Considering Pat Riley’s history of acquiring a half dozen Hall of Fame players during his tenure here, the Heat president should never be underestimated.
But parts of Riley’s long-term blueprint that he described to Fox Sports Sun’s Jason Jackson in an interview for the team’s website this week might not be realistic. At the very least, they’re highly ambitious.
Examining the feasibility of two key points in Riley’s master plan:
▪ Here’s what Riley said about his intention to augment the roster in 2020:
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“In 2020, we’ll have a lot of room. We’ll also have the possibility to have enough room to go after two max contracts, and we’re going to do that. So we’re planning that 2020 will be the room year.”
That’s true, to an extent. At the moment, the Heat has $72.2 million committed to six players for 2020-21, with a projected $118 million cap. (Those six players are James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo.) But that doesn’t mean Miami will have $45.8 million in space.
The Heat’s first-round pick this summer, if it’s a late lottery selection, will be on the books for close to $4 million in 2020-21. The Heat’s first-round pick in 2020 also will be on the 2020-21 books for something anywhere between the $9 million range (if Miami somehow lands the top pick in the 2020 draft) to the $3 million range, if it’s in the mid-teens.
So adding those two first-round picks to the 2020-21 cap would reduce the Heat’s space to anywhere from $33 million to $39 million. Cap holds for any unused roster spots up to 12 would shave another $2 million off that space.
And that doesn’t even include space that would need to be spent to retain Derrick Jones Jr., who will be a free agent after next season. If the Heat re-signs Goran Dragic that summer of 2020 (or far less likely, Hassan Whiteside), the remaining space would be reduced appreciably.
So Riley’s stated notion of adding two max players — which would cost well over $70 million in the first year — is unrealistic. And even if Miami had the space, the free agent class lacks more than a couple of players worthy of max deals.
For perspective on the cap space needed to sign a max player, consider the top players eligible for free agency in 2020:
Anthony Davis, who is said to prefer other destinations like Los Angeles, could sign a deal starting at $35.4 million.
DeMar DeRozan would have a first-year max salary of $41.3 million.
Draymond Green’s first-year max would be $35.4 million.
DeRozan, 29, who is averaging 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists for the Spurs, might make the most sense as a Heat target; Miami inquired about him at the start of free agency in 2016 before he re-signed with Toronto. But at this point, Miami wouldn’t even have the money to pay him the first-year max (though it might not take quite that much).
Green is still a very good defender and productive rebounder (7.4 per game) and passer (7.2 assists per game), but his scoring average has dropped to 7.2 per game and his three-point shooting to 25.2 percent.
Beyond those names, the other top 2020 unrestricted free agents include Kyle Lowry, Montrezl Harrell, Joe Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson.
▪ Riley, speaking of the more immediate future, also said: “If we could get one or two players to come in with this group, this young group, then I think the sky’s the limit for this team in the next couple of years.”
But adding a quality player this summer will be difficult, unless the Heat finds an immediate impact player in the draft or can pull off the type of significant trade that it hasn’t been able to make since acquiring Dwyane Wade last February.
Here’s why: The Heat already has $131.5 million committed to 11 players for next season, including the $15.6 million hit that would result from buying out Ryan Anderson before July 10 instead of keeping him at $21 million. A first-round draft pick would push the Heat at least a couple million dollars above the projected $132 million tax threshold.
That means the Heat might opt not to spend its $5.6 million taxpayer midlevel exception this summer because doing so would create a tax bill well above $10 million. That’s problematic, because the Heat could use a veteran scorer to replace Wade, with Denver’s Isaiah Thomas and Indiana’s Tyreke Evans and Wesley Matthews, the Clippers’ Wilson Chandler and Portland’s Rodney Hood all appealing potential options at the midlevel if Miami wasn’t so far above the projected $109 million cap.
And Miami would remain over the cap this summer even if Dragic opts out of $19 million for next season. It’s highly unlikely Whiteside opts out of next season’s $27 million.
So while the Riley blueprint makes sense, it doesn’t appear entirely realistic.
▪ Per TickPix, the average listing price for seats for Wade’s final regular-season home game, April 9 against Philadelphia, is $537, compared with $217 for other Heat home games.