Commentary

Bright free-agent forecast in Miami

The Miami Heat have several ways to give Dwyane Wade help in the free-agent market

Originally Published: April 9, 2010
By Larry Coon | Special to ESPN.com

We could make something beautiful
Something that wouldn't be a problem
At least not in Miami

-- U2, "Miami"

While teams such as the New York Knicks and their quest for LeBron James have been getting a lot of the attention from people contemplating this summer's free-agent class, the Miami Heat have been quietly setting up to make a big splash. Of the teams with the cap room to throw at a premier free agent, Miami offers one thing the others don't -- a bona fide superstar already in the fold (er ... probably). Dwyane Wade's presence makes Miami intriguing and creates many scenarios for what might happen this summer.

First, the basics -- with commitments to just Michael Beasley, James Jones (partially guaranteed), Daequan Cook, Mario Chalmers (team option) and Kenny Hasbrouck (team option), the Heat are poised to have plenty of money to throw at free agents, with $21.4 million being a reasonable projection for their cap room (after accounting for Wade). Wade and Joel Anthony have player options, and can choose whether to stay or test the market. All eyes will be on Wade, who is expected to become a free agent this summer -- possibly to re-sign with the Heat on a long-term deal. However, Miami will face competition for Wade's services from a number of teams -- including the Bulls -- that will be lining up to make him an offer they hope he can't refuse.

Miami's Plan A is obvious -- re-sign Wade, then sign a running mate from the deep free-agent pool. The most likely target is a big man such as Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer, but don't count them out of the running for the summer's grand prize -- LeBron James.

If Wade and another maximum free agent are in the fold, most of the team's cap room will be gone. They'd be left with two superstars, a few complementary players, one or two rookies, and only about $4.9 million left to fill out the roster. With that money they'd need to bring in two starters and three or four bench players.

This is the harsh reality for teams chasing the premier free agents -- they have to gut their rosters to generate the cap room. Miami would have to give up its Bird rights to free agents such as Udonis Haslem and Quentin Richardson. To create as much cap room as possible, they'd also have to waive James Jones -- whose salary is partially guaranteed if he's waived by June 30.

So it will probably take Miami -- or any team looking to make a big free-agent splash -- a couple of years to rebuild its depth.

Not that anyone's saying the Heat shouldn't swing for the fences. Even though they'd have a lot of holes to fill, they'd still have two superstars at the top of their roster, which is more than most teams can claim. The depth can come later.

One way to jump-start the process would be to acquire a free agent via sign-and-trade. Rather than signing a player such as Chris Bosh directly, they'd let the Toronto Raptors re-sign him for the purpose of trading him to Miami. A sign-and-trade could be a win-win-win situation: Toronto could get something in return for its star player, rather than losing him for nothing; Bosh could get more money by re-signing with his former team; and Miami could pluck a useful player or two from Toronto's roster.

If Bosh leaves, you can expect Toronto to enter rebuilding mode, so it would make less sense to continue carrying expensive players like Jose Calderon and Hedo Turkoglu. But these are kinds of players Miami could use to fill out its roster.

A sign-and-trade could give each team what it needs. In return for facilitating Bosh's delivery to Miami, Toronto could unload an expensive contract and also acquire a draft pick or two (for instance, the Raptors' own first-round pick, which is set to go to Miami if Toronto makes the playoffs) along with a young player like Cook -- perfect rebuilding material. Miami would get Bosh and also another starter to go with him.

Plan B would be to try to sign more big-name players, but pay them less. The pie-in-the-sky plan would be to convince Wade, James and Bosh to all take less in order to unite into one super-team. This would be a dream come true, but it's also the most whimsical of all the scenarios. There'd be about $40 million to divvy up between the three of them -- about $13.3 million each.

Would all three be willing to reduce their paychecks for the opportunity to crush every opponent in their path? It doesn't seem likely: Players in their prime rarely make this kind of personal sacrifice. But such a sacrifice would be necessary for Miami to add more than one big-name player alongside Wade -- there is no way to team up Wade with two additional stars at full salary.

Players like LeBron also have their legacies to consider. If he partners with the other two, then any titles that would follow would not be seen as his titles. They'd always be their titles. Kobe Bryant, for instance, experienced this with Shaquille O'Neal, and he got tired of sharing the stage with Shaq.

Plan C is the scenario the Heat would rather not contemplate, but one they need to prepare for nonetheless. Wade could decide to pack up and move to Chicago, or one of a half-dozen other teams that would love to sign him. But while the Heat would be left with a huge hole to fill, they'd also be left with a lot more cap room -- about $40 million. That's enough for a huge shopping spree as they remake their roster from the ground up.

It also raises a key question: If Wade leaves, does Miami become the most logical destination for LeBron James? After signing James, Miami would then have another $23 million for complementary pieces, along with Beasley, sunshine, beaches and no state income tax. That big gulp you just heard came from New York's front office.

So with any scenario, the Heat are in an enviable situation. They're already a playoff team with one superstar in the fold, and have an opportunity to become a true powerhouse. Miami is an attractive destination for tourists and NBA free agents alike.

Whether Wade stays or goes, the Heat are poised to be a contending team for the next several years. Of all the teams able to sign a maximum free agent this summer, Miami is the best positioned, making them the smart pick to vault into immediate contention.

Larry Coon is the author of the NBA Salary Cap FAQ. Follow Larry at Twitter.

Larry Coon is the author of the NBA Salary Cap FAQ.