Ira Winderman: Is Heat core worth future without flexibility?
The context of just about every question – and just about every response – with Pat Riley this past week was about the Miami Heat approach this summer.
But based on the questions and particularly the answers offered, this is about far more than about the summer of 2017.
It ultimately could be about what the Heat not only looks like in 2017-18, but also 2018-19 and ’19-20.
Should the Heat lock James Johnson and Dion Waiters into the type of deals both are expected to seek, at lengths of four seasons, then any thoughts of steady revival may be more along the lines of what you see is what you are going to get for the foreseeable future.
First there are the deals already in place.
Both Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic are under contract through 2019-20, with that final season at their option.
Then there is Tyler Johnson’s contract of similar length, with the same player option for 2019-20. Only Tyler Johnson’s contract, because of the way the Heat were forced to match his offer sheet last summer from the Brooklyn Nets, goes from a $5.9 million cap hit this summer to $19.2 million in the 2018 and ’19 offseasons.
Add in four-year deals (or even three-year deals) for James Johnson and Dion Waiters, and what you basically would have would be salary-cap gridlock.
Granted, there are times when teams make stands, when they lock up their salary structure for years to come because the job is complete and it becomes time to compete.
The Heat did it in the 2010 offseason with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and then Mike Miller.
The Cavaliers did it when Kyrie Irving was locked up before James was reacquired in 2014 and shortly before Kevin Love got his long-term deal.
But nothing is more dangerous in the NBA than get locked in when the sum of the parts isn’t enough.
For example, let’s take next summer for the Heat, when the salary cap will go from this summer’s $101 million to a projected $102 million.
Counting just Whiteside, Dragic and Tyler Johnson, that’s $62.7 million against the 2018-19 cap. Then, counting James Johnson and Waiters at a seemingly charitable (in the Heat’s favor) $28 million total, you’re already up to $90.7 million, without even getting into cap holds of $5.2 million for Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, who both will be eligible for extensions.
Such math with Whiteside, Dragic, Waiters and a pair of Johnsons effectively would have the Heat capped for three seasons going forward.
And that’s fine if you believe that Whiteside, Dragic, Waiters, Johnson and Johnson can have the Heat in contention over that span.
As was the thinking with going to the limit with Whiteside last July, there is value in retaining assets, creating trade chips. And as long as your players retain value, there always is the possibility of trading back into cap space, need be, as the Golden State Warriors did by moving Andrew Bogut to sign Kevin Durant last summer.
But what this summer can’t be about is merely building a bridge from this season to next season.
With Dwyane Wade leaving last summer, the Heat took the prudent approach, created a transitional year with the short deals for James Johnson, Waiters, Willie Reed and Derrick Williams.
But now the long view is entering the equation. And if the puzzle can’t be completed to championship-contention level, then it might mean having to deal with some of the pieces winding up elsewhere.