After a one-year downturn in 2014-2015, the Miami Heat have finished with at least 41 victories in three straight seasons. On the surface, that is relatively impressive, especially given the fact that the Eastern Conference has been something of a mess aside from the the presence of former Heat star LeBron James. However, the team is in a bit of an odd scenario and that was reinforced, at least in some ways, on Thursday when the re-signing of Udonis Haslem broke.
As noted by Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, Haslem will operate on a minimum contract and this will be his 16th season in Miami. For all intents and purposes, Haslem hasn’t been a member of Miami’s rotation for three full seasons, instead acting as something of an extension of the coaching staff, providing stability and strong locker room influence, rather than top-shelf play on the court.
There is, of course, something to be said for that, especially when it comes to lack of opportunity cost (aside from the simple dollars and cents for ownership) associated with bringing Haslem back for another run. However, it could also be seen as a reminder of the general weirdness happening with the Heat organization right now, especially when taking the future into account.
ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus projections peg the Heat for nearly 45 victories in 2018-19 and the wise guys in Las Vegas set Miami’s over/under somewhere in the low-4o’s, depending on where you look. If that kind of performance comes to fruition, the Heat will likely participate in the playoffs for the second straight season and that wouldn’t be considered a failure given the overall talent level on the roster. Still, the future is the bigger concern and that has to do with both the current talent pool and the relative lack of future assets.
Miami does have a bevy of competent players, headlined by Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson, but only Dragic seems to have “All-Star” upside and the 32-year-old is more likely to decline than improve at this juncture. Advanced projection systems like the Heat as a result of their impressive depth but the sheer volume of rotation players can only go so far and, if anything, it can produce (and has produced) something of a contractual log-jam in Miami.
For starters, the team is well into the luxury tax for the 2018-19 season, even before any potential pact with legendary guard Dwyane Wade comes to fruition. As noted above, the money only “matters” to the wallet of ownership but future flexibility is absolutely a factor and there is an uphill climb in that regard. Miami has more than $119 million in committed salary for the 2019-20 season and that does not include any capital designated for Justise Winslow, who is one of the few players on Miami’s roster with considerable future upside based on pedigree and talent level.
From there, the Heat have approximately $53 million committed to four players (James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson) for the 2020-2021 season and only one (Richardson) appears to be a foundational piece that can grow alongside the rest of the roster. Simply put, Pat Riley and company are backed into an obvious corner when it comes to roster building and, with all respect to Richardson, Winslow and Bam Adebayo, it is hard to see anyone on the roster breaking out as a legitimate “star” for the future.