Whale Season: How Will Pat Riley and the Heat Approach Free Agency?
What to expect from Pat Riley and Miami’s Front Office:
The NBA season has officially concluded in Miami, but basketball around the country never ends. Now it’s time for draft process, which includes player workouts and evaluations. Miami isn’t too concerned about the draft, considering they own zero picks. This is why free agency is the number one priority for Riley and his staff.
Let’s take a look at what Miami is going to attempt once July 1st comes around and free agency is underway.
Every team’s free agency preview is going to have this section, but only one team will be lucky enough to land one of the most dominant players in the world in Kevin Durant. The seven-time All-Star is at the pinnacle of the NBA wish list, but only a handful of teams have a true shot of acquiring Durant to represent their city.
Their chances of landing Durant are slim to none, but Miami knows that the opportunity to bring in a legitimate alpha-male doesn’t come around very often. The last time Riley went all-in for a free agent was in 2010 when LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach. We can all agree that this turned out very well for the Heat.
I’m assuming that Durant will re-sign in Oklahoma City on a two-year deal with an opt-out clause after next season. This will give Durant and Westbrook one more year to chase that highly-coveted ring they were so close to only a week ago. At this point next year, they will both be free agents (assuming Durant opts out of his contract) and can make this highly-anticipated decision together.
In my opinion, Durant won’t find a better chance to win than in Oklahoma City. He will never find another sidekick like Westbrook, and even though many teams (Golden State, San Antonio, Boston, and Miami, just to name a few) have plenty to offer, I just don’t think he can leave what has been built in Oklahoma City. I mean for Pete’s sake, they just beat the 67-win Spurs in six games and took the 73-win Warriors to seven games.
I’m sorry Heat fans but Kevin Durant will not be partnering with Dwyane Wade in Miami next season.
First Matter of Business:
At the beginning of the offseason, Pat Riley claimed that his number one priority was to re-sign Hassan Whiteside. The dominant center is due for a massive raise, which comes at the worst possible time for the Heat. The salary cap is expected to rise significantly, which means most teams around the Association have a lot of money to unload.
Whiteside is undoubtedly going to receive a maximum contract, which puts the Heat in a terrible position. Miami owns his “early bird” rights but not his actual “bird” rights, which means they have only a very slight advantage in re-signing him and cannot exceed the salary cap during this process.
Whiteside knows that being in Miami completely revitalized his career, which is why he has made it clear that he wants to remain in South Beach. Unfortunately, money is money, and more money is tough to turn down in any scenario.
According to John Chick of Thescore.com, Miami plans on offering Whiteside slightly less than a maximum contract. They think they can persuade him on the fact that there is no state income tax in Florida, there is an incredible Miami lifestyle, and they have the ability to offer him larger raises off of the first year salary.
I do expect Whiteside to remain in Miami, but NBA free agency is a monster and anything can happen, so only time will tell.
The Easy Choice:
This shouldn’t even be a discussion because Dwyane Wade is going to stay in Miami. He has won three NBA Championships here and is arguably the biggest name in the history of Miami sports. Wade ultimately wants one more ring before calling it quits in what I think will be four to five years down the line. Miami must stay in win-now mode for this to be a possibility, which is why Wade will most likely take a solid pay cut this year.
This extra money should go to Whiteside or to lure in another quality free agent. Wherever this extra money ends up going, we know that Riley will spend it wisely. Wade is a true franchise player that will do anything to win (which was exemplified when he took a backseat role to LeBron in order for Miami to win not one but two rings).
Wade leaving the Heat would be like Kobe Bryant leaving the Lakers (before retiring) or Dirk Nowitzki leaving the Mavericks. None of these are plausible unless something drastic were to happen, which is why I expect Wade to finish out his historic career in red and white.
Even though Miami doesn’t have a boatload of money to spend on top notch free agents, they can still bring some quality players down to South Florida. There are a few in particular that I expect them to go hard after.
The best one out of the bunch is Harrison Barnes from the Golden State Warriors. The 24-year old forward was very efficient in his somewhat limited role this season. He averaged 11.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in a little under 31.0 minutes per game. He has been a key member for Golden State since being drafted 7th overall in 2012, but he has always been the fourth option for the Warriors (behind Curry, Green, and Thompson). This is why it is very difficult to gauge how he will fare as one of the primary scorers and playmakers.
Barnes would be a very nice fit for Miami. He is a career 38% three-point shooter, which would provide the Heat with much needed floor spacing. Barnes can handle the ball, rebound, defend multiple positions, and score with ease. He is an all-around high-quality player deserving of near-maximum money. However, he is one of the biggest wild cards in free agency because of his inexperience with being a top option. Therefore, teams that are willing to throw big bucks his way must be confident in his ability to be a nightly contributor.
Odds are that Miami will not end up signing him because they won’t propose the highest offer. However, there’s definitely a possibility that Barnes will end up in the 305.
Anderson is a less versatile version of Barnes. He is one of the best long-range shooters in the game, rebounds and scores efficiently, and is a quality defender. He isn’t super athletic and doesn’t do a great job of creating for his teammates, but the eight-year veteran has carved out a nice niche in the NBA. It’s obvious that Anderson loves to be in the warm weather. He grew up and went to college in California, and he has played three seasons in Orlando and four in New Orleans. Miami would not be a bad place to land from that perspective. Anderson would provide a very nice fit on and off the court for the Heat.
Gordon seems to be the likeliest fit for Miami. He is the perfect low-risk, high-reward type of gamble for Pat Riley to take. The seven-year guard out of Indiana has always been extremely injury prone, but he is incredibly talented when healthy. He is truly a pure and prolific scorer. Gordon is a fantastic shooter and can take the ball to the hoop. He knows how to get his teammates involved, but his ability to put the ball in the hoop has always been his top priority. Gordon’s injury history will keep his value reasonably low, which is why snagging up a top-notch scorer for a low price could be the steal of the offseason.
The NBA Draft and free agency are always so unpredictable. This is undoubtedly the most hectic time of the year in the NBA: with the NBA Finals underway, the draft in three weeks, and free agency in four. Most teams are primarily focused on the draft at this point because it marks the beginning of developing a team for next season, but not for the Heat. Miami is the only team in the league that is more focused on free agency because they own no selections in the draft. However, this could actually be a blessing in disguise. This gives them a head start on analyzing who will fit best on their team for next year. Every year, Heat fans come into the offseason questioning whether or not Riley can improve the current roster, and every year, Riley delivers.