Norris Cole is the only member of the Miami Heat with a fully guaranteed contract for next season as the Miami Heat enter free agency. And with a lot of cap space ($55 million), the Heat look to be prime players in the game.
After the opt-outs of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and even Udonis Haslem, the players have given President Pat Riley full flexibility to flex his muscles in free agency and see if he can out-due himself from 2010. After Cole's contract, the Heat will have about a $1.03 million rookie scale contract due to first round draft pick Shabazz Napier, and they also have the contract of Justin Hamilton, but his does not become guaranteed until August.
Here's our hot burning questions as free agency kicks off.
1. Is there any chance the Big 3 leave Miami?
The short answer is yes. But it all depends on LeBron James. If LeBron stays, you can bet your life savings that Wade and Bosh are staying as well. But there are enough teams out there to woo LeBron if he decides to listen to them. Reports are that no one has had the chance to schedule a meeting with LeBron, which is good because free agency starts in a few hours. The Clippers, Rockets, Bulls, Lakers, and Suns have shown the most interest and intrigue. Only the Lakers and Suns have the potential to pair LeBron with Carmelo Anthony, which could get him to go.
But, all signs have pointed to LeBron staying. With Haslem opting out and the Wade and Bosh following suit, no meetings scheduled, the Big 3 being seen meeting and laughing at SoHo in Miami, and reports of them already discussing how to make their contracts work -- all this points to LeBron returning, which is great news for the city of Miami. So yes, there is a chance that LeBron leaves, especially if he feels Riley can't upgrade the team enough. But the likelihood is that he stays in South Florida.
2. What kind of deals will the Big 3 sign to stay in Miami?
This is probably one of the most tricky questions to try to answer and one that Riley and salary cap guru Andy Elisburg will need to figure out. LeBron deserves a max contract, but as we have heard, he has never been the single highest player on his team in the 11 years he's been in the league. Bosh has been reported to want $15-16 million per year, but we aren't sure how true that is. The hardest question is what will Dwyane Wade be willing to take. Wade turned down two years and $42 million -- that's a lot of money. But realistically, he's probably worth (on the court, when he is), somewhere around $10-12 million. Bosh should probably get somewhere around $13 million, and LeBron can decide what he wants to do from there, and how much more to leave Riley.
But we've also heard that LeBron will demand the max salary next season. Currently seven teams have the cap space to offer James a max deal starting at $22.2 million next season: the Heat, the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Phoenix Suns, the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic. Look at this list and tell me where you would want to play.
If the Big 3 go big with their contracts, as they are very well entitled to, it will leave a little less room for flexibility, but still enough for a makeover. If they decide to be super aggressive and take a more Tim Duncan style contract, they can set themselves up for a really strong supporting cast.
3. What's going to happen to Mario Chalmers?
Honestly, he's likely gone. Unless Miami decides to trade and package Norris Cole for something in return, Chalmers doesn't seem to have a place anymore. When Riley drafted Shabazz Napier it was the writing on the wall for Chalmers who is a free agent. The Heat paid a price to get Napier, and I don't expect him to be buried as a third option. Chalmers deserves some money, and more than what Miami can afford to pay him if they want a makeover.
Chalmers had been the starter without question for 3 straight years until he was benched in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. That doesn't bode well for him going into free agency. He's been great to have, but this may be the end for him in Miami.
4. Who are the prime targets in free agency for the Heat?
It starts at the top with Carmelo Anthony and Kyle Lowry. The Heat's interest in Lowry is obvious, and Melo doesn't seem likely. But they will explore it. From there, the Heat can decide their best path -- take one guy at a higher end, or several at a lower mid-level range. They have some flexibility. Options include Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, Luol Deng, or even Marcin Gortat.
There aren't many guys who just seem like a perfect fit, but we can all trust Riley to do his best.
5. What about the rest of the roster from last season?
Riley has decisions to make with Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, James Jones, Michael Beasley, Greg Oden, and Rashard Lewis. Shane Battier has retired as expected. Haslem opted out for a hopefuly longer and smaller deal. If the Big 3 return, you can bet Ray Allen will also. We've talked about Chalmers, but then the decisions come with the rest. James Jones is a hometown guy, and you'd think if there is room he will come back. But we can't say the same for Beasley and Oden, as those projects didn't work out. Beasley has expressed interest in returning, but we aren't sure if the Heat organization feels the same. Lewis could be the second player to start in the Finals for the Heat and not be on the team the following season (Mike Miller.
There's a lot of decisions to be made, and we all truly believe that Riley will get the job done. But as free agency begins, there will be a lot of rumors going around, make sure to come back to Hot Hot Hoops to follow along with it all.