Now or Never: Miami Heat 2020 Free Agency Preview

Insight

Miami is about to enter one of its strangest free agencies in recent memory. Coming off the franchise’s sixth NBA Finals appearance, the Heat’s road to contention came a bit earlier than expected and with that comes a shift in planning and thinking. Every year of Jimmy Butler’s remaining prime must be used to try and win a title. Butler and the Heat proved that this season they are good enough, and if not for two key injuries, they might be holding a trophy and hosting a parade via Zoom right now.

Regardless, I am here to break down the Heat’s best and most-likely targets and plans in free agency, walk you through cap machinations, and do all the heavy lifting for you. I am essentially Game 3 and Game 5 Jimmy Butler over here, just not as cool or rich.

Before we start here is a little background on the parameters of Miami’s offseason:

Most likely, the Heat are projected to have approximately $22 million in cap space based on an estimated cap of $109 million for 2020-21, and if the league enacts cap smoothing during its CBA negotiations, it could be almost the same value for 2021-22.

That projected cap space for the Heat includes the following scenarios: Miami guarantees the contracts of Kendrick Nunn ($1.7 million) and Duncan Robinson ($1.7 million), Kelly Olynyk opts into his player option of $12.5 million, and Miami keeps its first-round draft pick in the upcoming NBA draft on Nov. 18 (first-year rookie scale salary for the No. 20 selection is estimated to be $2.6 million).

In addition, Miami is expected to have their Mid-Level Exception (MLE) ($9.3 million) and bi-annual exception ($3.6 million) available should they act as an over the cap team, as well as a $7.5 million trade exception that expires Feb. 8, 2021.

That, along with Andre Igoudala’s $15 million salary (with a team option in 2021-22), makes for interesting trade ammunition in what could be an active trade market, as well. So let’s dive in.


Heat’s Own Free Agents

Two factors will govern Miami’s strategy this fall: cap flexibility for 2021 Free Agency and how many of Miami’s own free agents will they retain? Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder are the two most noteworthy and any decision made on them will inform the rest of Miami’s off-season.

Dragic is coming off a five-year $85 million contract and Crowder just wrapped up a five-year $35 million deal. Both had career-best stretches of basketball and in the open market would likely secure a chunky contract. Miami’s reality, however, is tight, with $22 million in cap space and a likely aversion to any deal extending past 2021, the Heat would like for Dragic and Crowder to take one-year, over the market deals with a promise to re-sign them for more years in 2021 at a lower salary to keep its flexibility for a max slot. This allows Miami to keep two starters from their Finals team while also allowing themselves a shot at a max-level superstar next year.

If all parties play ball, the most likely scenario for the Heat could be:

• Dragic signs a hefty one-year deal.
• Re-sign Crowder with his bird rights.
• Use the full MLE on another free agent.

The exact figures are tough and likely hinges on several factors, but that is the blueprint for Miami’s offseason. As long as the combined salaries for Dragic and Crowder aren’t well over $40 million, the Heat can use the entire amount of their MLE and still avoid the luxury tax, a likely priority for the organization. Other Heat free agents like Derrick Jones Jr., Meyers Leonard, and Solomon Hill could be on the outside looking in, but it’s tough to imagine that Dragic and Crowder are not priority number one given their contributions to the Finals run.

Something that does work in the Heat’s favor is the lack of contending teams with cap space this off-season. Atlanta, New York, Detroit, Charlotte, and Phoenix are the only teams with more than $20 million in cap space and they were all lottery teams last season. If Dragic, in particular, wants to be in a winning situation, the Heat bode well to keep him in that respect.


Most Likely Targets

Assuming Dragic and Crowder re-sign, the Heat’s biggest needs are another offensive creator from the perimeter, an upgrade for their point guard defense, an extra big, and a team can never have enough three-and-D wings. Luckily for Miami, there are plenty of affordable and realistic options for them via the trade market or outright free agency.


