Stephen A reporting LeBron, Bosh and Wade all to Miami
The greatest words in the history of professional sport (from Stephen A. Smith):
I got a call last night from a source and I double-checked it with another and they told me essentially that LeBron James and Chris Bosh are going to tag team and go together and join Dwyane Wade in Miami.
Around 10 o’clock last night or so I heard the news and stayed up for a few more hours and made a few phone calls and I felt comfortable enough to go with what I reported.
I believe it’s highly likely, I wouldn’t say anything is a done deal with LeBron James until it’s signed.
Last night I heard emphatically that this is the direction that LeBron James has leaned toward and Dwyane Wade has done a very, very good job of convincing them (James and Bosh) not just about Pat Riley, not just about the fact there are no state (income) taxes in the state of Florida but at the same time he’s there in a tandem and that’s what it’s going to take. Either that or a three-headed monster to win multiple championships and that LeBron James is all in.
This is obviously a best case scenario for the Heat.
It’s difficult to believe that both LeBron and Chris are unequivocally ready to sign on the dotted line right now and join Dwyane in his quest for basketball immortality. But what if they are? Then what? Would the next half decade not be the best years of your lives?
It’s impossible to think about the prospect of a Big Three in South Florida without your mind racing. So let’s first review the mechanics of how it could happen, and then the potential alternatives with which to fill out a theoretical roster.
The latest salary cap projection provided by David Stern for 2010-11, at the start of the playoffs, was $56,100,000.
The Heat will start the summer with just Michael Beasley ($4,962,240) and Mario Chalmers ($854,389) under contract. It will also have James Jones’ buyout on the books ($1,856,000). Therefore, after incorporating roster charges, the Heat can produce as much as $43,591,331 of cap space.
Three maximum contracts, at $16,568,908 a piece, would cost $49,706,724. That’s not nearly enough.
Thus, the first order of business will be to get rid of Michael Beasley.
Speculation for some time had been that no teams were interested in the troubled second-year forward. It now seems clear that these rumors were patently false.
Wolves general manager David Kahn confirmed on Sunday that he had contacted the Heat about trading for Beasley. The deal reportedly would have sent Beasley to the Wolves in exchange for Ryan Gomes. The Heat would have received an additional $4.0 million in cap space had they made the deal. But Gomes has a James-Jones-like three-year partially-guaranteed contract which, if exercised prior to June 30, would pay him $1.0 million in each of 10/11 and 11/12, and $750k in 12/13.
Riley won’t do that. He won’t accept any cap space-reducing salary in return for a player who still holds significant value. With more than $16 million of projected cap space, Minnesota figures to have a continued interest when free agency begins. You can bet they will ultimately improve their offer for Beasley, to one that includes no return salary and possibly some combination of draft picks.
In fact, Pat Riley has confirmed that as many as 22 teams have contacted the Heat about Beasley. It seems likely that the Heat would be able to find a suitor on short notice even if negotiations with the Wolves were to fall through.
When that happens, the Heat will be capable of producing $48,179,967 of cap space. Now we’re just a rounding error away from freeing up the necessary cap space for three full maximum contracts. In fact, after incorporating the effect of roster charges, we’re just $579,549 short.
That’s probably enough, particularly when divided amongst three players, not to matter.
But if it does matter, if all three do want full max contracts and nothing less, there are several ways the gap can be bridged:
- Commissioner Stern could do us a favor by reporting a slightly higher than expected salary cap figure of at least $56,679,549.
- The Heat could trade away Chalmers to reduce the shortfall. Removing the salary of Chalmers would save the Heat an additional $380,785 of cap space, leaving the Heat just $198,764 short. The team has shown no inclination of trading Chalmers.
- The Heat could ask that James Jones take a reduced buyout. Jones has a three-year partial guarantee which would pay him $5,952,000 over three years if his contract is terminated prior to June 30. To make the math work, Jones would need to accept a reduced buyout of $5,314,584, a give-back of $637,416, without Chalmers or $4,093,446, a give-back of $1,858,554, if Chalmers were to be retained. The team has reportedly been working this angle.
- The Heat could acquire Bosh or James via sign-and-trade. League rules allow teams to acquire a player even if his added salary causes the team to exceed the cap by no more than $100,000. The Heat will surely pursue this angle for both players, as it would also allow them to give Bosh and James six year deals (instead of 5) and 10.5% annual raises (instead of 8.0%).
