The Miami Heat are bordering the luxury tax as we head into the offseason. With tax issues looming over the next few seasons, where do they go from here?
When the Miami Heat missed out on signing Gordon Hayward last July, they decided to run back the majestic 2017 roster. While the word majestic may seem like hyperbole when describing a 41-41 team, Miami’s 30-11 run to end the season was one of the more remarkable feats of the decade. The 2017 Heat transformed from a mix of misfits and redemption projects into a special, coalescent unit within one season. Management’s decision to bring back the crew was understandable. Why not try and recapture the magic, remain competitive and then retool a year or two down the road?
But matters don’t look particularly rosy right now in Miami. Many of the deals that the Heat doled out over the last two summers are shaping up to be quite ugly. The James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside contracts stand out as perhaps the most negative assets on the books. All of those guys are talented players, but in a crunched cap environment they are taking up far too much cap room. Miami would have paid the tax last season for a team that went 44-38 (if not for the Bosh injury exception). Worse still, the franchise’s books are impacted moving forward. Although it probably won’t happen, Miami is in danger of paying the tax in each of the next two seasons. That’s alarming. A few missteps could put the Heat into the crippling repeater tax territory, which is not ideal to say the least.
Miami will have to make some cost cutting moves if it wants to have any means of improving this roster. And we’ve seen how costly dumping bad salary can be; you generally can’t make those kinds of moves without giving up future draft picks. Trading some of the more toxic salaries on the cap sheet will be difficult. James Johnson and Dion Waiters for example both have three years left at fairly substantial salary figures (Johnson has a player option for year three). Would anyone be willing to take on those deals? The financial situation is rough any way you cut it, and that’s before factoring in a potential big money deal for Justise Winslow, who will be extension eligible this year.
This summer, the Heat will be dangerously close to the tax before they even resolve the free agency situations of Dwayne Wade and Wayne Ellington. Though Wade is past his prime and mulling retirement, he competently took on a fair share of ball handling for this team. And Ellington has been by far Miami’s best floor spacer for two years now. Creation in the backcourt and shooting across the roster represent two of the Heat’s biggest issues, so losing these guys would only worsen the team in those areas.
Yet, the Heat will have few tools with which to add talent. Miami can use the taxpayer mid-level exception, but this would add to a potential tax bill. The Heat could (and definitely should) explore the trade market. Hunting for sign and trades is one of the only feasible options that they will have to strengthen the squad. Without further deals, here are a few guys that the Heat should pursue this summer.