Miami Heat Beat’s 2017 Free Agency Preview
Commentary // 3 months ago
By: Nekias Duncan
The free agency period is among us! It’s equal parts exciting and frustrating as a plethora of teams fight over the same players, likely for the right to (at least slightly) overpay them.
The Miami HEAT — equipped with the prestige of Pat Riley, as-seen-in-movies scenery to pitch, and a non-existent state tax — are always mentioned as threats for top-tier talent. As the saying goes, you can never count out Riley if he gets a player in a room.
Failed pursuits of Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, and a failure to retain Dwyane Wade in recent years can be seen as chinks in Riley’s once-impenetrable army. Of course, even a cursory look at those situations would reveal a major, common stumbling block: a lack of cap space, mostly due to the Chris Bosh’s contract. Miami didn’t have the flexibility they appeared to have. With Bosh off the books, they have more room, literally, to play with, and that makes them dangerous.
• Once Bosh is officially waived, the HEAT will have north of $35 million in cap space to work with.
• That number could be higher if they decide to waive-and-stretch Josh McRoberts (unlikely), decline Wayne Ellington’s team option before the second year of his contract becomes fully guaranteed on July 7th (maybe Miami does that to work out a longer-term deal with a lower average salary than his $6.3 million tag), or trade Tyler Johnson (more on that below).
• Johnson’s status is intriguing. He’ll make $5.8 million this year (2017-18) before his salary jumps to $19.2 million the following summer. Considering the cap climate, his age, his skillset, and his trajectory, he’s going to be worth that money (deal with it, Gianni), but there’s obvious appeal to trying to trade him this summer to maximize cap flexibility moving forward. I wouldn’t expect anything to happen, at least until Miami gets an answer from Gordon Hayward or Dion Waiters (if they strike out on Hayward).
What They’re Looking For?
Before digging into the “who” of Miami’s targets, we must have a basic understanding of the “what.” In other words, what type of players are the HEAT looking for?
Versatility and spacing is the name of the game. Guys that can space the floor around Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, while also being able to defend two, three, or even four positions in a pinch on the other end will pique their interest.
From a team-building standpoint, the HEAT – and by extension, head coach Erik Spoelstra – have been ahead of the curve on that front, dating back to those Big Three teams. Now the rest of the league is catching up, so it’s imperative that Miami stocks up on versatile talent.
Miami needs another scorer. Dragic did well as the number one option, while both Whiteside and Dion Waiters averaged a career-high in points. Adding an alpha scorer would slide Dragic and Whiteside down the totem pole in a more natural role. If they can’t land one of those, someone that could keep the machine running after receiving a kick-out pass would do the trick. Waiters was adept at beating already-bent defenses on secondary pick-and-rolls.
Defensively, Miami has shifted to a more conservative pick-and-roll scheme. Any guard or wing Miami targets will need to be able to fight over, around, and through screens so that Whiteside or whoever is playing the 5 (maybe rookster Bam Adebayo) can drop back to protect the rim.
With the basics covered, let’s look at some realistic names (meaning no Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry) that Miami should be in the hunt for. I have them broken down into tiers based on how the Heat may view or use them.
Yes, I’m aware that some players fit into more than one category.
Also, don’t get too caught up in the order. For example, the fourth name in tier 4 isn’t necessarily better than the first name in tier 5; that’s just where they rank relative to their category.
Also, also: Udonis Haslem won’t be on this list, but that’s working under the assumption that he and the HEAT already have an agreement in place.
Editor’s Note: (*) denotes a starter
1. Gordon Hayward *
Small Forward, 27, Utah Jazz
Hayward is the ultimate prize among the stars that’ll actually be available. He’s a versatile wing who’s smack dab in the middle of his physical prime. He slapped up 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on a 47/40/84 shooting split in, by far, the slowest offense in the league. His per-100 possessions numbers? 33-8-5, putting him among a group that includes: LeBron James, Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and DeMarcus Cousins.
There isn’t a thing he does poorly on a basketball court. Miami should thank their lucky stars if they can land him.
