Miami Heat completely clear their roster, is Pat Riley worried?

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Miami Heat forwards Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem joined guard Dwyane Wade in opting out of their contracts, leaving Norris Cole as the only player the team has under contract heading into the 2014 free agency period.

Cole is scheduled to make $2,038,206 this season, and Shabazz Napier – who the Heat acquired in a draft-night trade from the Charlotte Hornets – will carry a $1,032,200 cap hit until he signs a contract later this summer. 

Miami Heat Cap Situation

If the NBA salary cap rises to the estimated $63.2 million it is supposed to reach this summer, the Miami Heat will have $55,056,234 in cap space when the free agent negotiating period kicks off on Tuesday at 12:01 AM ET. While that is the most cap space any NBA team has ever had, the Heat really won’t be able to add much to their roster outside of Bosh, Wade and LeBron James (who also opted out of his contract so the Heat could allegedly bring in more help this summer).

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Even if the Big 3 do the unthinkable and agree to play for $15 million a piece next season, their combined $45 million in salaries plus Napier’s rookie contract would take the team’s salary cap figure (salaries plus $507,336 cap holds for each empty roster spot up 12 players) to $50,090,888 for the 2014-15 season.

That would leave the team with $13,109,112 in cap space to sign another significant free agent. Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry is a free agent, and his name has been the one most often mentioned as the Heat’s target with their new-found cap space. And while you might get Lowry to head down to South Beach for that figure, there is no way in hell Carmelo Anthony signs with the Heat if it means taking that big of a pay cut.

Miami Heat vs Toronto Raptors

Even convincing Lowry to sign for that amount is far from a given – he’ll turn 29 before the season ends, meaning this is probably his one chance to get a big-money contract in his lifetime. He wasn’t a high draft pick like the Big 3, entering the NBA as the 24th pick of the 2006 draft. Lowry has “only” made $28,757,917 thus far in his career – is he really going to sign a four year, $55,975,908 contract with Miami when Toronto can offer a LOT more?

kyle lowry free agent

The exact maximum salary figure for next season hasn’t been announced yet, but if the $63.2 million salary cap number is accurate, it’s not hard to do the math. Max salaries are based on a percentage of BRI (basketball related income), but if you assume that the max salary for an eight-year veteran will go up by the same percentage that the salary cap is going up, then Lowry’s max should be around $17,708,257 next season.

That would mean Toronto can offer Lowry a four year contract that would pay him $78,801,744 – that’s almost $23 million more than the Heat can offer over the four years of the contract. And that’s ignoring the fifth year Toronto can offer Lowry at a salary of $23,020,734.

There is no guarantee that Toronto is willing to offer Lowry a max contract to keep him in Canada long-term, but even if Lowry does decide to take his point guard skills to South Beach, that leaves the Heat with a roster of James, Bosh, Wade, Lowry, Napier, whoever they can sign with the $2.732 million Room Mid Level Exception, and seven players who cannot make more than the veteran’s minimum salary.

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Miami Heat vs Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets

The Heat could take that $13.1 million in cap space and divide it among two or three players, but there is going to be all kinds of competition for free agents this summer. Really good teams like the Bulls and Rockets can create significant cap space, and a player signing there wouldn’t be going to their new team in the role of fourth fiddle.

The Bulls and Rockets are usually mentioned as the Heat’s main competitors in the Carmelo Anthony race, but either team could just as easily set their sights on Kyle Lowry. And either team could pay Lowry more than the Miami Heat could.

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According to ESPN, more than 15 teams are projected to have significant salary-cap space this summer, and there are only so many good free agents to go around. South Beach has beautiful weather, hot women, Pat Riley, and the best player in the world. But the Miami Heat also have lots and lots of holes to fill when it comes to their roster, and a boatload of competition for the top flight free agent talent.

Miami Heat vs New York Knicks

What if the Heat can’t land anything outside of minor help for the Big 3? It certainly wouldn’t shock anyone to see LeBron (and maybe Bosh) sign a one-year contract and see where the season takes them. Don’t look now, but Big Chief Triangle (a/k/a Phil Jackson) is now running things in the Big Apple, and the Knicks currently look like they could easily clear out $40 million or more in cap space next summer.

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If things don’t work out this season in south Florida, and Phil adds a few more supporting pieces to the Knicks roster between now and July 2015, and Derek Fisher shows that he can coach… I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to use my imagination to see LeBron playing in the Garden and creating a new big three on the world’s biggest stage.

All I can say for sure is this – if I’m Miami Heat president Pat Riley, I’m telling my realtor to start looking around for retirement homes. He’s had one of the best careers a basketball lifer could ever ask for, as a player, as a coach, and in the front office. But if he can’t pull off another miracle coup this summer – at the level of the one he and the Big 3 put together four plus years ago – it will be time to ride off into the sunset and enjoy retirement.

Probably someplace with cooler summers, far away from the Miami heat.

One thing is certain, if there is any man that can pull it off, it’s Riles.

pat riley don ellis

Don Ellis started covering sports professionally when he was 15. He attended Ball State University, and some of his past credits include InsideHoops (columnist) and ESPN Florida (The Florida Sports Reporters, SportsCenter anchor). In addition to running Bullsville.net and writing for The Sports Bank and ChicagoNow (Bullsville), he is also a KHSAA baseball umpire. He’s a 3rd-generation Cubs fan, a Bulls fan since the days of Van Lier and Sloan, and a life-long New England Patriots fan. Follow Don on Twitter @Bullsville and like Bullsville on Facebook.

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