- Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Staff Writer
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For Pat Riley, most of the work is already done.
While the rest of the NBA jumps into the free-agency frenzy that began at midnight Sunday night, the Heat figure to spend most of their time watching from afar. With Ray Allen opting in on Friday, the Heat already have 13 spots on their roster filled for next season (if you include Jarvis Varnado’s nonguaranteed contract).
To recap: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are locked in for 2013-14 (did you hear they could be free agents next summer?); the Heat employ a quintet of veteran sharpshooters in Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis and James Jones; Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and Varnado will bolster the front line; Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole will hold down point guard duties.
That’s 13 there. Only two spots remain to fill the 15-man roster next season.
What will they do with those two spots? Here are three things to know about the Heat in free agency.
1. The Bird is the word.
Riley has made it clear that Chris Andersen, who is an unrestricted free agent, is the Heat’s No. 1 priority in free agency. Andersen finds himself in a unique position this offseason because he’s still collecting a $4.8 million check from the Denver Nuggets next season. Considering he’ll be paid handsomely no matter what next season, the 34-year-old will probably prefer familiarity, winning potential and team fit more than your typical free agent.
So what can the Heat offer Andersen? As taxpayers, the Heat can only offer two carrots: a raise on his veteran minimum contract worth a total of $1.7 million or the taxpayer’s midlevel exception (commonly known as the “mini” midlevel) which can be up to three years starting at $3.2 million per year.
The Heat went from good to historically good when Andersen came on board, and his camp knows that. The likely scenario is that Andersen pushes for the mini midlevel seeing as though the Heat went 54-8 in games that Andersen played, thanks to his 17.4 player efficiency rating off the bench and a ridiculous 81 percent field goal percentage in the postseason. Expect the Heat to bring him in on a multiyear deal even though he will turn 35 next week. Other teams will be interested, but money might not matter; Andersen could earn $8 million next season if he signs in Miami.
2. Mike Miller has a $23.1 million price tag next season.
Miller is a prime candidate to be waived under the amnesty provision for three reasons:
• He is the highest-paid player outside Miami’s star trio.
• The Heat have a fleet of sharpshooters to replace him.
• At 33, Miller has been as durable as a wet paper towel.
Still, Riley has insisted that he won’t use the amnesty provision on Miller this offseason because the Heat “don’t like change.”
That’s a big commitment from Riley because -- warning: collective bargaining agreement math ahead -- according to our own CBA expert Larry Coon, the Heat would save an estimated $16.9 million in tax penalties next season if they use the amnesty provision to release Miller. (That’s using the safe assumption that the tax line remains at the latest projected figure of $71.6 million, Andersen is brought back at the mini midlevel and the Heat sign someone to replace Miller in addition to another free agent at the veteran minimum.)
A sum of $16.9 million is a lot of cash, even for billionaire Heat owner Micky Arison. To clarify, if the Heat were to use the amnesty clause on Miller, they would still have to pay his remaining contract worth $6.2 million, but his contract wouldn't count against the cap or be subject to tax penalties.
Combining his $6.2 million salary and the $16.9 million tax hit, Miller would, in essence, cost the Heat $23.1 million next season to keep him around.
And that’s before we discuss the “repeater” tax sledgehammer that comes in 2014-15. The accelerated tax rate could potentially turn Miller’s $6.6 million salary for 2014-15 into more than $25 million of additional tax dollars if the Heat keep him on the books and maintain a similar payroll. Cut bait now and the Heat could save more than $40 million over the next two seasons in tax penalties.
The Heat could also use the amnesty provision on Anthony, the seldom-used backup center who is due $3.8 million next season. But the Heat aren't as deep in the frontcourt and the potential savings may not be worth the liability underneath, especially with Haslem needing offseason knee surgery. The Heat would hate to cut either player, but sentiment has no place in this new CBA. The two spots could turn into three.
Assuming the Heat bring back Andersen and keep Varnado around, that would leave one roster spot for the Heat to sign a free agent. The Heat will likely be on the lookout for another Rashard Lewis type -- a veteran at the end of his career looking to play for a championship contender at a steep discount.
Who are those players? Money talks for most players, but like Lewis, there are plenty of over-the-hill free agents who have secured more than $100 million in their careers and could be looking for more than just a big payday (like, say, a chance to be part of a three-peat). Some names that could fit the bill: Brand, Odom and Billups.
Of course, the Heat would be thrilled to land any of the three with a veteran minimum contract, but they remain long shots because, unlike Lewis, neither of them will be receiving an amnesty paycheck to supplement their Heat income.
Even if the Heat don’t strike out on those veterans, they’d be wise to turn their attention to Oden, who is an unrestricted free agent. Oden has been on the Heat’s radar ever since James, Wade and Bosh joined forces. Bringing in Oden along with another veteran would likely mean Varnado’s departure, but that’s a small price to pay. Furthermore, the Heat could also bring in their 2013 draft pick, James Ennis, to fill out the roster, though he might be better suited in the D-League or overseas.