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A chain is only as strong as its weakest link: why it’s relevant in the NBA

Analysis of how franchises spend their money on players gives surprising results.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Questions have come up on whether the Miami Heat can keep the current roster together next season. Instead of looking at the team on a player-by-player basis, an alternative method of how much Micky Arison allocates to each position gives an insight on building a winning team.

Wikipedia writes, “For the 2017–18 season, the latest projection is $102 million for the salary cap and $122 million for the luxury tax limit.” To simplify matters $100 million will be used as a basis, where $20 million is spent on centers, $40 million on forwards, and $40 million on guards. Allocating too little on any position exposes a weakness, through talent or depth, on that team.

Spotrac conveniently calculates potential strengths and weaknesses of each National Basketball Association team by position. The extreme results are interesting. Miami’s roster is somewhat balanced with $22M at the 5, $42M in forwards and $32M in guards. The lack of investment in backup point guards this season stands out.

Sorting the contracts by center shows the Houston Rockets invested only $1.8M there, with the Thunder at $3M, Spurs $3M, Warriors $5M showing weaknesses in that position, which could be exploited. Conversely the Celtics at $38M, Pelicans $32M, Timberwolves $30M and Pistons $29M invested so much at the 5, they are thin in other positions, either through lack of depth or talent.

The Bulls and Clippers gave their guards so much money, $68M and $62M respectively, the rest of their team’s positions suffer if any forward or center misses time due to injury or fatigue. The Hawks spend shockingly little on their guards at $9M, with the Bucks next at $16M. Their weak backcourts are sore spots that can be taken advantage of during a game.

The forward positions are current darlings of the NBA with the Cavaliers lavishing $63M there, followed by the Trail Blazers at $62M, Hawks $61M, and Spurs $57M. The bottom five payrolls at the forward spots all have losing records: Bulls $11M, Timberwolves $17M, Nets $19M, 76ers $20M, and Suns $21M.

In constructing next year’s roster Pat Riley will keep an eye on not having any weak links other teams can take advantage of. Besides deciding on who to retain from this season’s squad, the question of how to give the 2017 draft pick and Justise Winslow minutes next season remain a concern. Since there is only one ball, will Dion Waiters and James Johnson tolerate having their time on the court reduced in 2017-18?

The center position with Hassan Whiteside and his backup at $22M+ is accounted for. How will Arison divide the remaining approximately $90M in cap space among the guards and forwards, so Miami will a strong chain with a well-balanced squad?

Other teams will be quick to pounce on any soft spots in the Heat roster next season. Miami will do likewise with its top-notch coaching, since there isn’t any salary caps on assembling the staff personnel in the NBA.