Signing a max player this July puts the Miami Heat in the hole for the two seasons after the next one. Tyler Johnson's contract balloons to $19 million in 2017-18 and $20 million the season after that one.
Let's see what happens if Miami signs a max contract free agent this summer for $30 million.
2018-19 Miami Heat cap space hits
Hassan Whiteside $25 million
Goran Dragic $18 million
Tyler Johnson $19 million
Max free agent $31 million
TOTAL $93 million
2019-20 Miami Heat cap space hits
Hassan Whiteside $27 million
Goran Dragic $19 million
Tyler Johnson $20 million
Max free agent $33 million
TOTAL $99 million
Adding a max contract makes for an interesting story line this season, but by 2019 a hangover would hit the team hard from the partying this year. If Gordon Hayward were the max free agent Miami inked to a four-year deal, the team would have practically all of their cap space tied up in four players: not one of whom were counted among the top-30 All-NBA players this season.
In 2019 the payroll jumps should the Heat decide to resign both Justice Winslow and Josh Richardson using their Bird Rights. Getting other talent besides minimum-level players would be out of the question after this coming season, because of the “Big 4” payroll hit.
A “Big 4” of Whiteside, Dragic, Hayward and Johnson seems odd, since Tyler doesn’t start. Moving Johnson's contract is easier said than done: just see the problems Miami has trying to get out of the Josh McRoberts deal.
Possibly the agents of the max free agents leak stories about their client’s “interest” in the Miami Heat. Can’t blame them trying to get top dollar for their customers. After all, their job is to create buzz in the media for players they represent.
An alternative might be trading for a player with Bird Rights, such as Blake Griffin. Since those rights travel with him, cap space need not to be used to resign him, when his contract expires and TJ’s contract bumps up. If Blake chooses to leave, the Heat have his $21 million salary space to sign someone else.
A package consisting of a mix of assets such as Tyler Johnson(?), draft pick(s) and a trade exemption might be cobbled together to make a trade happen. Griffin is just an example (Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins are others), of getting a top player with Bird Rights, and how important those rights are in salary cap calculations. Free agents from another team need to be added using cap space.
Looking beyond this upcoming season alone may the more prudent approach to improving the roster after July 1st free-agent frenzy begins.