When they say it's good to be the king, look no further than the cool waters of the Miami Heat's offseason thus far for proof.
As the rest of the NBA world spent their first few days of July graveling at the feet of Dwight Howard, the defending champs were kicked back in their lawn chairs. Without any money to spend on the free-agent market other than a mini mid-level exception, the Heat have been almost totally quiet as the paradigm shifts from under them.
The Houston Rockets have created their own burgeoning giant with the signing of Dwight Howard, and there could be more help on the way. Josh Smith and Howard are good friends and former AAU teammates. So when Zach Klein of WSB-TV in Atlanta reported Friday afternoon—before Howard's official decision—that the Rockets were looking to make a sign-and-trade deal for Smith, things started to click:
NBA league source tells me Hawks and Rockets working on sign and trade for Josh Smith— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) July 5, 2013
In Miami, things have already clicked. The Heat had their backs repeatedly pounded against the wall against San Antonio and Indiana before coming away with their second-straight championship. And despite never-ending speculation about the demise of this core, Miami seems satisfied with standing pat. Ray Allen's decision to opt into his contract for next season took a huge weight off the team's chest, leaving it only with Chris Andersen to re-sign among important rotational cogs.
Luckily, that freedom also leaves the team open to make one or two key additions to the bench. Who might those names be? Here's a look at the latest free-agent rumors coming from South Beach.
Heat Still in Greg Oden Mix?
Once the dust actually starts getting settled around the biggest names in free agency—in other words, when we're finally out of this Dwight Howard-induced coma—perhaps the most intriguing name remaining will belong to a man who hasn't played in over three years.
For months now, it's been an open secret that Greg Oden will finally return to an NBA floor in 2013-14, health permitting of course. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft has not set foot on an NBA floor since Dec. 5, 2009. The nearly four-year period has been filled with a never-ending series of starts and stops—OK, maybe only stops—and the man who was once supposed to bring a Bill Russell-like effect to the Portland Trail Blazers was no longer welcome in team facilities.
In January, though, there was the first glimmer of hope that Oden would be back. ESPN's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst collaborated on a story confirming that the big man would be back next year, but they also had a few interesting tidbits about where he might play. Windhorst and Stein of course mentioned the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Ohio franchise that would put Oden near Ohio State University, where he went to college.
But arguably the more intriguing team to come up was the Miami Heat. The defending champs' need for big men is about as big a secret as Oden's injury history. And their ability to win now has to be intriguing for Oden, whose career is about as close to "up in the air" as you can get. If he contributes next season, gets a ring and then has to bounce due to injuries, at least he'll go down with some symbol of NBA success.
That said, winds have been quiet on Oden throughout free agency thus far. The San Antonio Spurs have emerged as another strong suitor, and Cleveland still lurks as a possibility. But Stein also noted in a tweet from July 2 that Miami is still a very strong contender for the seven-footer's services regardless:
Hearing strongly that Miami still needs to be in same zip code w/Spurs & Cavs in Greg Oden's free-agent thinking. Heat right there, I'm told— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 2, 2013
There are an innumerable amount of question marks that come along with any team that signs Oden; namely, what's the cost? Anything guaranteed past the first season is probably a no-go, especially considering the odds of an insurance company signing off on a deal are somewhere between "Are you serious?" and "Hell no."
More saliently for Miami, there is no word on what Oden would request salary-wise. The Heat are a tax-paying team, and thus only have their mini mid-level exception to use on the open market, which starts out at around $3 million per season. They aren't going to use all of that on a massive question mark like Oden, especially considering this team needs some pieces to make it three-straight.
Chris Andersen a Priority in Miami?
When Allen chose to opt into his contract for the 2013-14 season, Andersen instantly vaulted to Miami's top free-agent priority. Dreams of Oden coming in and being the effective defensive stopper so many thought he would be six years ago are just that—dreams—until he proves it on the court.
Last season, Andersen proved that he could be a reliable, consistent force in the regular season, though he did find himself parked on the bench as the playoffs went on.
Regardless, Andersen has been, and should continue to be, a priority for the Heat. The question is whether Andersen, who will turn 35 on Sunday, will look to get the most possible money in what could be his final NBA contract. Miami has to be frugal with every dollar as a tax-paying team, and dipping into that kitty for Andersen might be a deal-breaker.
