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Caleb Martin and Heat reach a crossroads this offseason: ‘We’ll just have to see how it goes’

This season didn’t start or end the way Miami Heat forward Caleb Martin envisioned, but it was still one of the best seasons of Martin’s NBA career.

It began with Martin missing 10 of the Heat’s first 11 regular-season games because of left knee tendinosis, and it ended with the Heat’s early first-round playoff exit.

“I’m my toughest critic,” Martin said earlier this month when the Heat held exit interviews a few days following the end of its season. “Not ending the way that we wanted it to is going to weigh heavy on me for the rest of the summer. There are games and opportunities that I had that I probably didn’t capitalize on. So I’ll be thinking about that all summer going into my player development.”

Through it all, Martin still managed to average career highs in points (10 per game) and assists (2.2 per game) in 64 games (23 starts) this regular season. Martin also received good news recently, according to a league source, learning that he doesn’t need to undergo offseason surgery on a left thumb injury that he sustained late in the season and played through.

But Martin’s shooting efficiency did dip from 46.4 percent from the field last regular season to 43.1 percent this regular season and 35.6 percent from three-point range last regular season to 34.9 percent this regular season.

“I’m not the best at giving myself credit with that type of stuff,” said Martin, who turns 29 on Sept. 28. “But there are a lot of things to still be proud of in finishing my fifth year and still being able to be a role player, rotation guy in this league with this organization. So a lot of things to be grateful for, too. So trying to find ways to balance it as much as I can. But there’s a lot of things that I will make sure I take into this summer.”

A summer that will include some important and potentially career-changing decisions.

Martin, who went undrafted in 2019 out of Nevada, has until June 29 to decide on the $7.1 million player option in his contract for next season. The expectation is he won’t exercise that option because he will get more money and guaranteed years in free agency.

If this expectation becomes reality, the Heat’s salary-cap situation will make it difficult to re-sign Martin. Bobby Marks, an ESPN front office insider and former Nets executive, told the Miami Herald that he expects Martin to receive the full projected $12.9 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception in free agency this summer.

“Everybody knows I want to be here. I make that known,” Martin said toward the end of the season, making it clear that his preference is to return to the Heat this offseason. “That’s my goal is to be able to stay here, make it work. I want to be here as long as possible and for them to want me to come back. That’s my main goal.”

But unless the Heat sheds salary, matching that type of offer to retain Martin would push the team’s payroll above the ultrapunitive second apron for next season based on its current salary-cap sheet.

In other words, Martin’s future with the team is essentially in the Heat’s hands. Can the Heat shed enough salary this offseason to afford to keep Martin or will the Heat end up being priced out of re-signing Martin?

“I haven’t thought about it much,” Martin said earlier this month when asked about his impending free agency. “Obviously, this is the time for some of that stuff to be thought about and conversations to be had. But, yeah, I’ll think about that. But some things, we’ll just have to see how it goes. They don’t have any answers as of right now.”

Whatever happens in the coming months, Martin’s time with the Heat has already been productive and memorable.

In Martin’s three seasons with the Heat, he has played in two Eastern Conference finals and one NBA Finals. He even finished just one vote from being named the 2023 East finals MVP.

But after deep playoff runs in each of his first two seasons with the Heat, Martin has watched most of this year’s playoffs on TV following Miami’s quick postseason exit at the hands of the Boston Celtics.

“A part of getting to where you’re trying to get to, you need moments like this too so it’s not all highs,” Martin said, with the Celtics representing the East in the NBA Finals this season after sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the East finals. “You need those lows in order to prepare you to where you’re trying to get. It’s humbling, especially after the last two years that we’ve had ever since I’ve been here. It’s humbling to end like this. But I always believe that stuff happens for a reason to put us individually and as a team and organization into a better spot going forward.”