- Various combinations of a higher salary cap, a Chalmers trade, a reduced Jones buyout, and/or an acquisition via sign-and-trade would also work.
Regardless of approach, the problem is imminently solvable.
What was once the ridiculous bantering of the delusional few now appears to be a reasonable, if not likely, reality. If the dream were to become a reality, the Heat would make history. Never before has an N.B.A. roster been constructed of three maximum contract players and double digit minimum contract players. But that’s exactly how the roster would need to be constructed.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick scan at how the rest of the roster could be constructed. Bear in mind that teams are allowed to carry up to 20 players in the offseason but must pare down to 15 by the start of the regular season.
Wade and James are the two best players in the N.B.A. at attacking the basket. They need only the open space to drive through to be successful. Thus, with the Big Three locked down, the rest of the roster needs to be constructed with a strong emphasis on outside shooting and defense.
It needs to be constructed so that when Wade and James penetrate the lane, defenses are tasked with an impossible decision. Do they leave the rim vulnerable as Wade and James use their quickness and strength to accelerate past their defenders? Or do they collapse to stop the penetration, thus leaving the Heat’s knock-down three point shooters wide open?
That’s it. When you have Wade and James, the game becomes just that simple. It’s a thing of beauty. Such players therefore need to be identified at every position.
Point Guard. None of the Big Three plays point guard, so this position needs to be built from scratch. The Heat will likely employ three point guards to start the regular season.
Steve Blake, a Florida native, would be a wonderful addition. He’s not the most explosive name around, but he is an experienced veteran, he is serviceable, he runs a team well, and he can shoot 3s. He won’t set the world on fire on either end, but he won’t hurt you either. He does just what a veteran should do – take care of the ball and hit open jump shots. His 39.3 career 3-point field goal percentage is among the best you’ll find at the position. But he’s likely to command more than the minimum salary.
More realistic alternatives as starter and backup would be Heat incumbents Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers. But watch out for 2009 second round draft pick Patrick Beverley. He is extremely raw and severely lacking in true point guard skills. But he’s a tenacious defender (capable of emerging as one of the league’s best at the position) with a developing three-point shot. He would be an ideal third point guard on a non-guaranteed contract, as a developmental project for the future.
Shooting Guard. Dwyane Wade is the 30+ minute per night starter. The Heat is likely to employ two others, only one of which will see significant floor time.
Ray Allen is the dream that won’t happen. The Celtics made several public overtures about their desire to get younger and cheaper at the position on the trade market, putting an extra emphasis on the $18.8 million salary he didn’t quite earn this year. Allen isn’t happy. The 14-year veteran was supposedly interested in heading south to the Heat or, in order to stay near his home in Connecticut, to the New York Knicks. But, unable to find a trade partner in February, it would now appear the Celtics are likely to try to retain the 6’5″ guard for one final season. His salary would be more than 5x what the Heat could offer.
More realistic alternatives as backups would be Raja Bell and Eddie House.
Never has a player been more transparent about his intentions than has Raja Bell in regard to his desire for the coming off-season. The 6’5″ FIU product was quoted as saying, “I’ll tell you like this, Pat. If you can use my services give me a call, I’m right around the corner, 36th and Biscayne. Give me a call.” Bell is no longer the defensive ace he used to be in his younger days but, at 33 years old, he’s still a reliable three-point shooter and perimeter defender.
House represents another intriguing option as a less accurate and less versatile, but more experienced and more clutch, version of Morrow. He stands just 6-foot-1 but he’s not a point guard. He’s a one-dimensional three-point specialist.
The Heat would be wise to secure one of Bell or House, but not both. The team needs an injection of youth and athleticism. It needs to develop for the future. It needs to find tough, quick defenders. Much like at the point guard position, it therefore needs to utilize the third shooting guard spot to identify a hidden gem.
Small Forward. LeBron James is the 35+ minute per night starter. The Heat is likely to employ two others, only one of which will see significant floor time.
Dorell Wright, Bill Walker and Matt Barnes would all be nice additions but all are unrealistic.
Wright had a breakout season last season and, in doing so, priced himself right out of the Heat’s target salary range.
Walker is a quality defender and one of the league’s six 50/40 guys from last season (50% from the field; 40% from the three-point line) but he is under non-guaranteed contract to the Knicks at the league minimum. Given that he scored 28 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in his last N.B.A. game, his best ever performance, they’re sure to retain him.