For now, though, the Heat seem pretty optimistic that Andersen will be back. According to Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post, Miami still feels that they are the frontrunner for the energetic big man, though it will take a few days for a deal to get accomplished:
For those asking about Chris Andersen... the last I've got is that Heat's still confident it will secure him. May be a few more days.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) July 5, 2013
Bringing Andersen back makes too much sense for both Miami and Birdman for it not to happen. Andersen will still make $4.8 million this year from his previous contract with the Denver Nuggets, who chose to amnesty him for cap space last summer. Monetary concerns play in every basketball decision for players—and they're lying if they say it doesn't—but Andersen knows that he isn't going to get a major contract. He will, at best, be choosing between $1.5 and $2 million per season. Considering Florida's lack of state income tax, the difference is relative pennies.
Miami, meanwhile, gets a player who is perfect for its helter-skelter defensive style. Andersen's energetic style, lateral quickness and athleticism made him an instant success with the Heat, as those physical traits allow Birdman to spell Chris Bosh and create a hellacious duo to contend with when they both play together. He struggled a bit when it came to defending the Tim Duncans of the world in the playoffs, but that was something everyone knew going in; you don't pay Birdman because he's a big-bodied bully.
Who would you rather the Heat sign?
It's likely that Miami will try to find a more traditional big—possibly, I dunno, Greg Oden—to take some of the burden off Shane Battier and others in their small-ball lineups during the regular season. We've seen this team fade and have to bring itself back from the dead in two-straight years now, as the burden of its style of play and heavy minutes weighed on their stars. The Heat will (and should) change their strategy during the 82-game slog next season.
But Miami is at its best when giving holy hell to the opposition on both ends. Birdman, for the price he'll command, is arguably the best fit on the market for that type of style. He loves Miami, and the fans love him. It's all about pushing a few dollar figures now and getting the deal done.
Heat Interested in Sebastian Telfair, but He's Headed "Home?"
When looking back on his career from an outsider's perspective, it's easy to remember Sebastian Telfair's career so far as an utter disappointment. His massive high school hype led to an ESPN documentary—and that was back before ESPN had a critically acclaimed documentary series.
Telfair was then taken by the Portland Trail Blazers at No. 13 overall in the 2004 draft, with the expectations of becoming their point guard of the future.
We know the rest of the story by now.
Telfair didn't quite pan out in Portland, never quite developed a jumper and has bounced around the league like pinball over the course of his career.
Another overhyped high school phenom who didn't live up to his lottery hype, right? Well, not exactly. It's easy to forget this a decade later, but Portland's decision to take Telfair in the lottery was considered a massive shocker on draft night. He was considered to be a first-round talent, but one that would fall somewhere in the 20s rather than the early teens.
Had Telfair been drafted properly, we'd probably look at his career as a success story. After all, he just finished his ninth NBA season, and that says something about teams believing in Telfair's character and his ability to help in limited minutes. Of course, it also represents the latest example of the "if you're in, you're in" philosophy that applies to all professional sports.
But with Telfair about to enter his 10th NBA season, his career mortality has to be sinking in. HOOPSWORLD's Alex Kennedy noted that Telfair wants to get his first taste of an NBA postseason and that the Heat are interested in his services:
Sebastian Telfair, who has never played in the postseason, wants to join contender. Knicks, Nets, Heat, Thunder are interested, per sources.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 3, 2013
That said, the defending champs might be on the precipice of losing out. Telfair sent out an ominous message that seems to indicate he's going to play for the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets next season:
I'm headed home!!!!— Sebastian Telfair (@BassyS31T) July 5, 2013
The 28-year-old guard is from Coney Island. It's unclear which New York team Telfair was referring to—though I'd place bets on it being the Knicks. Regardless, the Heat might be better off for missing out here.
Neither Mario Chalmers nor Norris Cole are heading anywhere for next season. They're both under contract and have established roles within the team's infrastructure—even if one of them tends to get yelled at quite a bit. Adding Telfair to the mix is an oil-water combination. He does nothing the Heat need, and he would expect minutes that would likely come at the expense of Cole.
I'm not the biggest Cole fan in the world, but I'd still rather be giving him those minutes on the off chance that he develops into something other than an eighth or ninth man. Telfair is a known commodity and should never be expected to develop into something more.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: