Filling Out the Roster
Many of us have our doubts. We ask ourselves whether it truly can be done. Can the Miami Heat realistically build a championship caliber roster while operating within the confines of the salary cap? It doesn’t seem possible.
We point to the evidence. The four semi-finalists in the 2010 NBA Playoffs have team salaries as follows:
1. Los Angeles Lakers: $91,341,066
2. Boston Celtics: $84,069,655
3. Orlando Magic: $80,449,669
4. Phoenix Suns: $74,738,817
Each is significantly to ridiculously more than the Heat will be able to spend. But for the sake of argument, let’s analyze these numbers for a moment.
Yes, the Lakers, Celtics and Magic made a conscious decision to (over)spend. But they’ve realized some nice returns on their investments. The organizations are wildly profitable, producing an average operating income of more than $20 million during the 2008/09 season. And they’re perennial powerhouses.
I take more of an interest in the Phoenix number. If you recall, the Suns completed a blockbuster trade in July that sent Shaquille O’Neal to the Cavaliers in exchange for Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavolic and $500,000. For the Suns, the trade was a straight salary dump. Wallace was subsequently bought out for $10 million from a contract that would have paid him $14 million. Pavolic, whose $5.0 million contract was only partially guaranteed for $1.25 million, was waived. With the moves, Phoenix saved $18.0 million in salaries and luxury tax payments.
The maneuvering also meant that $11,250,000 was spent on two players that didn’t make the regular season roster. So the true team salary, for comparative purposes, is a relatively paltry $63,488,817.
At just $63 million, the Suns put a big scare into the defending champions. The Heat, although constrained by the $56.1 million salary cap, will likely spend on the order of $60 million after utilizing its available exceptions. So all of a sudden, creating a winner seems possible. Difficult, but possible.
But operating with such limited funds does have its drawbacks. What it means is that Pat Riley will need to allocate the bulk of Micky’s money on the starting five. Therein lies the problem. The potential lack of depth becomes an overriding concern.
Pat will be cognizant of the team’s need for depth, but he won’t act upon it until the very end. Why? I’ll give you three reasons.
First, he will be distracted by the key names. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson all take priority.
Second, the Heat needs to utilize the entirety of its cap space before adding minimum contract players. Each such player signed with room still available will reduce the team’s cap space by up to $380,785 (i.e., the $854,389 cost of a minimum contract, less a $473,604 roster charge removed).
Third, and perhaps most important, Riley can afford to wait. Several quality options will be available at bargain prices, particularly if the Heat’s offseason plans prove successful.
Let’s scan the free agent universe, by position.
PG. Pat may look to draft Eric Bledsoe. He may bring Steve Blake back to his South Florida roots. He may even make a run at a Darren Collison-type. But whatever decisions are ultimately made, Carlos Arroyo remains a solid last option. The interest is mutual. He’ll be back.
SG/SF. Raja Bell has all but signed a contract to play for the Heat next season already. At his advanced age, Bell won’t set the world on fire. He will be a serviceable role player, serving primarily as a quality backup to Dwyane Wade at shooting guard. He’s a low-mistake player whose greatest value is in helping to space the floor for his teammates. And that’s ok. He is a dangerous 3-point shooter who has shredded the nets to the tune of 41.1% for his career.
The Heat also continues to hold draft rights to Robert Dozier. If you recall, Dozier nearly beat out Dorell Wright on the depth chart before signing with Kolossos Rhodes in Greece this past season. He went on to start all of the team’s 28 games at forward, putting up some nice numbers. In his 25.8 minutes per game, he averaged 9.0 and 6.4 rebounds. His 49.7% shooting from the floor included a robust 47.2% from beyond the arc in his 36 attempts.
Would Quentin Richardson, who’s made $51 million in career earnings, be willing to sacrifice bigger dollars to play opposite close friend Dwyane Wade for one more season?
PF/C. The search for frontcourt depth could produce some interesting storylines. The Heat can retain Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire if it so chooses. But wouldn’t it be nice for Kurt Thomas to close out his career with a Larry O’Brien trophy on the team that originally drafted him 16 seasons prior? Ignoring a forgettable campaign with the Bucks this past season, he remains a serviceable big man even at 37 years of age.
Joe Smith, Juwan Howard, Louis Amundson, Sheldon Williams and Tim Thomas are all free agent bigs already playing for the minimum this season. Wouldn’t it be funny if Howard were to don a Heat jersey?
Money will be tight. Pat knew it when he made his decision nearly three years ago to pursue a rebuilding plan in the coming offseason. The team’s depth will undoubtedly suffer in the short term. But there are some quality, inexpensive pieces available on the free agent market. And more will avail themselves as the Heat lands top tier players.