Danillo Gallinari Height: 6-10 | Weight: 233 | Age: 32 | Forward

2019-20 stats: 19 ppg / 5 rebs / 2 asts ~ 40% from three / 44% from two / 89% Free Throws

Last contract: 3 Years, $65 Million

“Gallo” is the guy I most want the Heat to go after. He fits in seamlessly in their starting lineup or can play as a lead scorer feasting on bench units. He would be one of their best open-court players, something lacking in Miami’s offense, and he can defend at a reasonable level, as well as play Miami’s new switching schemes.

In the playoffs, the Heat posted an exceptional 112 offensive rating but struggled against certain defensive coverages. Aggressive ball pressure and tighter drop coverages really frazzled Miami’s ball handlers. Robinson, Crowder, and Iguodala aren’t scaring teams attacking closeouts, and Tyler Herro is still growing as a ball handler.

The injuries to Dragic and Bam Adebayo compounded this issue but the high-end of Miami’s offense is having multiple three-level scorers with elite sharpshooters that make it impossible to cut off reliable scoring opportunities. The Heat have a heavy motion offense which makes use of their elite passing big man and the unrelenting movement and gravity of Robinson and Herro. Tons of off-ball screens, pistol sets, handoffs, cuts, slips, rolls, and pops keep defenses scrambling, and adding another guy who can shoot and create off those actions gives the Heat another offensive gear.

The Heat were the best handoff team in the league last season and adding Gallinari to that mix gives them so much more in the tool bag when it comes to their pet play. He can play both sides of that handoff, can be in the weakside corner while others run it, or can help in off-ball screening to get Duncan/Tyler cleaner looks coming off the final pick. He is a threat in every spot: as a shooter, trigger man, roller, or popper.

The last thing he adds to the offense is another player that consistently gets to the free-throw line. The Heat leveraged a lot of offense on the stress Butler and Dragic put on the backline of defenses to grease the wheels of their motion offense (or vice versa), and having another guy to put pressure on opposing teams is never not helpful. Miami weaponized foul trouble against the Bucks and Celtics, and if the Heat plays road games next season, they will need the help if their shooting is off.

The tricky part is the money: The MLE for a player as good as him is an underpay – not to mention the line of suitors he will have. A multi-positional wing who can defend, shoot, and get to the free-throw line is one of the most valuable things in the sport, especially for contenders that have stars in place. What works well for the Heat are his comments recently, giving credence to the idea that he may be willing to play for a discount if it means a shot at the title.

What helps the Heat is Gallinari would walk into a situation that has a high-usage role ready for him on a team that was two games away from a championship. He would be the final piece to a group he knows is close. Gallinari will have many suitors, some with more money, but it would be hard to imagine the Heat not going after him.

The last angle is how close the Heat were to acquiring Gallinari from Oklahoma City at the trade deadline this year. Talks stalled out with disagreements on an extension.

There was clear interest by this front office in Gallo and he very well could be their missing piece.


Jerami Grant Height: 6-8 | Weight: 210| Age: 25 | Forward 

2019-20 stats: 12 ppg / 3.5 rebs / 1.2 asts ~ 39% from three / 54% from two / 75% Free Throws

Last contract: 3 Years, $27 Million

My feelings on Grant are a lot different than other Heat fans. It’s been reported by Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald that the organization has an interest in him and for good reason. He is a quality three-and-D wing, and like Gallinari, is a multi-positional player who would flourish under Erik Spoleastra’s motion offense.

Grant has strung together back-to-back 39 percent shooting seasons from three and would fit very nicely in the role Jae Crowder had this season. He is a younger upgrade to Crowder who appears to be a more consistent shooter. Just like Gallinari, Grant would instantly improve Miami’s open-court offense and despite all the youth the Heat have, they lack a strong, young, and athletic wing like Grant in their rotation (#FreeKZ).

