The Miami Heat will look back on 2015-16 as a season where they can be proud of their accomplishments, but frustrated and disappointed by how close they were to going so much further. Not many teams would respond to losing their best overall player, when Chris Bosh was forced out with a recurrence of his blood clot condition, and still reach the second round. The Heat might even have gotten past the Raptors had Hassan Whiteside not suffered a sprained MCL, debilitating the Heat's size and depth.
At full strength, the Heat might have not only reached the conference finals, but might have seriously challenged the Cavaliers for the East title. But Bosh did go out, and Whiteside did go down. In the end, the Heat lost to the Raptors in Game 7 Sunday, falling 4-3 in their best-of-7 semifinals series.
Their season is over.
What comes next is a summer that figures to radically alter the course of the franchise depending on its outcome.
THE BOSH SITUATION
First and foremost, everyone wants Bosh healthy and back on the floor. Bosh was hopeful of returning for these playoffs, but struggled to find sufficient medical opinion to convince the Heat to clear him. This would indicate that it's likely that he returns next season fully healthy, but if we're going to evaluate Miami's offseason, we can't ignore the situation.
Bosh's availability also affects who the Heat pursue in free agency, how they design their team, basically everything. Bosh is a compliant player in that he can fit into nearly any model, but he's also so good that you want to adapt what you do to his strengths. His availability next year and the years beyond will determine whether the Heat will need to add a stretch four and how much scoring they need.
In the event that Bosh would be unable to return to action -- which again, remains unlikely and a downright awful situation for the sport of basketball because Chris Bosh is a. great at basketball and b. a great person -- there are obvious impacts. Bosh's absence sets back any attempts at building a contender. Pat Riley and the Heat would have to be aggressive to an even higher degree to make up for Bosh's absence. If he were forced into medical retirement, the Heat would still be liable to pay him the full amount of his contract, and the hit would apply to their cap sheet. The Heat can apply for an exception by which they would still pay Bosh the full amount remaining on his deal (close to $76 million) but not have it count against their cap, if Bosh is forced to retire due to the condition. In that contingency, the Heat have to wait a full calendar year from his last played game, or next February, to have that apply. So no matter what, Bosh will be on the books for this summer.
Again, both the hope and most likely scenario based on what we know is that Bosh will be able to return to full-time competition. The more important factor beyond all this is his health and safety, but there are big impacts to however the situation resolves itself on the basketball side as well.
THE WHITESIDE CONUNDRUM
Oh, man, the Whiteside problem.
Hassan Whiteside came out of nowhere last season and arrived as a phenom. He built on that performance this season with even bigger statistical outputs, averaging 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game -- just crazy output for a guy in the D-League two years ago. However, his impact wandered all over the map. Teammates were frustrated with his immaturity and decision making. He put up numbers, but the play wasn't inspiring trust or confidence in his teammates. However, that changed over the final two months of the season. He seemed to grasp team concepts at an improved rate.
|Hassan Whiteside|| Net Rating |
(Heat net points per 100 possessions with Whiteside on-court
Before the All-Star Break
After the All-Star Break
This was reflected in how the Heat players spoke of Whiteside as the season went on, and how they interacted with them. He earned their trust.
Whiteside is an unrestricted free agent this summer, coming off a deal paying him just $981,348. He's looking for a max contract, which would start him at over $20 million per season (and could be as high as just-under-$22 million). For the Heat that would come with a 4.5 percent raise increase year over year, making his total deal between $87 and $92 million, depending on where the cap shakes out year by year.
That's a lot of investment for a player that drove his teammates crazy for half the year. Making it worse is that the Heat want to get in front of Kevin Durant to make a pitch, but while they're doing that, Whiteside is no doubt going to be listening to other teams that will be offering max deals as well. The Heat may not be 100 percent sold on giving Whiteside a max deal, but they're also not going to be into the idea of giving him up for nothing. They must manage to get Whiteside to give them the time to pursue whoever they want to pursue. Another issue: Given that they lack his Bird rights, the Heat cannot exceed the cap to sign him to a max deal.
(Whiteside is what's referred to as an "early bird" free agent which means that they could re-sign him under certain conditions but those conditions include Whiteside saying "sure, I'd love to make far less money per year for four years" which is not going to happen.)
What does this mean?
They can't sign Durant (should he miraculously be interested) and then re-sign Whiteside going over the cap. They have to fit Whiteside into whatever other designs they may have.
This is the toughest decision the Heat will have to make this summer, and they'll have to make it in relatively short order.
THE WADE CONCERN
Oh hey, as if all this wasn't enough of a problem, Dwyane Wade's one-year, $20 million contract expires. He's a free agent as well. They'll have his Bird rights and can re-sign him by going over the cap. But just like last year, there's the question of how long of a deal they're going to give him. Wade and the Heat were locked in a contract dispute over the summer, with Wade wanting a multi-year, big-money deal and the Heat wanting to keep their options open to try and make moves this offseason and beyond. Eventually Wade sacrificed the years for more money up front, but if the Heat give him substantial resistance again this summer, there's always the possibility Wade says to heck with it and walks.
It's extremely unlikely Wade leaves, but keeping Wade happy, especially given the terrific season he just had, and at the age of 34, is another in a long series of concerns the Heat have heading into the offseason. Miami could improve dramatically or lose the best player in franchise history. You know, no big deal.
Luol Deng, free agent. Udonis Haslem, who is the heart and soul of the team, free agent. Tyler Johnson, restricted free agent. Gerald Green, free agent. Amar'e Stoudemire, free agent. Joe Johnson, free agent.
Miami's going to look to trade Josh McRoberts, a signing that just never worked out for them. They have Justise Winslow who may end up absorbing Deng's role. Outside of Bosh, the Heat have four players signed on their roster for next season. So even if they re-sign Wade and Whiteside, and Bosh returns, they're going to have to fill some gaps. If Wade takes say $20 million and Whiteside takes roughly $21 million, the Heat are going to be at $88 million with a cap between $89 and $91 million. No matter what, the final move is re-signing Wade using their Bird rights. There's no way to field a competitive team next year for Miami without going into the luxury tax, something owner Micky Arison hasn't been keen on, but has been willing to do it before.
The Heat need better big depth and better shooting depth, and they could use a replacement small-ball four option so they don't have to play Winslow at those positions. Just because he can doesn't mean he should.
YES, I WILL INCLUDE THE DURANT THING
Look, Durant will have better options. He'll have the hot Warriors on his trail, the Spurs keen on his services and the Thunder can offer a one-year max with an opt out for more money the same year Russell Westbrook expires.
However, last summer, despite Miami not having the cap room to sign LaMarcus Aldridge, it got a meeting with him in free agency. Pat Riley will always get the meeting. So any free agent, including Durant, will at least pick up the phone for the Heat and will hear their pitch. If they manage to land one, it could change everything. Say Al Horford is interested. That makes the Whiteside concern irrelevant. The free agent class is weak and shallow, especially at the top, but the Heat will be in the conversations for the top guys.
If they land one, great. If not, the trick will be to manage a reconfiguration to bring back a team as good as this year's group, given that Whiteside re-signs. The Heat are always inventive, though, and they'll be a team to watch this summer, no matter how successful they are in trying to get back to the top.