NBA free agency is here. And all eyes are on Miami.
With $55 million in cap room, the Heat will have the most space at their disposal in NBA history. That's what happens when the roster has been nearly completely vacated. Three stars -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- have opted out of their contracts, along with Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen. Technically, cap holds on those players will lock up the Heat's practical cap space until they renounce their Bird rights.
Amazingly enough, outside of Norris Cole, who is set to earn $2.04 million next season, the rest of the Heat's 2013-14 supporting cast were all on expiring deals. There is Justin Hamilton's 2014-15 contract worth $816,482, but it is nonguaranteed and isn't expected to be picked up. Everyone else? Off the books.
But worried Heat fans shouldn't fret just yet; all signs point to the stars aligning in Miami again. If you've kept up with the news lately, the Heat's stars don't seem to be all that stressed by the start of free agency. After sitting in on the meetings during his 2010 free agency, James has reportedly left the initial talks up to his agent, Rich Paul, who is stationed in Cleveland for the time being. Meanwhile, Bosh has taken his family on vacation.
With the expectation that the Heat's Big Three will return to 601 Biscayne Blvd., how much real cap space will the team have? Who are the best fits for the supporting cast? And how can Pat Riley successfully retool his roster to improve upon last season's creaky bench?
Let's go to work.
How much real cap space?
James, Wade and Bosh have not made any public indications since the Finals about pay-cut specifics or their desire for max contracts. But word is, according to reports from ESPN's Brian Windhorst, James may be angling for the highest salary of the Big Three, which would all but guarantee he will be the highest-paid player on his team for the first time in his career. Seems like a fair request for the game's best player, especially when the max salary restriction has cost him about $250 million over his career.
But such a demand, no matter how reasonable it may be, won't make Riley's job any easier filling out the roster. Bottom line: The Heat need James, Wade and Bosh to collectively take a big pay cut in order to enjoy any meaningful cap space to chase free agents.
That may have happened already. According to a report by Windhorst, the Heat are informing free agents that the Heat expect to have as much as $12 million in salary-cap space to offer a player once James, Wade and Bosh re-up with the team. If that's the case, and James nets a max deal that starts at $20.7 million, it would mean Wade and Bosh would have to sign for pay cuts far lower than most expected, starting in the Marcin Gortat range (a reported $12 million).
A $12 million cap-space number would jibe with the reported figure from the Oregonian that Wade would re-sign with the Heat on a four-year deal starting at $12 million with Bosh re-upping at $11 million. Agent Henry Thomas, who represents Wade, Bosh and Haslem, has denied the Oregonian report to ESPN, but the cap number makes sense given the high-profile names whom the Heat are linked to on opening day of free agency. To be precise, with the cap holds on the rest of the roster, including Andersen's veteran minimum cap hold and a reduced salary for Haslem, the Heat's available cap space in this scenario would be $11,825,213 (see more below).
What can $12 million in cap space get Miami in 2014 free agency?