots. He’s had a tough three years, playing in just 36 games combined because of injuries, but if his medicals check out he can be had for a nice price. And at 29 he should have some productive years left.

C.J. Miles, SF, Pacers: Paul George eventually will be traded and the Pacers will sink in the standings. Miles would be a solid pickup. He is well respected around the league for the way he plays the game. He averaged 10.7 points and shot 41.3 percent on threes last season.

[Hoping the Heat can restructure Wayne Ellington’s contract to create additional cap space? Here’s why that’s not a feasible option]

[Ready for Heat summer-league basketball? Here’s the full roster and more info to know]

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Does Chris Paul going to Rockets raise the bar for the Miami Heat in free agency?

MIAMI – The Houston Rockets are on the verge of putting together another super team in the NBA, which could force the Miami Heat to think even bigger when free agency begins Saturday.

The Rockets have reached an agreement to acquire Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul according to multiple reports Wednesday. Houston – which will send three rotational players, a handful of players with non-guaranteed contracts and a draft pick to L.A. – will pair Paul, a nine-time All-Star, with MVP runner-up James Harden, in its backcourt. Continue reading “Does Chris Paul going to Rockets raise the bar for the Miami Heat in free agency?”

Pat Riley is looking for major upgrades to Miami Heat roster but he warns free agency movement could be limited

Miami Heat President Pat Riley thinks teams might be more disciplined during free agency this year.

MIAMI – Heat President Pat Riley has said several times he is not expecting mass movement during free agency this summer. And if he’s right, it won’t be because he and GM Andy Elisburg sat back and watched the big names come off the board without the Miami putting up a fight.

The free for all starts July 1 and the Heat are major players with around $35 million in cap space, a number that was reduced by about $3 million this week for all teams when it was announce the projected salary cap will be $99 million. And although we saw a frenzy last summer with inexplicable contracts being offered that many teams now have come to regret, Riley believes many hard lessons were learned.

“A lot of the business was done quickly over the phone with a lot of these players and some of the contracts out of whack,” Riley said about the summer of 2016. “I don’t know if you’re going to see that this year. I think there might be a little bit more discipline in how teams go about that whole process.”

Some teams started dumping those bad contracts in the last week. The Lakers dealt Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) to the Nets and the Hawks peddled Dwight Howard (three years, $70.5 million) to the Hornets.

[Heat didn’t see anybody in second round worth spending money on]

[5 things to know about the Heat’s first-round pick — Edrice ‘Bam’ Adebayo]

Riley expects several of the max free agents – Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry – to re-sign with their existing teams because of the rules that allow those teams to offer their players longer, more lucrative deals. For some, staying put will mean up to $75 million more and for others up to $40 million more. Those numbers, though, are a bit misleading because players can sign for five years with their existing teams and are limited to four years if they jump ship.

“From what we understand most of the great ones will re-sign with their teams and I can understand why they would,” Riley said.

While that almost certainly is true for Durant and Curry, others appear in play, including Paul and Griffin, who could leave the Clippers under the right circumstances.

Even though most of the speculation has Riley making a serious pitch for Hayward – the seven-year veteran is coming off his breakout season (and first All-Star game) in which he averaged 21.9 points – he is bracing Heat fans for the possibility that the 2017-18 team closely will resemble the one that needed a 30-11 run during the second half of last season to finish .500.

Riley was asked if he would consider it a successful summer if he re-signed forward James Johnson and guard Dion Waiters and brought back guard Wayne Ellington.

“Yes, I would,” he said early Friday morning. “We’re working on that, talking about that. But now we can spend the next (eight) days getting that together.”

Bringing back all three likely would leave the Heat with $5 to $8 million to spend, along with two exceptions for $4.3 million and $3.3 million.

“We have a plan,” Riley said. “We have a Plan A. And we have a Plan B. There’s no D, E, F or G. We feel good about the plan. You never know what’s going to happen in free agency. We have great respect for the two guys, three guys, four guys that we have that are free agents. But, we’ll see what happens on July 1st. It’s always a pretty exciting time.”

Riley is hoping the Heat have some resolution on the first day – free agency starts at midnight. He believes a shorter moratorium – July 1 to July 6 – could speed up the process although last year Hassan Whiteside announced just hours into free agency that he was remaining with the Heat and Dwyane Wade’s decision to sign with Chicago came on July 6.

Riley referenced the crazy summer of 2010 when he landed LeBron James and Chris Bosh. James’ made-for-TV announcement was July 9, two days after it was reported Bosh was leaving Toronto for Miami.

“It’s not like it was in 2010 when you had a (longer) moratorium and guys are flying all over the place, taking meetings,” Riley said. “That was incredible the itinerary we had and the number of players we flew around in 36 hours to see.”

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