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Kawhi Leonard may hold key to Heat plans

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The Lakers may be interested in trading for Goran Dragic if Leonard re-signs with Toronto.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

By Monday morning, nearly all the top free agents had agreed to terms with their respective teams. Jimmy Butler found his way to Miami, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signed with the Brooklyn Nets and Al Horford signed with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Everyone had made their decision — expect for Kawhi Leonard, the reigning Finals MVP. And he still hasn’t.

Here’s how that could affect the Miami Heat.

As I mentioned before, the Heat need to get below the $138.9 million hard cap before completing the sign-and-trade deal for Jimmy Butler. Miami could use the “stretch provision” and waive Ryan Anderson, but that’s not ideal because it would eat into the Heat’s cap space for 2021.

One way the Heat could get under the cap without having to use the stretch provision on Anderson — trading Goran Dragic and his $19 million expiring contract. And the Los Angeles Lakers could be interested in Dragic if Leonard re-signs with the Toronto Raptors, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

In any case, it would be in the best interest of the Heat to maximize their cap space for 2021, when the contracts for James Johnson and Dion Waiters come off the books. And if Leonard signs a one-and-one deal with whichever team he chooses — a two-year deal with a player option for the second year — Riley will surely want a chance to get in the room with the NBA’s best player if he decides to enter free agency.

It’s great that Riley found a way to get Butler. But the best way to get All-Star free agents is to create cap space. Miami had to surrender a good, young player in Josh Richardson and a first-round pick in 2023 to get him.

And how could Miami get a top-flight free agent in 2021 without trading anyone? By trading Dragic and releasing Anderson outright, rather than using the stretch provision. If Leonard decides to stay with Toronto, that may become more plausible.