Barnes is a scrappy, experienced forward with an aggressive mentality who does everything well but doesn’t overly excel at anything. He has a decent three-point shot and he’s a solid defender on the perimeter. But he’ll almost assuredly price out of the Heat’s target range.
The next batch of potentials already call South Florida home.
A waived James Jones could become a real possibility as a re-signed minimum contract player. And Da’Sean Butler, the Heat’s 42nd overall draft pick, should secure a roster spot on a non-guaranteed contract, as a developmental project for the future, if his left knee heels as expected.
Power Forward. Chris Bosh is the 35+ minute per night starter. The Heat is likely to employ two others, only one of which will see significant floor time.
Reach Targets: Matt Bonner, Udonis Haslem
Realistic Targets: Steve Novak, Jarvis Varnado (Non-Guaranteed)
We would all love to add Udonis Haslem to the list, but that’s simply not realistic. He will command far more than the minimum salary on the open market.
In many ways, the singe most important reach target for the Heat this off-season will be Haslem’s former college teammate Matt Bonner. Having an elite three-point shooter is critical. Having an elite three-point shooter at a power position is an unheard-of luxury in the N.B.A. It’s why Mehmet Okur is a former All-Star.
Most teams can’t use it anyway. Bonner is, after all, strictly one-dimensional. But that dimension couldn’t fit more perfectly with what the Heat would need.
Take a look at the available free agents at the center position within the Heat’s price range. Not one is even remotely deserving of a starting position for a title contender. But one of them is going to get it.
Imagine instead a small-ball front-court rotation, predicated on floor-spacing, that features 6-11 Chris Bosh, 6-10 Matt Bonner, and 6-8 and 250-pound LeBron James. Now add Wade and a knock-down shooter and the Heat would simply overwhelm its opponents with offensive ferocity, with equal parts rim-rattling dunks and kick-out wide open three point splash-downs.
Steve Novak would represent the Bonner-lite scenario. He’s the same height and every bit the three-point shooter that Bonner is. But he’s frail and slow and a sub-par defender. He’s more of a tall small forward than a power forward. But that kind of shooting, particularly at such a young age, cannot be ignored. No matter the position the Heat task him for, he should get serious consideration.
Jarvis Varnado, the 6’9″ power forward from Mississippi State drafted by the Heat with the 41st overall pick, figures to be a possible replacement for Joel Anthony. But the NCAA’s career leader in blocked shots needs to add some bulk and some refinement to his game if he is to do so.
Center. None of the Big Three plays point guard, so this position needs to be built out. Unfortunately, there aren’t any great options.
Reach Targets: Nobody
Realistic Targets: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magloire, Erick Dampier, Brad Miller, Kurt Thomas, Brad Miller, Ian Mahinmi, Dexter Pittman (Non-Guaranteed)
Zydrunas Ilgauskas will almost certainly choose to follow his former teammate and friend to Miami; he’s a solid mid-range shooter and offensive rebounder but, at 7-foot-3 with wonky feet, he’s a defensive liability for a team that places a premium on it.
Joel Anthony should be back, potentially with a good-sized raise, because the Heat can retain his Bird rights at a low cost; but he’s only 6’9″ and can’t catch or rebound a basketball.
Jamaal Magloire could be around for training camp; but his on-court-contributing days are long since passed him.
Erick Dampier is currently under contract for $13 million but will surely get waived because it’s non-guaranteed; but he’s old and slow and not an offensive threat.
Kurt Thomas could choose to close out his career with a Larry O’Brien trophy on the team that originally drafted him 16 seasons prior; but he’s short and old and not really capable of big minutes anymore.
Brad Miller is a decent floor spacing big; but he may just be the slowest player in the entire N.B.A.
Ian Mahinmi showed a good deal of promise as a shooter and rebounder for the Spurs last season; but he’s a youngster who is more to be developed for the future than relied upon for a title run (i.e., a nice third center option).
Dexter Pittman could forgo the year or two of seasoning abroad he desperately needs to try and make the team.
Not one of these names is particularly compelling. Not one is a deserving starter for a title contending team. But the Heat will need to choose three, and start one.
Unless, of course, they adopt a small-ball strategy.
Pick your own favorite twelve.