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Upgrade Options Limited For Heat

The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson reported Saturday that Pat Riley has interest in signing Samuel Dalembert, James Jones, Shane Battier, Tayshaun Prince, Grant Hill and for reasons beyond my comprehension, Eddy Curry.

But wait. Didn’t Riley say that he wanted to fill out the remaining roster spots with players who are "young and energetic?" Who among that list fits that description?

The Heat are contractually obligated to pay LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem and will have very limited options. ESPN NBA salary cap analyst Larry Coon said that he expects the new collective bargaining agreement to retain its soft cap system, as well as the Larry Bird exception, a more limited mid-level exception and the minimum salary exception.

Samuel DalembertWith only the mid-level and minimum salary exceptions at his disposal, Riley won’t have the ability to sign young and energetic players unless they are undrafted prospects. Restricted free agent Aaron Brooks would undoubtedly give Miami a young, athletic floor general, but he won’t sign for the mid-level exception. Don’t bother to think that Nene or Tyson Chandler would do that either.

Assuming that the lockout doesn’t cancel the entire 2011-12 season, expect Riley to offer Dalembert a contract at the mid-level exception when the lockout ends. I’m hopeful that the former Sixers big man will sign with the Heat because he is believed to want to play for a title contender and his other suitors are reportedly the Knicks, the Kings, the Raptors and Rockets. But at the age of 30, Dalembert will likely feel compelled to take all of the mid-level exception because it could be his last contract in the NBA.

Miami would then have a starting-quality center in Dalembert and could move Joel Anthony to his more comfortable role off the bench. Jackson mentioned that Riley has interest in Battier, Prince and Hill while also hoping to re-sign Jones. Looking at Battier, Prince and Hill, Riley clearly wants to sign a defensive-minded player to come off the bench. Although Wade and James are great defensive players, a stopper coming off the bench would help ease the enormous load those two players carried last season. The Boston Celtics were a good defensive team last year, but they made it to the Finals with James Posey or Tony Allen coming off the bench.

Riley will have to convince one of those players to take a minimum-salary deal, though. Hill would seem to be the most likely person to do that, considering he is older than the other two and still does not have a championship. Signing Hill would give Miami a veteran leader and also enable the Heat to move Mike Miller to the shooting guard position – his specialty is, after all, shooting.

When Riley spent all of the salary cap space he spent years to clear on James, Bosh, Wade, Miller and Haslem, he hoped that they would serve as the core of the championship team. While I’m sure Riley would do it all again today, it cost him multiple draft picks and the opportunity to net a big fish in the free agent market. He has to make do with what he has.