Heat News: Pat Riley Looking to Clear Cap Room for 2020 NBA Free Agency

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2019

Miami Heat president Pat Riley, left, talks with head coach Erik Spoelstra during NBA basketball training camp, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

While most of the league is gearing up for a spending bonanza this summer, the Miami Heat's salary cap obligations mean they'll have to sit out all major bidding wars. 

Come 2020, though, Pat Riley expects to be ready for an all-in push for at least one max-level free agent.

"If you want to do the math any way you want to do the math and say we can't do it, then you don't have big dreams like I do or how we've operated here," Riley told reporters at the Heat's Family Fest event. "Clearing space is easy. You just watch the New York Knicks do it and what was their price in doing it. You watch the Clippers do it and what was their price in doing it.

"You can do it if you want to do it, but you have to get a good feeling that the reason why you're going to do it is you're going to get two [high-end players]. You have flexibility and that's what the possibility of having room does for you. If you get an indication something good can happen that year, you go for it. If you don't, you just keep plugging away. We have the two picks [first-rounders in 2019 and 2020]. We have a lot of assets. We have cash, we have exceptions. We will improve the team. It will be much better than it is now."

The Heat have $70.2 million in salary commitments for the 2020-21 season, presuming they pick up the fourth-year option on Bam Adebayo's contract. That would leave them with around $48 million in cap room, should the NBA's cap projection of $118 million—reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium (h/t Yahoo Sports)—be correct. 

The Heat will have at least one max-level slot available, but Riley will have to work to clear two.

Dion Waiters and James Johnson will make a combined $29.6 million in 2020-21 and are both wildly overpaid. Riley will probably begin looking to trade both players this summer, hoping to get an expiring contract in return. The Heat could float their 2019 first-round pick but are unable to trade their 2020 or 2022 picks because their 2021 selection is already heading to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Unfortunately for the Heat, the 2020 free-agent class is not an especially promising group. Anthony Davis is the crown jewel of the class, but his future may be decided this summer when he's traded by the New Orleans Pelicans. Other potential free agents include Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Mike Conley and LaMarcus Aldridge, all guys who will be on the downslope of their careers.

Unless Riley can pull an AD caper, the Heat's window to being good again might not happen until at least 2021. The alternate option would be Riley spending big money for marginal talent, which is how the Heat got into their current mess in the first place.