He would absolutely make them better. Grant is a guy Miami can trust in crunch time and in the grind of the regular season. The only concern is his alarmingly low rebound rate, but that is a slight knit pick. All in all, he would be a perfect fit here. The issue comes with the money Miami has to offer. Grant has a $9.3 million player option he will probably opt out of, and the full MLE this year is … $9.3 million. Denver is a very good, young team with a bigger need for him and the financial resources to pay Grant more than the Heat. I don’t see a way the Heat could underpay with the MLE when another good team that he is comfortable with can give him more money and a bigger role.

I do think the Heat would want him and will call, but if they retain Crowder, a deal here seems hard and unlikely. Even if they didn’t keep Crowder, Goran Dragic’s $28 million cap hold would not allow the Heat to sign Grant into their cap space. Leaving the MLE as their only tool and that money will probably not get it done considering he will be sought after by other contenders, some with more money and another with Bird Rights to re-sign him with.


Paul Millsap Height: 6-7 | Weight: 257| Age: 35 | Forward

2019-20 stats: 12 ppg / 6 rebs / 2 asts ~ 44% from three / 50% from two / 82% Free Throws

Last contract: 3 Years, $90 Million

Full disclosure, I have been the biggest Millsap stan for a long time. His play on both ends is partly why I believed in that damn Hawks team (you know the one), and while he was overpaid for his time in Denver, his contributions to winning are undeniable. As a shooter, defender, and high IQ guy, he is the veteran that with the right role is the kind of piece that puts you over the top. His defense on Anthony Davis in the playoffs was as good as anyone can hope for in single coverage, and despite looking incredibly washed at times, the high-end of his play absolutely put Denver in the Western Conference Finals.

He fits in perfectly next to Bam and the Heat could even get cute and play him some backup center minutes if it comes down to it. Having another big body to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, and Kevin Durant is a luxury. By adding Millsap, it allows for the Heat to possibly trade Olynyk and not lose their only reliable backup big. Millsap can also run some of Miami’s handoff action when Bam is on the bench. As a reliable shooter (like Olynyk), it gives Miami some variance in their shot diet if Robinson or Herro get trapped coming off the pick.

Millsap made $30 million last year and finished a $90 million contract. Dude has made money in the league and has come close to the Finals but hasn’t been able to get there. It’s not crazy to see him test the market and hop to another contender given how gruesome the west is. The MLE is absolutely in play for him and he would undoubtedly help Miami, especially if they decide to move off from Olynyk.


Wesley Matthews Height: 6-4 | Weight: 220| Age: 33 | Guard

2019-20 stats: 7 ppg / 3 rebs / 1 asts ~ 36% from three / 47% from two / 77% Free Throws

Last contract: 2 Years, $5.2 Million

For as well as the Heat defended in the postseason, it was incredibly spotty in the regular season. Dragic and Nunn were not good at avoiding screens or keeping players in front of them. When Crowder and Iguodala arrived, the Heat changed from a mostly drop defense to a switch-heavy scheme. Switching on ball screens let Miami mostly hide Dragic and Nunn during the flow of play, and during crunch time, they were good at sending help early and rotating quickly to avoid the mismatch punishment. Matthews would walk into the team as maybe its best screen avoider and someone you’d play to defend other guards. He isn’t a perfect answer positionally. In theory, you would want a guard to be able to stay on the ball and not throw a wing on them (don’t want to be the Sixers), but given the reality of the market, he may be their best patchwork choice.

Matthews gave Robinson and Butler hell in handover coverage and while not a dead-eye shooter, he is good enough to not hurt their spacing (looking at you Derrick Jones Jr.). Last season, he made $2.7 million and despite his gruesome injury history and age, he has been a solid role player contributing to winning in every stop he has had. The Heat’s bi-annual exception would be perfect for a player like him and Miami could possibly even dip into 2021 a bit without compromising their cap space too much. The Bucks or another contender could snag him, but the Heat certainly could use his defense and shooting.


