Built around the inside-out foundation of the Big Three, the Miami Heat's supporting cast carefully plucked and sculpted by Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra will almost completely be off the books this summer.
Eight contracts will expire, while five other players can opt out. It gives the Heat their first major reload opportunity since 2010, when Riley threw his rings on the table and got LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the fold.
Though Miami made it to the NBA Finals, it looked older and slower than in the last few seasons. This is most obvious on defense, where the team dropped out of the top 10 in the league in defensive efficiency for the first time since 2010, per NBA.com/Stats.
As Ira Winderman of SunSentinel.com writes, Miami's perimeter guys, usually quick to close out on three-point shooters, look a step slow:
What made the system so efficient in previous seasons was the Heat's remarkable close-out speed. Due to aging, fatigue and other factors (lack of air conditioning?), some of that speed has been lost amid these marathon seasons and postseasons.
Retaining age and experience while adding fresh(er) legs is the balancing act.
But before we sink our teeth into whom the Heat should keep and whom they should let walk, we have some housecleaning to do:
- Shane Battier is retiring, taking his broadcasting talents to Bristol to be a college basketball analyst.
- Udonis Haslem has a player option for about $4.6 million. He won't get that on the open market. He stays.
- Chris Andersen has a player option for just under $1.5 million. He's worth more than that, and it stands to reason that he opts out.
- Justin Hamilton's $800,000 deal is not guaranteed. It's a small amount that the Heat will recoup if they need it or his roster spot (they can also send him down to the NBA Development League).
- James, Wade and Bosh are not technically free agents (yet) and will not be included in this exercise.
- The signs point to those three returning to Miami, and so we will act under that assumption.
That should give Miami somewhere between $8.5 million (if the Big Three re-sign for $14 million per season, a low figure based on the numbers floating around)and $23 million before hitting the projected luxury-tax ceiling of $77 million, per Larry Coon's CBA FAQ Blog.
Value is the final ball in the juggling act. We saw the Heat choose value over player when they amnestied Mike Miller and traded Joel Anthony.
So, considering experience, locker room importance, potential and value, we play keep or cut with Miami's free agents.
Mario Chalmers: Keep, If the Price Is Right
Mario Chalmers is the most intriguing guy on this list. Making just $4 million in the final year of his contract, Rio could seek more money elsewhere. (As I write this, Chalmers is struggling to make a real impact through three games in the NBA Finals. We'll see if this impacts his value on the open market.)
Confident and sometimes erratic, Chalmers has a good three-point stroke and helps spread the floor. He understands Miami's protocols, too. We've seen guys such as Rashard Lewis, Norris Cole and even Ray Allen (more so at the end of games his first season) have minutes limited because they had not yet grasped Spoelstra's system.
If Chalmers walks, Miami would have to sign another point guard to play ahead or behind Cole. Bringing in a new point guard means teaching him the system and being patient while he figures it out. After four seasons, Chalmers also has chemistry with the Big Three. That can't be taught.
Still, value is the most important factor here. The Heat won't match an offer they can't afford, and since what you see is what you got when it comes to Chalmers, they won't be investing in his potential.
(Side note: Another thing to consider is if the Big Three opt in, then Miami may want to keep its books clear for the summer of 2015-16. In this case, it would be in the Heat's best interests to work out a one- or two-year deal with Chalmers.)
What the Heat don't want is a contract that is going to look bad three years from now. If the Heat can sign him for $12 million over two years, with a max of $6 million guaranteed in year one and a team or player option in year two, I say keep him.
Ray Allen: Keep
This one is simple. If Ray Allen doesn't retire, re-sign him.
He isn't looking for a payday at this point, only for more rings to secure his legacy as the greatest three-point shooter of all time.
Allen can play another year. He's done more than just hit three-pointers with ruthless accuracy in these playoffs. He's driving to the hoop, dishing out assists and doing a decent job defensively. He's even dunking!
But if Miami wins the championship, it might make it easier for Allen to retire on top. In May, he told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears that his goal is to do just that"
Do I want to play at a high level? Or do you just want to exist on team where you win or maybe not?" Allen said. "Those are the questions you have to ask yourself. It's more than just the game. It's preparing every day.
