It had to happen at some point, but it probably comes around sooner than expected: The Miami Heat didn’t just lose in the NBA Finals. They’ve reached a point from which big decisions, future changing ones must be made. It begins with LeBron James and his next contract, and projects on what Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will do, all waiting for the best player to make up his mind about what’s next.
All the fancy talk about cap space and filling the team with role players that can replace those who are too old, not good enough or will be going away is just another phrase for what really matters: What LeBron James decides to do, because in all likelihood, the most important decisions have to do with him: Whether or not to opt out of his deal, re-sign a new contract for less money and hope both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh do the same, or realize that this very unique group, reaching four consecutive NBA finals, is going to break up.
There’s the scenario in which James stays, but Wade and/or Bosh refuse to take a paycut. Why would someone about to make $20 million next season and more than that in 2015-2016 ($22 million for Bosh, $21 million for Wade) take a paycut? After winning three NBA titles, maybe Dwyane Wade doesn’t want to take pay cuts anymore. There’s no doubt that this last season in which his minutes were closely watched and his performance in the finals tell us that this is way past him prime Dwyane Wade; an older, inferior version to what the Heat need from their second best player.
The craziest scenario has to do with Carmelo Anthony landing on the team. The Heat, if they get all big three to take salary cuts that drop their cap hit to around $13-14 million a season, have an excellent chance of singing Anthony, if he is willing to take that kind of pay cut as well. Aside from the James-Bosh-Wade triangle, Miami don’t have too much cap space clogged for next season.
Udonis Haslem has a player option they’ll be trying to get rid of – make him take a pay cut like the three big stars or hope he decides to retire after opting out of his deal. Shane Battier is retiring, Mario Chalmers is a free agent and suddenly doesn’t seem like such a smart decision if they keep him for $4 million, Ray Allen is a free agent and Chris Andersen has a player option as well. Norris Cole with his $2 million deal is the only one they can’t who is locked in.
But the Heat need more than just another star. LeBron James played too many minutes for his taste this season and wasn’t very happy with the Heat making financial moves instead of ones that would help them win the title. They added Michael Beasley and Greg Oden in the offseason because they were cheap and had rebuilding potential. Beasley and Oden were barely used in the playoffs, which is surprising considering there were plenty of hopes for Beasley when he was signed.
Mike Miller was amnestied, and James, who has incredible leverage going into the offseason, will want the team to make moves that include paying a bit more tax, even if the owners don’t intend to. The Heat didn’t use their mid-level exception last season. If keeping this group together and keeping it as a contender worthy team is what the Heat are looking for, then making better decisions when it comes to personnel have to be made, including spending more money than the owners are interested in or were last season.
There’s no doubt that with the right adjustments this team is still good enough to make more NBA finals run. But not with Dwyane Wade as a second best player, and especially not when he is paid like a superstar. For the most part, the Heat’s ownership, management and coaching all seem to be on the same page, but eventually, it all comes down to how much they convince LeBron James about the future of this franchise, and what his decision means for Wade and Bosh.