A year after missing the postseason (a rarity in franchise history), the Miami Heat rebounded to win their division and push the Raptors to a Game 7 in the second round of the playoffs. The Heat did this despite not having Chris Bosh for the majority of the second half of the season, as well as all of the postseason. Without Bosh, the Heat went small, played at a much faster pace and were better than they were all season.
Unfortunately for both Bosh and the Heat, he was playing the best basketball he has played since his Toronto days when he had a recurrence of blood clots that cost him the end of the 2015 season. Bosh and Miami were at odds by the end of the season as to his playing future. Bosh wanted to play, while the team was unwilling to allow him back on the court. This seems to be an issue that could drag out this summer as well.
With Bosh out, Luol Deng experienced a career rebirth of sorts, playing as a small ball PF for the first time. He was able to use his ball handling and quickness to take advantage offensively and his experience and strength allow him to be competitive against bigger players on the defensive side. It comes at a great time, as Deng is an unrestricted free agent, and at age 31 he’s likely looking at his last big contract.
The Heat also used the lineup change to experiment with Justise Winslow as a starter for a while. As one of the younger players in the league, Winslow had a typical rookie season. He wasn’t particularly effective on the offensive end most nights, but he was competitive defensively and showed why he was sought after in the draft. After buyout season, Winslow was moved back to his more comfortable bench role and he was replaced by Joe Johnson for the remainder of the year. Without the pressure of being the first option, Johnson was very good for Miami. Having playmakers around him allowed him to spot up more and he delivered very good shooting numbers. As his career draws to a close, Johnson has found a niche as a wing contributor in a less than primary role.
In the backcourt, Goran Dragic wasn’t the player Miami had hoped for in the first half of the season. Dragic often seemed to struggle with the balance between making plays for others as a PG and when to look for his own offense. As a natural scoring point, Dragic is most comfortable when he can lead the offense and others play off him. As a second or third option, he’s often drifting around the arc without making an impact. In addition, Dragic struggles in a slow paced, grind it out offense. After Bosh left the lineup, Dragic was far more comfortable as a primary scorer and with the faster paced offense.
Dragic’s backcourt partner Dwyane Wade played more games last year than he has since the 2011 season. This was driven by the need to play more with Bosh out, as well as Wade avoiding the nagging injuries that have plagued him for years. He continued his string of productive, if less efficient, seasons. As he has aged, Wade’s game hasn’t aged all that gracefully. His three-point shot has all but disappeared, save for a brief resurgence in the Raptors series, with only 7 made threes and shooting under 16% in the regular season. Without the same speed and explosiveness he once played with, scoring has become harder without the three-ball. He has to use more energy to get to the basket and in to his favorite mid-range spots. As Wade expends more energy to create offense, his defense has suffered. He’s no longer able to body up opponents on the perimeter like he used to. At this point, Wade should probably be shifting into a role as sixth man, but the Heat are unlikely to do that to the best player in franchise history.
Miami watched Hassan Whiteside expand on his out of nowhere breakout season in 2015, with an even better year in 2016. After being somewhat of a novelty as a rebounder and shot blocker in 2015 while replacing Bosh, many were curious to see what Whiteside could do for an encore. He followed it up by being even better on defense last year. With more minutes, his numbers predictably rose, but his efficiency didn’t drop at all. He still gets criticism for chasing blocks at time, but he’s now established as one of the best rim protectors in the league.
Whiteside proving himself, however, comes at a significant cost for Miami. After playing the last two years for the league minimum, Whiteside is an unrestricted free agent. Unfortunately for Miami, they don’t have Bird Rights on him. They are essentially limited to signing him with cap space, as opposed to being able to go over the cap as they could if they had his Bird Rights. This makes the Heat’s roster construction this summer extremely complicated.
Without knowing if Bosh will be able to play or not, Miami likely has to proceed as if he will not return. They won’t be able to see any salary cap relief anyway, so any games they get from Bosh are almost a bonus. That leaves Miami with only four sure things: Dragic, Winslow, Josh McRoberts and Josh Richardson. Dragic is now entrenched as a team leader, Winslow may be ready for a starting role and McRoberts and Richardson are valuable reserves on reasonable contracts. With Bosh taking up so much cap space, Miami has difficult decisions to make elsewhere on the roster though.
First off, the team will almost assuredly renounce Dwyane Wade to free up the extra cap space it would create for them. They’ll want Wade back and will work out a deal to sign him later, after the other roster spots are spoken for. Miami would like Wade to go the Tim Duncan/Dirk Nowitzki route and take a deep discount. If Wade is willing to do that remains to be seen, as he’s already taken discounts to help the team in the past.
Beyond that, the only free agent after Wade and Whiteside that the Heat will keep rights on is Tyler Johnson. He’s a restricted free agent and has given Miami solid backup minutes. They’ll issue him a Qualifying Offer and see what happens this summer. He’s somewhat expendable due to the emergence of Richardson, but he’s still a valuable reserve.
All of this means that the other free agents are likely to be renounced. Deng will get a bigger offer elsewhere and is likely to move on. Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudemire, Dorell Wright and Heat lifer Udonis Haslem, are all minimum salary players at this point in their careers. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of them out of the league next year. Joe Johnson is someone Miami would like back, but they’ll wait until later in the summer to offer him leftover cap space or an exception.
With Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra (now entering his ninth season as head coach) at the helm, Miami has been able to pull off some major moves in free agency. This offseason they are said to want to meet with Kevin Durant. It is very difficult to see how Miami could lure Durant while also keeping Whiteside and Wade, but if anyone can pull it off, it would be Riley. A more likely outcome is that Miami brings back Whiteside on a maximum contract, re-signs Wade to a somewhat team friendly deal, gets Johnson to agree to play for a relatively small amount, and supplements them with veteran signings.
As long as the Bosh situation hangs over Miami, the Heat are in a tough spot. If he is cleared to play, they have little choice but to let him or to trade him somewhere that will. Given that they would never get fair value in trade, this situation is likely to get uglier before it clears up.
Guaranteed Contracts (4): Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts (2): Josh Richardson, Briante Weber
Potential Free Agents (9): Luol Deng (UFA), Gerald Green (UFA), Udonis Haslem (UFA), Joe Johnson (UFA), Tyler Johnson (RFA), Amar’e Stoudemire (UFA), Dwyane Wade (UFA), Hassan Whiteside (UFA),Dorrell Wright (UFA)
“Dead” Money on Cap (0): None
First Round Draft Picks: None
Maximum Cap Space: $39,424,898
Projected Cap Space: $37,907,307