US Sports Veteran
Publish Date: 06/05/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
The Miami Heat had one of the biggest drop-offs of all NBA teams this season. After battling the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals, Miami got swept in the first round of the playoffs by Milwaukee. Pat Riley could part ways with as many as nine role players this offseason and remake Miami’s roster for another playoff run in 2021.
Miami will shed plenty of contracts in the coming months, but Erik Spoelstra’s team won’t have enough cap room for a big-ticket free agent. However, Riley and Spoelstra could attempt some salary cap gymnastics and make room for some interesting additions.
“We’re not going to have a max slot, but we’re going to have a lot of room if we want to use that,” Riley said at his annual season-closing press conference. “But there’s so many other ways that you improve your team. Obviously, we like our core. There are trades that you can make. There’s sign-and-trades, there’s free agency, we have room, exceptions. Whichever way you want to go, if you want to be a cap team or a room team, will direct us in that manner.”
According to Spotrac, Precious Achiuwa ($2.711 million), Bam Adebayo ($28.103 million), Jimmy Butler ($36.016 million), Tyler Herro ($4.004 million), and KZ Okpala ($1.782 million) are the only Heat players with guaranteed contracts for 2021. However, the team could add five players to that list by picking up options and retaining restricted free agents.
With so many moving parts, it’s easy to see how examining Miami’s offseason could become overwhelming. Let’s take it step-by-step and see what choices the Heat have to make.
Miami has two massive team options for bench players that totaled 4,757 minutes in Heat uniforms over the past two seasons. Goran Dragić joined the Heat as part of a trade during the 2014 season. He transitioned to the bench last year and played a massive role in the team’s run to the Finals. Dragić has a $19.44 million team option and recently turned 35.
Andre Iguodala is a recent addition. Riley sent Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow to Memphis for the former Finals MVP last year. The 37-year-old averaged 19.5 minutes per game during the 2020 Playoffs and 17.8 minutes per outing during Milwaukee’s sweep of the Heat. Iguodala’s team option is for $15 million.
The Heat won’t pick up either team option if they plan on pursuing one of this summer’s top free agents. Keeping their young players could pose a big enough problem by itself. Spending $34.44 million on declining former stars won’t bring Miami another title.
The deadline for picking up team options is Aug. 1.
Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, and Gabe Vincent are restricted free agents (RFAs). Expect the Heat to extend qualifying offers to Nunn and Robinson. While Nunn struggled in the 2020 Playoffs, he showed significant improvement as an offensive weapon this season. The former undrafted free agent made 38.1% of his three-pointers and 48.5% of his total shots.
If Riley must decide between keeping Nunn or Robinson, he’ll probably side with the 27-year-old sniper. Robinson is far from a complete player, and he took a small step back this season, but the former undrafted free agent is lethal from three. He’s made 520 threes while shooting 42.7% from deep over the past two seasons.
While Vincent isn’t a household name, he averaged 13.1 minutes per game in 50 appearances with Miami this season. He’s played on a two-way contract since joining the team. Keeping Vincent isn’t a priority.
As with all RFAs, the Heat can match outside offers so long as they extend initial qualifying offers. Miami can decline matching substantial deals and watch their players walk away without taking a cap hit. However, Nunn and Robinson aren’t easily replaceable.
“I applaud both of these guys for coming in with just very little reputation, no guarantees, and winning their jobs, winning their spots, winning their time,” Riley said of Nunn and Robinson. “They’ve had their ups and down, but young players will. But we like both of them, and we’ll see what happens with both of them, when it comes to the market.”
The qualifying offers for both young players begin at $4.736 million. Teams searching for more offensive contributors, such as the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, could easily drive those price tags closer to $10 million.
The Heat don’t have a draft pick this year, meaning it’s essential for this team to keep as many young players in the fold as possible.
Miami’s impact unrestricted free agents (UFAs) include Trevor Ariza, Nemanja Bjelica, Dewayne Dedmon, Udonis Haslem, and Victor Oladipo. Those five veterans played 1,321 regular season minutes for Spoelstra this season. Of that group, only Oladipo averaged more than ten points per game, and Ariza was the only one with more than 20 regular season appearances.
Bjelica and Oladipo are interesting cases. Riley traded for Bjelica in March, but the Serbian forward only appeared in 11 regular season matchups and two playoff games for the Heat. Bjelica made over 40% of his three-point shots in 2017, 2018, and 2019 before suffering a significant slump this season.
Bjelica could walk into a depressed market after his lackluster campaign, which might give Miami a shot at re-signing him. However, it seems highly unlikely that Riley spends more money on any of the team’s UFAs, including Oladipo.
The Heat traded Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk to Houston for Oladipo, but the former All-Star only played four games before undergoing season-ending surgery on his right quadriceps tendon. There’s a chance Oladipo isn’t even cleared for contact by the start of next season.
Oladipo was an All-NBA guard in 2017 and an All-Star in 2018. He’s no longer the same player, and the 29-year-old’s health raises serious issues. Keep in mind, he turned down a two-year, $45.2 million extension from the Rockets in favor of seeking a long-term deal. That won’t happen in Miami.
Miami should have over $20 million in cap space if Nunn and Robinson receive the $4.736 million qualifying offers. Paying extra to keep either offensive-minded player could take a large bite out of that cap flexibility. As Riley already noted, the Heat don’t have room for a max free agent, but they could add multiple role players.
While Adebayo is an All-Defensive center, he looked overwhelmed by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez during Miami’s recent playoff fiasco. A towering interior defensive presence coming off the bench, like New York’s Nerlens Noel or Philadelphia’s Dwight Howard, should rectify that problem.
If Ariza, Dragić, and Iguodala don’t return, the Heat need a new backup point guard and some defensive-minded forwards. Assuming Miami goes bargain hunting instead of targeting one highly sought-after free agent, Riley could call T.J. McConnell, Patty Mills, Cameron Payne, or Elfrid Payton about the point guard role.
Derrick Rose signing in South Beach seems unlikely, but Miami has enough space to afford him.
As for defensive specialists, Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, and P.J. Tucker are some of the best options. Nicolas Batum, Reggie Bullock, Rudy Gay, Jeff Green, and Doug McDermott offer more on offense than that previous group and can fill the open forward positions.
The Heat could also surround Adebayo and Butler with more shooters by targeting high-volume outside scorers like Bryn Forbes, Danny Green, or J.J. Redick.
Per the Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang, Butler could ask for a four-year, $181 million max contract extension this summer. The All-Star, who celebrates his 32nd birthday in September, propelled the Heat to the 2020 Finals during his first year in South Beach. He was a member of the All-NBA 3rd Team last season and is an All-Defensive candidate this year.
According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Butler would make over $40 million every year on a max extension, including a whopping $50.3 million for the 2025 season. By that time, the former 30th overall pick will already be 36 years old.
“Somewhere along the line, you know when you have great players, All-NBA players, All-Defensive players, you know, players like Jimmy, that are high level, very impactful players for you that you’re going to have to pay them what their market value is,” Riley said of Butler. “We haven’t really discussed that [an extension] internally yet. But I know that’s something that has been out there, in the media, but it has not been discussed. And I’m sure that when the time comes, we’ll have a good conversation with Jimmy about that.”
The first year of a max extension would replace Butler’s player option for the 2022 season. It also puts him on the same timeline as Adebayo, who signed a five-year max extension last November.
Butler lifted the Heat to heights they hadn’t reached since Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade shared the court. It’s hard to imagine Riley turning down the superstar’s request for a long-term deal.