There are a few numbers you should all be aware of when considering the future of the Miami Heat.
$63.2m – the predicted salary cap for the 2014-2015 NBA season
$77m – the projected luxury tax level
$20.59m – the amount Chris Bosh and LeBron James will earn in 2014-2015 if they both opt in
$20.05m – the amount Dwyane Wade will earn in 2014-2015 if he opts in
$22,112,500 – the amount Bosh and James will earn in 2015-2016 if they both opt in
$21,560,000 – the amount Wade will earn in 2015-2016 if he opts in
3 – the number of players outside the big three that the Heat have contracted for the 2014-2015 season (Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and a team option for Justin Hamilton)
1 – the number of players outside the big three that the Heat have contracted for the 2015-2016 season (qualifying offer to Cole)
It is fair to say that a lot of changes are going to take place in Miami once this season’s adventure comes to an end. The hope in Miami is that all of James, Bosh and Wade will opt and and then re-sign for less money. The reality is that Dwyane Wade has no good reason to do anything other than opt in and in doing so will cripple the team for the next two years. The hope, therefore, becomes that he will be amenable to some sort of restructured offer from the Heat.
Wade is thirty-two years old and is declining physically. His game was built on spectacular athleticism – hence a career 2 point average of 51% – and not on other basketball skills such as shooting – career 3 point average of 29% and free throw average of 76% bear this out.
Bosh is 30 and has actually started to excel in his role as a stretch-5 for the Heat. He has shot 218 three’s this season for the Heat – his previous high for a season was 74 (last season) and then 21 (the season before that) – and has hit a respectable 34%, not exactly a go-to guy, but enough of a threat to keep defenses honest, which is the main reason to have your tallest player on the perimeter anyway.
James is 29 and the best player in the NBA, only losing out to an incredible Kevin Durant season in his quest for yet another MVP.
All three have played the three longest seasons it is possible to play over the past three years – three trips to the NBA finals (admittedly they won 4-1 against OKC in 2012 and lost 4-2 to Dallas in 2011 so there were more games possible in either situation).
LeBron has played 37.7 minutes per game this season, slightly down on last season despite Wade having missed 28 games as the Heat attempted to ease their injury-prone guard through the regular season – although his total minutes are slightly up on last year.
What does all of this mean? The Heat need reinforcements. Dwyane Wade, although commanding a superstar salary, is no longer capable of playing to the level of a $20m player. What do you need from a $20m player? Well, playing in more than 2/3 of the games would be a start. Chris Bosh might be deserving of that sort of salary and there is no limit to the sort of salary you could justify for LeBron. Seriously. If the league didn’t have a salary cap, how much could be earn? I’m going to say most owners would willingly pay him Ninety-Seven-Gajillion Dollars per season. He’s that good. He has this team looking like strong favourites for a fourth consecutive NBA finals appearance – their three appearances in a row equals the Lakers (2-1 twice), the Bulls (3-0 twice) since 1990 but the last team to go to four consecutive finals was the 1982-1985 Lakers, who went 2-2. Go back beyond that and you hit the great Bill Russell-led Celtics team of the 1960s which went to ten consecutive finals in a slightly smaller league.
What reinforcements can the Heat get? Well, a cheaper LeBron would be a good start. Look, I know LeBron can get paid a lot more than the $20m he’s owed next year and a LOT more than whatever amount the Heat need him to take if he opts out and re-signs. The thing is that LeBron has to know, at this point in his career, that he can contend for a title for at least the next five years IF he takes less money. He deserves more, but it’s not like he’s going short. Max contracts do not factor in legacy arguments. Look at Tim Duncan – his 2003-2010 contract was 7 years, $122m. Now he gets $10m a year. Took less and still contending.
This is the fact that Carmelo is starting to realise. He can get paid BIG bucks to stay in New York, but the fact that he might not is testament to the inconsistent nature of that organisation, despite the appointment of Phil Jackson. Carmelo has been rumoured to be interested in hearing from places like Houston and Chicago – two teams that seem to be a consistent scoring threat away from being serious title contenders. Carmelo knows that he has to take less money if he wants to be on a contender. Most star players, particularly those who don’t have a championship ring, realise this.
The worst case scenario for Miami is that LeBron opts out and Wade and Bosh opt in. This will cripple them. Does LeBron have enough influence over his teammates to convince them not to do this? Does he even want to stay enough to ask? It seems highly unlikely that he is going to return to Cleveland, an organisation that becomes ever more dysfunctional with every passing week. The Lakers are hamstrung by Kobe’s massive contract and the Clippers would have to be VERY creative in order to create space to sign LeBron. Does he want to go to New York, an organisation of similar dysfunction to the Lakers? Can either of these teams contend in the next two years anyway?
Pat Riley has proven very capable of putting a contender around LeBron so far, but he’s going to need to ask his star to opt out and return and he’s going to need his star to convince his friends to do the same. At that point, Riley can scour the league for the three point shooters who are the cornerstone of the Spoelstra strategy and the big men who can come in and provide rebounding, putbacks and defend opposing bigs when necessary. If he is able to do all of this, the Heat really could be looking at “not three, not four…”