2. Blake Griffin
Power Forward, 28, Los Angeles Clippers
Griffin comes with more risks. He doesn’t protect the rim. He’s missed 83 regular season games over the last three seasons. Though we saw a hint of it during the second half of the year, Griffin isn’t a gravity-generating shooter from beyond the arc, making the fit alongside Whiteside an iffy one.
But, man, a fully unleashed Griffin is enticing. Despite the awkwardness of his game, he’s a high-level scorer with the ability to make plays off the bounce. A 4-5 pick-and-roll with Whiteside could be lethal. Plus, 4-1 pick-and-rolls with Dragic, a rugged screener, could force switches and mismatches. Griffin’s ability to grab the defensive board and go could create mismatches in transition. If he’s upright — a sizable “if” — he could do special things in Miami.
Tier-2: Two-Way Bigs
3. Paul Millsap *
Power Forward, 32, Atlanta Hawks
Millsap is older, and he isn’t stretch-y enough to form a clean fit with Whiteside. I’d be hesitant to give him a full max, but for less than that, it’d be a nice consolation prize. Millsap is a post brute and carries a slick array of fakes at his disposal. He also fits the mold of what Spoelstra wants in a four; an active body that can corral guards off switches and pick-six sloppy entry passes.
4. Serge Ibaka *
Power Forward, 27, Toronto Raptors
Ibaka is a name to watch. A couple of months ago, most expected him to re-sign in Toronto, likely early in free agency. It still might happen, but if Kyle Lowry bolts, it’s hard to imagine Ibaka staying.
His defensive reputation is a little better than his reality, but Ibaka is still a fearsome weakside shot-blocker with the lateral quickness to hold his own off switches in spurts. His shooting feels like empty calories; he’s shot 37 percent from three on 3.2 attempts over the last three seasons, but teams don’t go “holy [expletive], we have to run him off the line!” when he loads up to shoot. His ability to knock down shots is still valuable, of course, but it’s important not to overstate it, or overpay him because of it.
5. Taj Gibson
Power Forward, 32, Oklahoma City Thunder
He’s getting older, but Gibson is still one of the most consistent bigs in the NBA. Give him 25 minutes, and he’ll give you 10 points, seven boards, a steady dose of hard screens, and boxer-level fight on the offensive glass. His market should be interesting.
6. Patrick Patterson
Power Forward, 28, Toronto Raptors
Gibson is probably a better player, but Patterson’s ability to shoot (career 36.8 percent shooter from three) would make him a more natural fit in the starting lineup with Whiteside. His three-point rate has risen in each of the last four years, and his efficiency from beyond the arc has risen with it. Add in his versatility on defense, and you have a solid 4 … that hopefully won’t fall out of Miami’s price range.
TIER-3: Two-Way Wings
7. James Johnson *
Forward, 30, Miami HEAT
Bringing back Johnson after a career-year would be a smart play, regardless if Miami lands one of the stars in Tier-1. Johnson is a jack-of-all-trades piece that broke out with heightened responsibility on both ends. He’s in the best shape of his life and absolutely loves it in Miami.
8. C.J. Miles
Small Forward, 30, Indiana Pacers
Miles can defend three positions and shot a career-high 41.3 percent from deep on a healthy amount of attempts (5.4). The appeal there is obvious.
9. Thabo Sefolosha
Small Forward, 33, Atlanta Hawks
Sefolosha is still one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders but doesn’t offer much outside of the occasional cut or corner three on the other end. I feel like there will be a high variance with his market. He’s older, so he may go (playoff) contender hunting, but his skill-set and leadership are valuable enough to where he could command the mid-level exception or higher. We’ll see.
10. Jeff Green
Forward, 30, Orlando Magic
If he ever puts it all together, he’ll be great!
He won’t. But hopefully, the days of giving him big money or expecting big things from him are done. Green can swing a handful of regular season games for you. That has value — a very specific value, but value nonetheless. He could be a solid buy-low option.
11. Brandon Rush
Small Forward, 31, Minnesota Timberwolves
Nothing sexy here. Solid perimeter defense paired with a solid three-point stroke (career 40.2 percent from three), albeit on small volume (2.7 attempts).
