6 NBA Free Agents Miami Heat Should Pursue to Support Big 3
The NBA Finals were a wakeup call for the Miami Heat. With Dwyane Wade no longer capable of playing at a consistently elite level due to his health, the supporting cast has to be improved in order for the Big Three to keep beating talented teams with strong depth. LeBron James can do a lot, but even the greatest players need help.
And according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, James and his star teammates will give Heat president Pat Riley a window in which to acquire that help. It's premature to call that an ultimatum, but it certainly underscores the urgency attached to Miami's summer plans.
It's interesting that we've reached the theme of supporting talent once again, mainly because that was the same reason that drove James to Miami back in 2010. He is now a free agent once again, and Miami has the chance to add significant talent so long as Wade, James and Chris Bosh are willing to re-sign and keep their combined salaries under the luxury tax.
Here's ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne with more:
The last option is that the Heat stars could all take moderate pay cuts and stagger their salaries at different levels. This would likely not leave significant cap space but it would take the Heat below the luxury tax line and enable them up to use the full mid-level exception of $5.3 million and the biannual exception of $2 million to bring in multiple role players.
With James saying the team needs to improve "at every position," it seems possible the third option may end up being the most likely, especially after the Heat players all took pay cuts when they came to Miami four years ago.
Depending on the size of the pay cuts taken, Miami could add some of the best players in the league. They'll likely start there, as Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported:
Because of the way the Heat have operated, Tuesday's start of free agency likely will include immediate pitches to the top of the free-agent class, basically with now-or-never offers below what such players could make in other situations.
What follows, however, could offer a truer read, the two, three or four pieces that once again complete the Heat, make the roster something far closer to whole than what was in place by the time the NBA Finals ended earlier this month.
For the sake of this exercise, let's start with the biggest potential acquisition and work our way down in terms of salary, as it's possible the Wade, Bosh and James sign and nothing but exceptions are left over.
With all that in mind, here are six free agents Miami should pursue to support the Big Three.
Carmelo Anthony, SF
Carmelo Anthony is the biggest fish on the market, and when you offer the appeal of South Beach and playing out the end of one's prime next to LeBron James, you should never rule out landing the biggest fish.
There would have to be massive concessions made from Anthony, James, Bosh and Wade, but how often do four future Hall of Fame players (five if Ray Allen returns) get to play together? Nothing is guaranteed, but it's hard to imagine the Heat wouldn't be heavy favorites to win a title with Anthony coming on board.
Is everyone willing to take such substantial pay cuts to make that happen? It certainly seems unlikely, but we've been surprised before. It should be noted that the cuts in 2010 would be child's play next to these, and it's a lot tougher since the players will basically be divvying up the funds between themselves. That's a lot of ego and money to manage.
Knicks team president Phil Jackson recently addressed Anthony's free-agency decision with Marc Berman of the New York Post: “He is stepping into a situation in which people are going to appeal to him and his better self and about what their team is, and he is going to have to make that judgment call."
While no one is suggesting that these four players should feel obligated take much less than they're worth on the open market in order to have a better chance at winning titles, it will almost certainly be seriously considered at some point.
Acquiring Anthony is dreaming big, but again, LeBron's presence allows you to do that. The Heat will move on quickly if this isn't in the cards, but it's worth a shot regardless.
Kyle Lowry, PG
It will probably be easier for the Big Three to justify shaving off a few million total than a few million annually, which is what they'd have to do to land Carmelo Anthony. Here's Windhorst with more:
Bosh will head into free agency willing to accept a pay cut from the $20 million he was owed next year, sources said. [Udonis] Haslem is looking for a multiyear deal that will assure him more guaranteed money than what he originally was owed next season but is also willing to take a pay cut, according to a source.
If Wade and James are willing to accept reductions in pay as well, the Heat potentially would be able to open a salary slot to add another player. The team is known to be interested in Toronto Raptors free agent point guard Kyle Lowry.
Kyle Lowry makes much sense as a target. He's an unrestricted free agent and may not find the market to be as hospitable as you'd think after his excellent campaign last year, mainly because so few teams need starting point guards.
Miami is definitely one of those teams, however, even with Norris Cole and first-round pick Shabazz Napier on contract. LeBron could use someone else to initiate the offense and score on his own with Wade on the decline and missing so many games due to his knee issues. Lowry showed he could handle the load of being a top scorer this year after the Raptors traded Rudy Gay and became one of the league's best teams behind him.
Perhaps more importantly than the offense, Lowry is a fierce defender who would help restore some of Miami's ability to turn opponents over and get out on the break and run. Lowry's range from deep and distribution would also fit in quite well, as he can play next to LeBron rather easily.
