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The Miami Heat have $55 million in cap space, but it’s what I call fake cap space.
They have one player from last season under contract, Norris Cole, who also has the lowest player efficiency rating of any active player with at least 4,000 career minutes. You could literally argue he’s the worst rotation player in the NBA.
They also have the rights to rookie Shabazz Napier, whom they acquired on draft night.
Other than that, they have 10 roster spots to fill, and presumably three of those will be James, Bosh and Wade. But there is the rub.
James is reported to want the maximum, $20.7 million. To say he’s earned it is an understatement. ESPN’s Darren Rovell calculates that he’s worth $161.3 million over the next three years.
That cuts the available cap space down to $35 million (remember that each addition relieves one incomplete roster charge).
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo, "Chris Bosh's reps have made recent calls on market to reconfirm that max slots would be available to him, sources tell Yahoo. Answers: Yes.”
That would tend to confirm David Aldridge’s tweet, “Agent Henry Thomas, on report clients Bosh & Wade will take $12M/per & $11M/per, respectively: "all the BS you are reading is just that."”
Frankly, it would be a shock to see Bosh take less than $16 million. That leaves the Heat $19 million. If Wade took $12 million, they would have $7 million left over to build the roster.
Per Wojnarowski, even that's too optimistic:
There had been suggestions the renegotiated contracts of James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade could leave the space for a $9 million-$10 million annual salary slot, but the figure that Miami has floated to prospective players is a first-year salary in the range of $5.5 million and hazy suggestions about sign-and-trades that would ultimately be difficult to execute, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
And Avery Bradley just signed for $8 million. Avery Bradley!
We can talk all we want about the magic of Pat Riley, but even he can’t pull a rabbit out of that salary cap.
And this is where things can get really precarious.
James has maintained a desire to take a full max contract with a starting salary of $20.7 million, sources said. Wade and Bosh are still reluctant to take severe cuts in their contracts, sources told Yahoo Sports, creating a financial disconnect among the three.
"There's clearly a breakdown in communication between LeBron and [Wade and Bosh]," one executive who participated in the meetings over the past two days told Yahoo Sports. "[James is] giving Riley time to go get players for them but if that doesn't happen in the next few days … LeBron seems ready to explore the market."
Players seem reluctant to commit to Miami because they’re wary James will walk. Riley has trouble committing to contract offers because he doesn’t know what he has to offer them. James wants to see the players commit before he does. It’s all a big circle.
Even Bosh and Wade don’t know what’s going with James, per Chris Broussard, who reports, “Bosh and Wade were so uncertain about James' future after last week's meeting that one of them spoke about what the Heat might look like without James, according to one source.”
There was a lot of unrealistic optimism at the outset of the offseason that the trio would just take massive pay cuts and the Heat would reload.
What they’re finding instead is that players aren’t that eager to eat $5-10 million per year, and without that, it’s impossible to shed $25 million from the payroll and get deeper, especially when every team in the NBA seems intent on making it rain for every free agent.
It’s looking impossible for the Heat to keep all three players, and it’s possible that only Wade stays.