TIER-4: Secondary Scorers
12. Dion Waiters *
Shooting Guard, 25, Miami HEAT
Waiters could fit into tier-3 if you consider him a wing (spent some time at the 3 in small-ball lineups), but he’s more initiator than a 3-&-D guy. Waiters broke out alongside Dragic, and an argument could be made that his late season ankle sprain (6-8 weeks, dern it) is the biggest reason Miami’s playoff push fell short.
(Side-Note: That would be a dumb argument. I get recency bias is a thing, and Waiters’ absence definitely hurt towards the end. Blowing that second half lead against the Hornets in the second game of the season hurt, too. The “if only we won ‘X’ game” goes both ways.)
If Miami strikes out on Hayward, circling back to Waiters makes sense.
13. Danilo Gallinari *
Small Forward, 28, Denver Nuggets
This mostly depends on price. In his pre-free agency piece, ESPN’s Zach Lowe mentioned that teams around the league expect Gallo’s market to hang around the $20 million per year range. His ability to shoot, run pick-and-roll, and get to the free throw line makes him worth it, but his injury history is a bit iffy. If Miami could land him for 3/55 or even 2/40, that’d be a nice get.
14. Rudy Gay
Small Forward, 30, Sacramento Kings
Ugh. I’m not a fan, but I get Miami’s intrigue. Gay doesn’t hold the ball as much as he used to, has become a reliable shooter from deep, can still attack and finish at the rim, and has improved his chops defensively. The Achilles injury probably crushed his market value. That’s good for Miami in terms of price, but it also makes a potential signing riskier.
15. Shabazz Muhammad
Small Forward, 24, Minnesota Timberwolves
Muhammad is a restricted free agent, but he feels like one that’s more available than not. His three-point shooting fluctuates like the hormones of a teen going through puberty. His bully-ball post repertoire has mixed results, and he defends when he wants to. He’s a mixed bag, but there’s a competent bench piece in there somewhere.
16. Michael Beasley
Small Forward, 28, Milwaukee Bucks
I mean, why not? 12th time’s the charm.
17. Ersan Ilyasova *
Power Forward, 30, Atlanta Hawks
This isn’t the first time Miami has been linked to Ilyasova. He’s a pretty meh defender, but Ily’ is a pick-and-pop threat that has frustrated many teams with “how-the-HECK-did-that-go-in” jumpers. If the price is right, go for it.
18. Vince Carter
Shooting Guard, 40, Memphis Grizzlies
Carter is still getting it done. He isn’t windmilling on fools anymore, but he’s turned himself into a valuable bench cog because of his three-point shooting (37.8 percent on 4.1 attempts last year).
19. Nikola Mirotic
Small Forward, 26, Chicago Bulls
He’s streaky, but that motor runs HOT when he gets going, with an ability to knock down threes well beyond the arc.
20. Nick Young
Small Forward, 32, Los Angeles Lakers
Lost in SnapchatGate was Young’s pretty good campaign last year. He averaged 13.2 points, shot over 40 percent from three on seven attempts per game, and actually fared well defensively. If his defense is real, a team would be smart to grab him quickly.
21. Ben McLemore
Shooting Guard, 24, Sacramento Kings
He’s an explosive vertical athlete with a sweet shooting stroke, but he’s never been able to put it together. With a guy his age (24), normally you’d say “well, maybe a change of scenery would help.” And maybe it will, but it has to be concerning when the SACRAMENTO KINGS don’t extend a qualifying offer, right? We’ll see.
22-24. Omri Casspi/Luke Babbitt/Anthony Tolliver
Forwards, 29/28/32, Minessotta Timberwolves/Miami HEAT/Sacramento Kings
All three are meh defenders in space but can hold their own in a team scheme. All three can knock down the three-ball (obviously, or they wouldn’t be in the spacer category). All three should be pretty affordable.
TIER-6: Bench Initiators
25. Darren Collison
Point Guard, 29, Sacramento Kings
The best backup point guard available is Patty Mills, but he’ll likely fall outside of Miami’s price range. Collison feels like an MLE or lower option; that’d be high, but it’d be hard to pass on his ability to push the pace, run the offense, shoot from deep (two straight seasons shooting north of 40 percent) and act as a disruptor with his quick hands.
