Basketball / Sports

Analysis: Space race could yield exceptional results for Heat

MIAMI -- By 5 p.m. Sunday, all the pieces had fallen into place for Part A of the Miami Heat's offseason overhaul, with the formal announcement of Chris Bosh's opt-out.

Now comes Part B of the process, which will reshape a roster beaten down by four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and this month's collapse against the San Antonio Spurs that denied the Heat a third consecutive championship.

Prior to this rapid-fire round of opt-outs by the Heat's Big Three, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh were positioned to account for just over $61 million of the Heat's 2014-15 payroll. Now, with contracts to be rewritten in coming days thanks to the concessions by the trio, that figure will move closer to $50 million.

While the concessions open the door for a single big-box signing by Heat President Pat Riley -- with New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry at the top of that group -- more likely is an approach to rebuild the championship depth the Heat carried in winning titles in 2012 and '13.

And that could have the Heat remaining over the salary cap but not nearly as deep into the luxury tax as in recent seasons.

A more holistic approach by Riley and his staff could involve utilizing three salary-cap exceptions instead of aggregating all remaining funds for a single addition in free agency.

By operating above the salary cap but under their previous luxury-tax heights, the Heat would have at their disposal:

A full mid-level salary-cap exception of $5.3 million to sign one or more free agents.

A trade exception left over from the Joel Anthony deal to the Boston Celtics that is worth $2.2 million to acquire a player in a trade.

A $2 million bi-annual exception that can be used once in a two-year period by a team operating below the salary cap.

In essence, the Heat's decision could come down to signing a single player in the $8 million range, or adding three (or more) new components with combined 2014-15 salaries in the $10 million range.

By utilizing cap exceptions instead of salary-cap space, it also would allow the Heat to utilize the "Bird Rights" component of the collective-bargaining agreement to re-work contracts for Chris Andersen and Ray Allen above the veteran-minimum scale, where the remainder of the players on the next season's roster otherwise likely would slot.

It could add up to a Heat spreadsheet that features:

James, Wade, Bosh and Udonis Haslem, all of whom exited their previous contracts over the past week, returning to new deals at somewhere in the combined range of $53 million for 2014-15.

A mid-level player added at $5.3 million (a wish list that might start with Pau Gasol or Trevor Ariza).

A player added at the bi-annual $2 million exception (a wish list that might start with Marvin Williams).

A player added via the $2.2 million trade exception (players on the current rookie scale fall into this area, but there also could be a sign-and-trade deal with a current free agent willing to play for such an amount).

Either Norris Cole at his $2 million 2014-15 salary, or a player acquired in a trade for Cole at a similar salary.

First-round pick Shabazz Napier, the point guard out of UConn who is slotted into a $1.03 million rookie-season salary for 2014-15.

That math would give the Heat nine players under contract at $67 million, with plenty of room under the projected $77 million 2014-15 luxury-tax threshold for remaining moves with the likes of Andersen, Allen and perhaps others from this past season's roster (under the collective-bargaining agreement, the Heat cannot re-acquire Mike Miller by any means until July 2015).

What it would add up to would be the type of depth the Heat lacked this past season for the games Wade missed due to his maintenance program, while also limiting the need for James to again lead the offense for extended minutes.

Because of the way the Heat have operated, Tuesday's start of free agency likely will include immediate pitches to the top of the free-agent class, basically with now-or-never offers below what such players could make in other situations.

What follows, however, could offer a truer read, the two, three or four pieces that once again complete the Heat, make the roster something far closer to whole than what was in place by the time the NBA Finals ended earlier this month.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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