MIAMI, FL - MAY 30: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks up at the scoreboard against the Indiana Pacers during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on May 30, 2014 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
For the first time since the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat enters the offseason with more questions than answers.
The Heat’s situation is unique as it completely depends on what three players decided to do. Heat superstars LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade all hold early termination options and can all become unrestricted free agents in July.
In addition, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Toney Douglas, Rashard Lewis, Michael Beasley, and Greg Oden are all unrestricted free agents as of July 1. Udonis Haslem holds a player option for next season and center Chris Andersen said Monday he will not exercise his player option and will instead become a free agent.
Battier is retiring while Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis may also ride off into the sunset of retirement.
Still, the entirety of the Heat’s future rests on the decisions made by James, Bosh, and Wade.
All three are scheduled to make around $20 million next season and if they all opt-in to their contracts for next season, the team’s ability to add quality free agents around them will be severely hampered unless owner Micky Arison doesn’t mind paying a punitive luxury tax.
The key going forward is what LeBron James will do. If Heat president Pat Riley can convince LeBron to stick around, Miami will have the biggest piece moving forward towards building a constant contender. The same goes to a large degree for Bosh and to a much lesser degree for Wade.
If any of the three choose to opt-out, the first year salary can be as low as the players want and things could get very interesting for the Heat.
The one complicating factor could be the player who did arguably the most to bring the Big Three together, Dwyane Wade. He played arguably his poorest during the NBA Finals even after a season of rest to get him ready for a playoff run.
Wade is due close to $40 million over the next two seasons and the only thing the Heat can do is offer him a long-term contract to bring that total down. By signing him to a longer contract, it could spread the salary out over more years evenly, thus freeing up valuable salary cap space.
Bosh could also opt-out and either shop his services elsewhere for a max contract or re-sign with the Heat on a long-term deal. No other team could offer a deal with as many years as the Heat or as much money to Bosh should he decide to opt-out.
The Heat has enormous cap flexibility to go after LeBron, Bosh, and anyone else they think might help the team get back to the Finals next season.
But everything starts with James.
If Miami can’t keep the King on his court at the AmericanAirlines Arena, a long few seasons in the wilderness of the NBA may be near for the Heat.