After missing the NBA Playoffs last year for just the second time since 2004, the Miami Heat rebounded this season to win the Southeast Division. The Heat would advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals where they were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in a fierce seven-game series. But by the time that the Heat were finished off by the Raptors, they had been depleted by injuries. Heat team president Pat Riley has made it his business to keep Miami in title contention as they’ve won the NBA Championship three times since 2006. And even though that Riley has one of the best basketball minds in the business, he’ll have his hands full this summer as far as keeping the Heat as one of the top teams in the NBA.
As of right now the Heat have nearly $50 million committed to player salaries for next season, but that could be changing. Power forward Chris Bosh has missed 67 games over the last two NBA seasons due to complications from blood clots. Bosh did not appear in the playoffs for the Heat, and there is a possibility that he might be forced to retire. In the summer of 2014, Bosh re-signed with the Heat for $118 million over five years. However if Bosh does retire, nearly $24 million would come off of the books towards next year’s payroll. But what the Heat would lose from not having Bosh on their roster is his leadership on the court, and in the locker room as he was a vital member of their championship teams in 2012 and 2013.
Like Bosh, shooting guard Dwyane Wade has been a part of much of the Heat’s success recently. Wade was the fifth overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Heat and he has gone on to become the best player in franchise history. Wade has been a member of each of the Heat’s championship teams which included him being the NBA Finals MVP in 2006. Wade is the Heat’s all-time leader in points (20,221), assists (4,944), and steals (1,414). But at the age of 34, injuries have really caught up to Wade as he has never played a full season in the NBA.
Last summer, Wade was seeking a long-term contract from the Heat which he didn’t receive as Riley wasn’t ready to commit to that on an aging player. The Heat and Wade would agree on a one-year deal for $20 million. Wade averaged 19 points per game in the regular season. But in the NBA Playoffs, Wade was showing signs of once again being “Flash” as he averaged 21.4 points per game as he attempted to will the Heat to victories which should make for a very interesting round of negotiating this summer between him and Riley.
After being a basketball nomad, center Hassan Whiteside has emerged as one of the best shot blockers and rebounders in the NBA. Whiteside was a second-round pick of the Sacramento Kings in 2010, but he spent more time in the NBA’s Development League than anything else. In 2014, the Heat would pick Whiteside up off of the scrap heap and in 48 games with the team, he would average 11.8 points and 10 rebounds. Last summer Whiteside signed a one-year deal with the Heat for 981k and he easily outperformed that by averaging 14.2 points and 11.8 rebounds while leading the NBA in blocks with 3.7 per game.
Whiteside has tremendous athleticism, but there have been maturity issues for him which has seen him draw the ire of Riley, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, and veteran players such as Bosh. Whiteside did suffer a knee injury in the playoffs against the Raptors which could give the Heat leverage in their contract negotiations with the 26-year old this summer.
As of right now the biggest impact players that the Heat can count on for next season are point guard Goran Dragic and small forward Justise Winslow. The Heat acquired Dragic from the Phoenix Suns during the 2014-2015 NBA season, but he hasn’t had the kind of impact that the Heat were hoping for as he wasn’t the focal point of the offense with Wade and Bosh on the roster. However that could potentially change next season. Last summer, the Heat used the 10th overall pick of the NBA Draft on Winslow. Winslow appeared in 78 games during the regular season for the Heat, but he only made 8 starts. As a rookie, Winslow averaged 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds as a role player, but you can see the potential there for him to develop a more important role on both offense and defense for Miami.
The Heat should be active players in free agency this summer, and with Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in July, you can expect Miami to put on the full-court press as far as attempting to persuade him to come to South Beach. However it will be more difficult as I don’t see Durant leaving the Thunder with their deep run into the playoffs that currently has them three victories away from their second trip to the NBA Finals with him on the roster.
Riley knows a thing or two about building a contender as he has only been a part of four losing seasons either as a head ocach of team executive. Riley got creative in putting Bosh, Wade, and LeBron James together in the summer of 2010, and there’s no telling what he has up his sleeve this summer for the Heat. But one thing for sure is that Riley will find a way to put a quality roster together.