While there are some previous character concerns and worries that last year was a contract-year performance, Lowry certainly looked like a capable leader who just finally put it together in the right opportunity. He'd be awfully dangerous with stars around him and the attention of the defense elsewhere.
Trevor Ariza, SF
Will the Big Three take significant discounts in order to sign a lanky three-and-D wing like Trevor Ariza? Probably not.
Instead, it's Ariza who would most likely need to take less money in order to play for a championship contender, which might be tough. After the best year of his career, Ariza could end up making around $9 million annually on a long-term deal, which might be tough to pass up if the best Miami can offer is the mid-level exception ($5.3 million) instead.
If Ariza was willing to leave some money on the table and come to South Beach, he'd be a great fit in Miami's system. Ariza does his best work by far from the corners, which would seem to fit well given the success guys like Shane Battier have had there over the years with the Heat.
Defensively, Ariza could help spark Miami's transition game in a big way, as he loves to play passing lanes and gamble on the weak side. With James and Ariza both using their athleticism and size on the wing to jump lazy passes, it's not hard to see Miami's defense taking a big jump forward.
The only issue here is that Ariza can't really initiate offense, and you probably don't want him to try. That might not take much pressure off James, and historically Ariza hasn't been nearly as good shooting the ball as he was last season.
For those reasons, Ariza may be just a little out of Miami's price range, as they're unlikely to overpay, especially if their established stars are taking less money to come back.
Pau Gasol, PF/C
It's really difficult to gauge how much money Pau Gasol can get in free agency.
He's had trouble staying on the floor over the last few years, which should limit his cost. Then again, he's still been incredibly productive when he's been able to play, and big men typically tend to be overpaid in free agency.
That shouldn't stop the Heat from dangling a mid-level exception Gasol's way this offseason. Although he's not nearly as mobile as he once was, Gasol can help Miami on the glass quite a bit while not sacrificing too much space on the offensive end.
Gasol's jumper will help, but it's his basketball IQ that allows him to fit in virtually any system. He's truly one of the greatest post passers we've ever seen, and he's comfortable on the low block and the high post. Gasol and Bosh could work inside-out a bit and in different lineups. For the mid-level, there probably won't be a more talented option.
But would Gasol being willing to take so much less than what he's worth, especially since this might be his last major contract? That's tough to say, but the chance to play for a contender again and finish his career next to LeBron James should be awfully enticing. Miami is one of the few destinations that's not a downgrade from Los Angeles, as well.
There's a lot of talk about Wade, Bosh and James taking big pay cuts, but it wouldn't be a surprise if a marquee free agent took the brunt of the financial blow in order to join them.
Gasol isn't a perfect fit, and he's not young and athletic like the Heat may want, but his skill and intelligence makes up for an awful lot.
Vince Carter, SG
Miami will likely want to bring on a few veterans, and the biannual exception could be a good weapon to attain players worth a little more than the veteran's minimum.
Vince Carter is one of those players, and he's already shown that he's willing to play for a price well below what he brings on the floor. Carter made just $3.1 million, so slotting into the biannual spot wouldn't be much of a decrease at all.
At 37 years old, Carter is surprisingly still a very good option on the wing. He's turned into a bit of a glue guy over the years, filling in the gaps with strong defense, rebounding, smart passing and excellent spot-up shooting.
That sure sounds like a great fit for Miami, as we saw how dangerous Mike Miller and Shane Battier were in this system. Miller was a cap casualty and Battier lost a step or two, but Carter has at least one more really good year left in him, it appears. He's a much better all-around player than he gets credit for, and his three-point shooting would be huge coming off the bench.
Carter put his ego aside a long time ago, so there's a lot of reasons to like this. Whether Miami can pluck him away from Dirk Nowitzki remains to be seen, but this would be a good fit for both parties if Carter is open to it.
Josh McRoberts, PF
Josh McRoberts opted out of his player option worth $2.7 million, so one can safely assume he's looking for more money and more years after the best season of his career.
The Heat can at least offer more years, and pairing up with LeBron James probably isn't a bad idea.
McRoberts has some Boris Diaw in him, as he's a pretty good shooter from deep and an excellent passer with surprising athleticism. McRoberts doesn't necessarily fill any of Miami's glaring needs in terms of production, as he's a poor rebounder who can't help protect the rim, but teams that move the ball like Miami can always use another smart facilitator who can stretch the floor at the forward position.
While he wouldn't be a high-profile signing by any means, McRoberts is the type of role player who could make Miami a little more dynamic offensively. The absence of a legitimate stretch 4 in the playoffs hurt the Heat, and McRoberts showed last year with Charlotte that he's a capable one.
He'd likely have to be added on after multiple other pieces, but if Miami is looking for someone to peg with the biannual exception, getting McRoberts at that price would be a bit of a steal. In free agency, when you're shopping on a budget, it's all about value.