26. Tyreke Evans
Guard, 27, Sacramento Kings
The “Tyreke Evans: Potential Star” train has long left the station. The jumper, while improved, never arrived, and he’s only played 65 games over the last two seasons. When he’s been upright, he’s been a solid defender and a big wing that can run the show. Miami could use a more natural ball-handler to pair with Tyler Johnson off the bench, especially if James Johnson isn’t brought back.
27. Milos Teodosic
Point Guard, 30, PBC CSKA Moscow
Teodosic is one of the best players not in the NBA right now. He’s a creative playmaker in the open floor, and drop dimes in pick-and-roll. I’m not sure he can defend the laptop I’m typing on, but for 14-18 minutes a night, Miami could probably manage.
28. Beno Udrih
Point Guard, 34, Detroit Pistons
He’s a #HeatLifer. That’s reason enough to be on Miami’s radar. He can also organize an offense, which bodes well next to T. Johnson.
29. Shelvin Mack
Point Guard, 27, Utah Jazz
Mack had an uneven year in Utah as part of their backup point guard carousel. For the minimum, he’s a guy that can keep the offense humming. If his shot is dropping from deep, he becomes even more valuable.
TIER-7: Defensive Specialists
30. Tony Allen
Shooting Guard/Small Forward, 35, Memphis Grizzlies
He’s an elite perimeter defender that can defend well above his size. His age and lack of a shot makes it hard to justify paying him anything higher than $5 million or so a year. He’ll probably remain in Memphis, but he’d certainly fit into Miami’s culture.
31. P.J. Tucker
Small Forward, 32, Toronto Raptors
Tucker’s postseason play may have earned him a nice payday. He’s an undersized wing, but his brute strength allows him to hang with bigger players. He’s a respectable shooter from the corners, making him more playable than Allen.
32. Matt Barnes
Small Forward, 37, Golden State Warriors
He’s a favorite in the locker room, assuming Derek Fisher isn’t in your locker room. He defends, knocks down shots from the corner and has the “lob city passer” badge on 2K, for whatever reason.
33. K.J. McDaniels
Shooting Guard/Small Forward, 24, Brooklyn Nets
I love McDanials, but the reality is he may not be an NBA player. Philly sold high on him. Houston gave up on him. Brooklyn didn’t extend a qualifying offer. He’s a high-level athlete and a versatile defender that can make breath-taking plays. If he could carve out any semblance of a role on offense, he could be a steal as an eight or 10th man in the rotation.
TIER-8: Stopgap 5s
34. Aron Baynes
Center, 30, Detroit Pistons
Five points and four rebounds in 15 minutes. Those aren’t sexy numbers by any means, but Baynes was a solid cog for the Pistons last season. Miami runs a lot of action that requires hard screens to free the guards on and all the ball. He’d certainly fit the bill there, as well as a battering ram on the offensive glass.
35. Jeff Withey
Center, 27, Utah Jazz
Among realistic targets, Withey is likely the best rim protector on the market. Opponents have shot 45.6 percent at the rim against Withey over the last two seasons. He’d be a solid backup to Whiteside while Bam Adebayo develops.
36. Roy Hibbert
Center, 30, Denver Nuggets
Okay, so, he may be a trash can. But he’s one of those decorative trash cans with the pedal at the bottom that activates the lid. That should count for something!
In all seriousness, Hibbert is still fine as a rim protector, and splash in jump hooks, and clean up misses on the offensive glass. He’s huge and he’ll be cheap — why not?
37. Andrew Bogut
Center, 32, Cleveland Cavaliers
Bogut is a stellar rim protector and a rugged
illegal screen-setter. There’s just no way he’ll last a full season. Heck, he played ONE MINUTE for Cleveland and had his season ended.
38. Joel Anthony
Center, 34, San Antonio Spurs
Warden! #HeatLifer! He’s great in the locker room, can hedge and recover when defending pick-and-rolls (something Miami loves from their bigs), and can still swat a shot every once in a while.