This may require adjustment of thought in light of what just was completed, but an NBA team does not conduct its offseason in a bubble.
So for as much as what the Miami Heat might want to do next after finishing within two victories of a championship in the NBA’s quarantine setting, decisions elsewhere will have just as much impact.
—The salary cap: There has never been an NBA economy like this, because there has never been an economy like this.
The working assumption is the salary cap will remain flat, again at $109 million for 2020-21, as it was during the just-completed season. But that hardly is a given, because nothing these days is a given.
Until that is sorted out, and there at least is guidance for the 2021-22 cap, teams lack a road map going forward, with no idea what they can spend, or what that cap cash will be worth.
—The free-agent market: Part B of free agency, beyond the spending money, is who to spend it on.
The NBA has yet to set a date for the start of free agency, with all player options, team options and guarantee dates on hold.
The Heat could have an extra $13.1 million in cap space this offseason if Kelly Olynyk opts out. But his initial decision deadline of late-June has yet to be rescheduled.
Free agency has been pegged for an estimated start date of Dec. 1. Or not.
—Extension decisions: This is where it is all out of the Heat’s hands.
For example, if Giannis Antetokounmpo and/or Victor Oladipo opt for the security of extensions ahead of 2021 free agency, then playing the long game could leave little in the way of payoff.
For the Heat, that leaves the delicate balance of waiting for what might never come.
Then there are the rookie-scale extensions available in the offseason for Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, John Collins and others from the 2017 draft class. If those players insist on their cash up front, then it could get far more complex for the Heat to ask Bam Adebayo to wait for his $158 million, in the team’s bid to maximize 2021 cap space.
—Heat envy: Also out of the Heat’s hands is how others might come to view their unrestricted free agents, in light of the run to the NBA Finals.
There assuredly will be a multiyear offer out there for Jae Crowder, and well could be one for Goran Dragic, as well.
It will be the market, likely even more than heartstrings for the Heat, that will decide whether the Heat have to punt on 2021 cap space or punt on those players.
—The trickle down: Again, because none of this happens in a vacuum, there also will be the moving parts of free agency.
For example, if retaining Crowder becomes an issue, there are viable Plan Bs out there. One, for example, could be Paul Millsap, if the 35-year-old veteran gets squeezed out by the Denver Nuggets going all-in with Jerami Grant’s free agency and the preference to develop Michal Porter Jr.
Similarly, the Phoenix Suns’ refurbishment could leave Aron Baynes potentially there for the taking as a one-year stopgap.
The Heat have done a solid job over the years of finding cost-efficient replacement parts in free agency (Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington actually were that at one point), but the waiting game is a tenuous proposition.
—The draft: Heat draft guru Chet Kammerer tells the story of a year when the Heat had a pick in the 20s — and every one of their preferred choices was off the board. The Heat hold the No. 20 pick in what is scheduled to be a Nov. 18 draft.
That makes the draft the ultimate at-the-mercy-of-others experience.
For example, while some mock drafts offer up the all-the-sense-in-the-world selection of Kira Lewis at No. 20, it looks as if the Alabama point guard, at least with many of the latest projections, won’t last beyond No 15. And if the preference again is the best available Kentucky player, Tyrese Maxey is no lock to make it to No. 20.
—The revised landscape: Again, because the Heat are not operating in a vacuum, there also has to be consideration of what it will take to get out of the East in 2021, let alone trying to again get a handle on Anthony Davis in a potential NBA Finals rematch with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Is there enough defensively to contend with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and the about-to-launch Brooklyn Nets? What if the Milwaukee Bucks actually can pull off a deal for Chris Paul?
Ultimately, any Pat Riley blueprint will have to involve ample read and react for the Heat.
IN THE LANE
ONE YEAR LATER: With the Heat now one week from the end of their season, Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of what seemed at the time to be an innocuous exhibition, but in many ways set the tone for the run to the 2020 NBA Finals. It was on Oct. 18, 2019 that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra not only started undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn in his team’s preseason finale against the visiting Houston Rockets, but allowed him to be the focus of the offense. Nunn closed that game with 40 points on 15-of-27 shooting, including 6 of 10 on 3-pointers. It was the highest-scoring preseason game by a Heat player in 20 years, eclipsing a 38-point game by LeBron James. And it wasn’t as if the Rockets blew off the exhibition, with James Harden scoring 44 in Houston’s 144-133 victory. That also was the night Dion Waiters pouted as a reserve, soon to receive the first of three suspensions, as the Heat learned they could thrive in Waiters’ absence. Nunn would go on to start on opening night and in all 67 of his regular season appearances.
SPEAKING OF: So, yes, that was Dion Waiters in full embrace of the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the Los Angeles Lakers locker room after the Heat were vanquished in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. As in the same Dion Waiters who was inactive not only for the entire Finals, but also for the Lakers’ final 14 playoffs games, playing only 38 postseason minutes. So, of course, he took to Instagram about the Heat with, “They tried to bury me. The suspensions and all. They tried to bury me. I didn’t even do nothin. Look at me now. Nobody can take that from me! I’m Champ Cheese, Philly Cheese.” That’s Waiters’ view. What will be most telling is what happens next, and how NBA free agency treats the 28-year-old, as he seeks his fifth team since being drafted No. 4 by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: As for the low ratings for the Heat-Lakers Finals, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in a podcast with Megyn Kelly that poor promotion of the series was a factor. “I don’t think it has anything to do with politics,” Cuban said. “I just think we don’t have the matchup and the storylines, and we didn’t do a good job promoting it.”
RILEY’S FIRE: For those who might question how much the fire burns for Heat President Pat Riley at 75, Golden State Warriors President Bob Myers related a story this past week about how much it still burned for Riley in his 70s. “A few summers ago at Summer League in Las Vegas, I said, ‘Pat, you want to get something to eat?’” Myers said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “So we sat down, and this was in the midst of our run (of going to the five straight NBA Finals), and I asked him for his advice on things. Pat looked me in the eyes and said, ‘There’s nothing more important than winning.’ And I kind of tried to say, ‘Well, what about your family and stuff like that?’ Pat is a great guy and he’s got a great family. But I almost could tell he was struggling with that part. He was almost like, ‘Well, you know (laughter) … winning is important (laughter).’ His desire to win is real. That’s not a facade. His motivation, his discipline, his passion — it is deep in there. That is great and that is awesome.”
LITTLE PATIENCE: With Chris Bosh making the interview rounds, the former Heat championship big man paused to take time in his blog to make it known that he has no patience for the debate about whether his former Heat championship teammate LeBron James or Michael Jordan is the NBA’s greatest of all time. “Talking about something as individualistic as the GOAT isn’t worthwhile — at worst, it’s downright disrespectful to the game,” Bosh posted. “Disrespectful to everyone who plays it and everyone who came before them. That’s why I can’t act like the question holds any weight the next time I hear it. If you’re looking to sell papers or get clicks, I promise there are better ways to do it. Because when you’re busy trying to figure out who the greatest is, it’s hard to see greatness itself.”
23. Consecutive playoff series with at least one road win by the Heat, including Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers, tying the Golden State Warriors’ ongoing league record. The NBA counted games that in a typical setting would have been road games as road games in the neutral Disney World quarantine bubble. No other NBA teams have won road games in more than 13 consecutive playoff series.
(Ira Winderman covers the Miami Heat for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.)
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