NBA: When lockout ends, Heat ready to pouce
Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 27, 2011
By Tim Reynolds
MIAMI ó Free Agency 2011 will be nowhere near as celebrated for the Miami Heat as the player-movement bonanza that brought LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade together a year ago.
It still carries massive importance.
James, Wade, Bosh, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem are still under contract, meaning the core remains intact. Point guard Mario Chalmers ó who came up big during the NBA finals ó is a restricted free agent, though he clearly has an eye on being back in Miami. And rookie point guard Norris Cole figures to contend for some rotation time.
Looking at that list, the free-agent focus in Miami seems obvious: The top Heat priority likely will be an upgrade at center.
With the season now scheduled to start on Christmas, the Heat are preparing to shop.
ěWe go in every day, and weíre ready to hit the ground running,î Heat President Pat Riley said last week, before the tentative deal between the league and its players. ěEvery single departmentís up and running, ready to roll, and weíre all doing our jobs from that extent. … Thatís what we do every day. And weíre ready to roll. When we find out, weíre ready to go.î
The financial terms of the agreement almost certainly will not help the Heat bottom line. The Heat ó buoyed by the excitement created by James, Wade and Bosh playing together ó turned a profit last season for the first time since moving into AmericanAirlines Arena more than a decade ago.
With a more punitive luxury tax coming as part of this new labor deal, as well as a revenue sharing plan, the Heat almost certainly will be spending more money than ever before. And that doesnít even take into account team payrolls being set to steadily rise over the course of the deal.
The Heat are apparently fine with that, the thinking being that losing money is better than losing a season ó and a chance at a NBA title. If they were so inclined, they could use the new amnesty clause to part with someone like Miller and get his $5.4 million off the cap books for this coming season, but those familiar with Miamiís plans say thatís not an option.
Instead, the Heat will happily do some spending once this free-agent window opens Dec. 9, driven in part by losing the NBA finals a season ago.
Joel Anthony remains in the Heat plans at center, but thereís still no shortage of quality big-man options out there, including Tyson Chandler, Nene and Samuel Dalembert, who has South Florida ties and has spoken in the past about the prospects of playing in Miami. On the wing, Grant Hill could be a potential Miami target, and Shane Battier told his Twitter followers that heís already getting sales pitches from fans in Miami, Memphis, Houston and Oklahoma City.
ěLet free agency begin!!!,î Battier wrote. ěThanks yíall!î
Another interesting option for the Heat could be a reunion with forward Caron Butler, who was drafted 10th overall by the team in 2002, then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers two years later as part of the deal that brought Shaquille OíNeal to Miami. Butler said last month that he would not rule out a potential return.
Of course, money will dictate just about everything. With a new CBA, even some players arenít sure what the market value will be for free agents. And as the Heat likely will be close to the salary cap for this season, they know theyíll have to choose wisely.
This much is known: Putting this team together wonít be as massive as the overhaul that followed last yearís offseason moves.
ěWe came together with nine new players with a big goal,î Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said earlier this month. ěI think thatíll help us this season, the fact that we spent almost nine months together on that journey. And the journey didnít end, itís just beginning.î
True ó itís the lockout thatís ending.
Wade wrote on Twitter early Sunday that games were missed, money and jobs were lost but that his silver lining was getting to spend additional time with his family. Now a reunion with his ěworkî family awaits.
ěGlad we all are back to work,î he wrote.
All thatís left to see is whoíll be with him, James and Bosh on Christmas Day.
Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds
The Associated Press