Heat look good in playoffs, but this summer can they keep Wade, Whiteside, Deng, and Johnson?

Associated Press
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Through the first week of the NBA playoffs, the Miami Heat have looked like the second best team in the Eastern Conference. The Heat offense has been explosive against a usually stout Charlotte defense, with a ridiculous team true shooting percentage of 63.7 percent, and scoring 136.9 points per 100 possessions. What all that means is they are outscoring the Hornets by more than 20 points a game.

The Heat have a talented roster (even with Chris Bosh sidelined): Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng, and the just added Joe Johnson.

The one problem? All of them are free agents this summer and retaining all of them will prove difficult if not impossible.

Like nearly every other team this summer (thanks to the salary cap spiking by $22 million to $92 million), the Heat will have cap space — but the cap holds from big contracts change the dynamic. Bobby Marks, the former Nets executive working for The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, breaks it down and gets into the cap holds (placeholder estimates that assume a team re-signs a free agent).

Although the Heat only have $49 million in guaranteed contracts this summer, $52 million in free-agent cap holds will push Miami over the salary cap. Although Whiteside has a $1.2 million cap hold, finding enough room for Wade, Whiteside, Deng and Johnson will be difficult. The cap hold for Wade and Deng is $42 million combined.

The big challenges start with Wade and Whiteside. Wade has taken less than he could have gotten on the open market in recent contracts to help Miami build, and he wants a payoff.

Then there is Whiteside — Miami has his “early Bird” rights, which means they can go over the salary cap to offer him up to the mid-level exception (which will be around $8 million). The problem is Whiteside is going to get offers in the $20 million a year range. The only way Miami can offer that is to dip into their cap space. Which Pat Riley would have to clear out, and makes you wonder about the future of Deng in particular in Miami. Or, the Heat may just lose Whiteside (some teams are hesitant to give him near max money, but a few teams will jump in with both feet).

Maybe Riley can get Wade to be patient and sign last (because Miami has his Bird Rights and can exceed the cap to sign him. Maybe Johnson will take less to stay with the Heat. Maybe he can convince Whiteside to take one last year at less than market value — but don’t bet on that one.

Whiteside has another option, however. He can sign a one-year contract with cap space at a below-market salary, which would establish his Bird rights. He then could sign a long-term contract in 2017 when the cap is expected to rise to a record $109 million.

More than likely this Heat roster making a playoff run is not going to be back in the same form next season. The one silver lining is Chris Bosh will be back.