With the beginning of July, today represents a day of significant importance for teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets, as they fight for the services of Dwight Howard, the top prize in today's start of NBA free agency. As midnight struck, teams like the New Orleans Pelicans (I know, it's going to take some getting used to) began calling up players like Tyreke Evans or started negotiating with agents. Some were even striking deals, such as the New York Knicks surprisingly acquiring Andrea Bargnani from the Toronto Raptors.
Meanwhile the Miami Heat, the back-to-back NBA Champions (now that's something much easier to get used to) have stayed quiet so far during this semi-official start to free agency, with July 10 being the day NBA teams can actually sign these players to new contracts and deals can officially be finalized after the salary cap is set.
With Ray Allen exercising his option last Friday, along with Rashard Lewis and James Jones doing the same on Tuesday the core of the championship will return for another chance to three-peat. Clearly, the Heat's only true order of business left is to get a deal done with Chris Andersen as soon as possible now that the roster's only other big question mark was whether Allen was returning with his player option year or whether he was going to test the free agent market.
So we know both parties want to get a deal done soon but will the Heat offer just the veteran's minimum for the soon-to-be 35 year old Birdman or will he want more? As the Sun-Sentinel's Ira Winderman details, these are the two options in Miami for the free agent big man:
Because Andersen did not join the Heat until midseason, the Heat are limited to a 20-percent raise above last season's veteran-minimum salary, an avenue that would pay Andersen $1.7 million next season. Andersen also is eligible for the Heat's single-use taxpayer mid-level exception that would pay him $3.2 million next season. Outside teams not limited by the luxury tax and salary cap can offer considerably more.
If and when Birdman re-signs with the Heat, it will leave Juwan Howard as the only free agent player left on the Heat's championship roster, with 13 spots accounted for with guaranteed contracts (Jarvis Varnado does not have one, but it does become guaranteed if he makes the Opening Day roster).
Last year's draft pick Justin Hamilton did not have a memorable year in Croatia and later in Latvia between battling injuries and not getting paid at one of the clubs he played for. His injury will also mean his participation in the Miami Heat rosters in Summer League is now in doubt, according to Heat Director of Player Personnel Chet Kammerer. The team will also take a good look at new draft pick James Ennis but he may follow the same overseas path as Hamilton and other recent Heat projects like Robert Dozier and Patrick Beverley have done.
The Heat could also have an additional roster spot open if they decide to use their amnesty provision on Mike Miller or Joel Anthony. That also means more players will be available to sign if they are potentially cut because of the amnesty provision, such as Tyrus Thomas from the Charlotte Bobcats.
Of the realistic options out there for the Heat in free agency, it may make sense to wait it out and then pick from players who expected bigger paydays but may settle for a veteran's minimum and a very good chance of getting a ring. Though Pat Riley last week said he was "happy" with the Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole point guard tandem, he might elect to go with a little more depth at that spot given the inconsistency both have shown the past two years. While Riley correctly pointed out that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are more than capable ball handlers, a third point guard could be called upon due to a variety of factors such as injuries, foul trouble or to save their two most important players from exerting too much energy handling the ball. To that end, Alex Kennedy reports that the Heat are one of the teams that might be interested in Sebastian Telfair - though there could be better options out there once the bigger names settle with teams.
If you were Riley, which free agents should the Heat target with their limited means and salary cap restrictions? Does it even matter as long as the Big 3 and the rotation players continue to produce at a high level?