If he decides to give it another go, his floor spacing, leadership and productivity make him an easy keeper.
Toney Douglas: Cut
Added before the trade deadline in the Anthony deal, Toney Douglas is a good on-ball defender and even started at times late in the regular season.
However, Douglas, who shot 27.9 percent from three this season, isn't a threat who spreads the floor.
He also tends to over-dribble and struggled to make quick decisions with the ball. Miami can't afford a 28-year-old project while also continuing to develop Norris Cole.
James Jones: Keep
Jones probably isn't worth his current $1.5 million deal, but if the Heat can re-sign him for the veteran minimum, I think they keep him.
He's been with Miami since Micky Arison was in diapers, it seems. He's a good three-point shooter and has the respect in the Heat organization that can't be duplicated by someone else on a minimum deal.
Rashard Lewis: Keep
If I were writing this three weeks ago, I might have said cut. I'm trying to keep this in perspective, though. Really.
Lewis is starting in the NBA Finals on a deal worth less than both Douglas' and Jones' contracts, a few bucks under $1.4 million.
After two seasons with the Heat, Lewis is on Miami's defensive string, moving in step with the other four guys to defend opponents. He's hitting three-pointers and spacing the floor for James and Wade, which have led to his high plus/minus numbers these playoffs.
Basically, Lewis is doing what Battier used to do, only he's fresher (averaging 14.4 and 16.2 minutes per game the last two seasons, compared to Battier's 24.8 and 20.1 minutes per game).
Starting in the NBA Finals is impressive, but not enough to garner a major raise for this 34-year-old. Miami keeps him if it can re-sign him for somewhere near his current deal.
Michael Beasley: Keep
Beasley is inconsistent on offense, a consistent liability on defense and a project player who comes with baggage.
I think Miami keeps him.
Beasley can score from anywhere on the floor and has the size that projects to a stretch 4 in Miami's offense. He doesn't necessarily share the ball as well as the rest of his teammates, but there is value to a scorer off the bench.
The big issue is on defense, where he's struggled to grasp Miami sophisticated system. Here is Winderman:
[Defense] has been the concern with Michael, who certainly tries on the defensive end, but has not grasped the approach to the degree of Battier. All of that said, with Battier retiring, a summer back in the Heat system could yet land Beasley in the rotation next season, should he decide to re-up in free agency.
Just like it took Lewis a year to get his feet under him, I think Beasley can take a step forward next season.
He hasn't done anything to warrant a raise, so Miami keeps him with a second minimum contract.
Greg Oden: Cut
Oden's story is a nice one, but I have a feeling the Heat let him raise that Eastern Conference Finals trophy for a reason.
It may be the last time he has a chance to.
Oden was a project, a possible bargain on an effective center—something the open market drives up the price on. But he can't crack the starting lineup in the playoffs, and when he did in the regular season, he looked slow and out of shape.
It's a much longer road for Oden should he ever return to NBA condition. I don't think a team chasing trophies is the place for him to do that.
Chris Andersen: Keep
Andersen is under contract, but there is a chance he opts out seeking more money from Miami.
Does he give the team that gave him a chance a major hometown discount and just opt in, humbly taking nearly $1.5 million? Maybe. But this is worth writing about.
Why Birdman opts in:
- He is 35 years old and probably doesn't want to move again.
- Miami gave him his second chance in the NBA. That's worth some loyalty rewards points.
- He has a carefully carved out role on a championship team.
Why Birdman opts out:
- More money.
How much does money talk to the Bird? This guy who partied and spent his way out of the league at one point?
Maybe the money isn't as important anymore. I can see a scenario in which he and the Heat agree to have him opt out to give him a raise, but the Heat don't need to do that. If Andersen does opt out, they can always play the "OK, so where are you going to go?" card.
It's safe to say that Bird has made his nest in Miami. He represents what the Heat need from their free agents—someone who complements the Big Three at a favorable price and is playing for championships.