It may seem to early to start thinking about the 2013/14 season, but Miami Heat president Pat Riley already knows that Miami cannot expect to win another title by resting on its laurels. Last summer, he followed up Miami's championship run by acquiring Ray Allen in a surprise free agent deal.
If the Heat want to achieve the three-peat, Riley may have to pull another trick out of his sleeve.
Keeping the Big Three together and surrounding them with a championship-caliber supporting cast keeps getting more expensive for Miami, as the NBA's luxury tax penalty has gotten much harsher since a new labor agreement was signed in 2011. For every dollar a team is above the salary cap, they will have to pay a tax ranging from $1.50 (for teams less than $5 million over the cap) to $4.25 (for "repeat offenders" who are $15+ million over the cap).
The Heat can clear some space using the amnesty clause (more on that later), but Miami will likely be above the luxury tax threshold next year (the threshold has been $58 million for the past three seasons).
Riley might need to make some deft maneuvers this summer. Let's take a look at who will be back next season, then examine Miami's other roster options.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh: All three members of the Big Three are under contract through next season with player options for each of the two seasons after that. While James is coming off his fourth MVP award in the last five seasons, Wade is beginning to show signs of slowing down. Knee injuries have slowed him in each of the past two seasons, but the odds that Riley would deal the greatest player in franchise history remain slim.
As for Bosh, the Charlotte Bobcats were rumored to be considering making an offer for him (sending Miami the fourth pick in the 2013 draft for Bosh), but he is so crucial to Miami's offensive strategy that dealing him for a draft pick (in a weak draft no less) would be crazy. Because Bosh can cover larger centers and shoot mid-range jumpers with ease, his importance to the Heat cannot be understated. The Big Three probably aren't going anywhere, but the next trio is not so secure.
Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony: All three are under contract through next season with player options for the 2014/15 season. Miller proved his worth in the Finals once again, while Haslem logged significant minutes guarding Tim Duncan and Roy Hibbert in the playoffs.
But Anthony has seen his role diminish each season since he played his way into a starting spot two years ago. His limited offensive skills and small size (for a center), combined with his $3.8 million salary, mean the Heat could release him under the amnesty clause. This would completely clear his salary from cap considerations (though Miami would still pay him). Though Anthony has some trade value, the fact that he can be amnestied may prevent any teams from making an offer.
Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole: Both Battier and Chalmers are signed through next season. Chalmers is firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, while Battier is often the first option off the bench (if he isn't starting). Neither are going anywhere.
Cole has one year left on his rookie deal, with a team option for 2014/15. The Heat love his defense off the bench, and though he has room to improve, Miami will not let him go.
Ray Allen, James Jones, Rashard Lewis: All three have a player option for 2013/14. Allen literally saved Miami's season with his Game 6-tying three-pointer, and the Heat will likely do whatever they can to convince him to stay.
Jones and Lewis were used very sparingly this season, and may opt for more minutes elsewhere. But as veterans, they surely won't mind the fact that staying in Miami gives them a great chance at winning another championship ring.
Free Agents: Chris "Birdman" Andersen, Juwan Howard, and Jarvis Varnado will be unrestricted free agents. Miami got great minutes out of Birdman this season, and may offer him a mid-level exemption deal (which would not count against the salary cap). The ancient Howard could decide to retire, though Heat players routinely praise the wisdom he brings to the locker room. Varnado spent part of last season in the D-League, so Miami might not have many rivals for his services.
What's Next? The playoffs proved two things for the Heat: you can't have too many three-point shooters, and if the Heat are to fend off the Indiana Pacers again next season, they will need to find a way to stop the 7'2" Hibbert.
Re-signing Birdman and convincing Allen to take his player option are no-brainers, but look for Riley to take a chance on another bargain-bin center to help against Hibbert.
The team has long been rumored to covet free agent (and injury-prone) Greg Oden, who will look to return to the NBA after spending last season recovering from back surgery, and last week his agent said there is mutual interest between Oden and Miami.
"The Heat need some size, that’s not a secret," Oden's agent Mike Conley Sr. said Friday. "Whether it’s in a backup role or whatever, he could help them. I know they’re interested in him and he’s interested in them."
The Heat have no draft picks this season, which suits Riley well (he always prefers to build through free agency unless he holds a very high draft pick). But he will need to be frugal to avoid taking too much of a luxury tax hit in 2014.
If Miami does not use the amnesty clause, and every player option available is used, the Heat's 2013/14 payroll would top $85 million. Miami won't make a run for any of the big names like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, but as the last two seasons have proved, the Big Three can win it all with the right supporting cast.