Aron Baynes Height: 6-10 | Weight: 260| Age: 31 | Center

2019-20 stats: 11.5 ppg / 5.6 rebs / 1.6 asts ~ 35% from three / 58% from two / 75% Free Throws

Last contract: 2 Years, $11 Million

If the Heat want an upgrade for Meyers Leonard, then Aron Baynes is the very obvious and easy choice. He can play center next to Bam for the grind of the regular season and gives them some punch against bigger teams. His rebounding numbers aren’t gaudy, but he is a very good offensive rebounder and screen setter. He isn’t the best shooter in the world, but playing under Spo and his high motion, space heavy offense should bump his percentages higher given the increase in shot quality. I personally don’t think Miami needs to start another big next to Bam, they are at their best when Bam plays center, and in crunch time of important games, the Heat will surely go with Bam at the five and a shooting wing at the four. So any money allocated to Baynes might not be efficient as he is likely to not be on the floor in the most critical junctures.

Baynes is over 30, made $5.6 million last season, and a MLE contract probably gets it done; I just have reservations about Miami using its best free agency tool on a player who won’t play late in a Game 7.


Serge Ibaka Height: 7-0 | Weight: 235| Age: 31 | Center

2019-20 stats: 15.4 ppg / 8.2 rebs / 1.4 asts ~ 39% from three / 56% from two / 72% Free Throws

Last contract: 3 Years, $65 Million

I feel I have to mention Ibaka despite me thinking there is a zero percent chance it happens. The Raptors are in a position to offer him a big one-year deal like the Heat are with Dragic. With Marc Gasol out of the picture, it seems like it’s a lock that the Raptors offer him that and Miami won’t have the cap space to make an offer close enough to contend. Both teams are very good and his role is bigger and more defined in Toronto than it would be in Miami.


Jordan Clarkson Height: 6-4 | Weight: 194| Age: 28 | Guard

2019-20 stats: 15.2 ppg / 2.6 rebs / 1.9 asts ~ 37% from three / 53% from two / 84% Free Throws

Last contract: 4 Years, $50 Million

Clarkson is coming off arguably his best season. He is still in his prime and he gives Miami another scorer off the bench which can help if their shooters aren’t connecting any given night. I felt I had to mention his name because he certainly would help the Heat, but their MLE would be better served with other players and the bi-annual is far too little. He is a good option if every other deal falls through, but a player his age might want to secure years and money. Not take a discount to play off the bench for a contender on a potential one-year deal.


Wrap Up

Those are the biggest names Miami should take a look at. Others like Justin Holiday, Nerlens Noel, and Mo Harkless will also get a glance if every other plan falls through, but Miami’s free agency plan seems pretty clear. Their draft night strategy will be telling on addressing certain needs, but the Heat are in win-now mode and their 20th pick could be interesting trade ammo that I will cover within the coming weeks on trade targets for the offseason.

The other player of note I didn’t mention was Christian Wood, who has put up impressive numbers without Andre Drummond and is only 24-years old, but he will be out of Miami’s price range and he should rightfully secure a long-term deal, something that the Heat cannot offer.

A scenario that would be likely doomsday for the Heat is Dragic not resigning. There aren’t good point guard replacements for him in the market, so filling his loss would be nearly impossible. Everything being said would suggest, the Heat are going to behave like a capped out team, which suggests the retaining of Dragic. His cap hold makes for a tight summer as mentioned before. He needs to be the first domino to fall so the Heat can have access to their full MLE and bi-annual exceptions. If the Heat cannot get another big, and if Meyers Leonard is willing to come back for a number that doesn’t put them in the luxury tax, he is an adequate regular season option that has proven to work and lets Bam conserve his body playing the four for long stretches.

The Heat have a lot of decisions to make, but some they happily will make after proving to be contenders once again. Let the offseason begin.

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