Dominoes are dropping, and the wheels are officially in motion for the retooling—possibly rebuilding—Miami Heat.
LeBron James started the party earlier this week, opting out of the two years left on his contract with the four-time NBA finalists. Udonis Haslem followed suit Saturday, as reported by Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:
Udonis Haslem has opted out of his contract— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 28, 2014
Dwyane Wade has opted out.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) June 28, 2014
Heat team president Pat Riley confirmed the moves in an issued team statement, calling Wade "the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade" and Haslem "the heartbeat of this team."
Source: Chris Bosh opts out of his contract . Seeking 5-year deal worth roughly $15-16 million per year— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) June 28, 2014
Can now confirm through agent that Pat Riley has been informed of Haslem/Wade opt outs. Chris Bosh "has not yet decided."— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) June 28, 2014
Assuming Bosh opts out as expected, Miami's offseason buying power will be maximized:
Chris Bosh plans opt out of contract, source tells ESPN. Dwyane Wade & Udonis Haslem also out per reports. Heat have record 55M cap space— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 28, 2014
Haslem, Bosh, Wade all have same representation. So, yes, plans are in concert. Freeing up money for Riley to work.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 28, 2014
The question now becomes how the Heat will spend all this money.
The first step of that plan involves the likely re-signing of all the players who just opted out of their deals. Opting out was a necessary step for the franchise to create enough financial flexibility for the front office to make roster improvements.
All of these players could return, potentially on longer contracts with lower annual salaries.
"The idea of them all taking $15 million a year on five-year, $75 million deals has been floated," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin noted. "Riley would be roughly $15 million under the cap to go chase name free agents."
A five-year deal for Wade, however, is unrealistic in this form because of the NBA's Over-36 rule.
How likely is that $15 million figure? Well, it depends on which member of the Big Three you're talking about.
That's exactly the type of deal that Broussard's source said Bosh is after. It's also in line with the four-year, $60 million contract a Wade associate told The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson that the veteran guard "would be receptive to considering."
It remains to be seen if James is willing to take the same approach.
Sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports that James "is seeking a full maximum contract extension – or something close to it – to stay with Miami." The full max offer he could receive from the Heat is a five-year, $130 million deal.
While he's certainly worth that money (and more), he would be hindering Miami's ability to upgrade the roster by taking it. That's where this decision is pulling him in different directions.
He's reportedly still hoping to stay in South Beach, but sources told Wojnarowski that "a failure by the organization toward improving the Heat's roster to his satisfaction could send him aggressively into free agency."
If his desire is to stay, though, he might have to leave some money on the table. Considering Forbes has him collecting $42 million in endorsements alone this year, he could make up that difference elsewhere—provided the Heat give him a reason to take less than the max.
For Riley, he'll look at the free-agent market and examine his chance to make a significant splash. Given his history and imagination, he'll chase the biggest fish he can:
So... Lowry-Wade-James-Anthony-Bosh starting five, with Allen-Haslem-Andersen-Cole-Ennis-Napier bench?— Adam Reisinger (@AdamReisinger) June 28, 2014
That will mean first taking a long look at James' buddy and fellow free agent, Carmelo Anthony. ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein reported in mid-June that the Heat have been exploring the possibility of adding the scoring machine.
Financially speaking, it's not impossible, but all members of this potential Big Four would have to make major sacrifices. ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan (subscription required) said each player could take a four-year, $58.8 million deal, which would include a $13.8 million salary for next season.
That's a lot of cash for each player to give up—probably too much.
If the Heat can't get Anthony, who would they pursue?
Kyle Lowry, who had a near-All-Star season for the Toronto Raptors in 2013-14, could be next on Riley's list.
Even after landing Shabazz Napier on draft night, the Heat could still use a point guard capable of relieving the ball-handling responsibilities that James has carried. Lowry is also a strong defender, so James wouldn't have to worry about the tough assignments that Mario Chalmers struggled with this past season.
Windhorst said "mutual interest" exists between Heat and Lowry, via CBS Sports' Matt Moore, so the point guard might be willing to take less than the market will offer in order to improve his championship odds.
Forwards Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza could also be options if Lowry proves to be out of Miami's price range. They would both add needed athleticism to Miami's perimeter, and each has shown the ability to space the floor. Neither wing would come cheap, although they could leave enough room for the team to address some other needs.
Despite Miami's four straight trips to the NBA Finals, this roster has plenty of holes. As Elhassan noted, "The main goals should be to upgrade point guard, upgrade center, add another high-level wing defender."
Finding cheap bigs won't be easy, but players like Ekpe Udoh, Jason Smith and Kevin Seraphin could fall within the Heat's budget. Channing Frye would be more expensive and doesn't offer a lot in terms of rim protection, but he'd give coach Erik Spoelstra another big man with range.
Which free agent should the Miami Heat pursue?
Miami could look for more shooters on the wings, too, even if Ray Allen returns. Vince Carter could be a possibility if he goes ring-chasing; even a specialist gunner like Anthony Morrow would make some sense.
Expect Riley to pursue the big-ticket items, especially if James makes it clear that's what he wants. However, Miami's best move might be spreading out this money to a couple of different free agents.
Most of that $55 million will be earmarked for James, Wade and Bosh. Some of it should go to a second-tier target like Lowry, Deng or even Pau Gasol. Whatever is left should go toward building depth, a process that most likely entails bringing back several reserves from this past season's team.
The Heat just need to strengthen their championship blueprint, not draw up a completely new one. As long as the Big Three give Riley enough money to work with, he'll put it to good use.