State of the Cap: Miami Heat
By Josh Redetzke
Miami Heat Payroll: $64.5 million
2007/08 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $55 million
Roughly: $9.5 million over cap
[img_assist|nid=3873|title=Dwyane Wade|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=406]The Good: During a disappointing year for the Heat, one of their success stories was the breakout season of shooter Jason Kapono. The UCLA alumnus scored in double digits for the first time in his career and shot 49.4% overall. The most incredible stat, however, was Kapono’s 51.4% shooting from the three-point line, which led the league by a wide margin. He picked the right year to shine since he is up for a new contract this summer. Unfortunately, Miami is already over the cap and will be approaching luxury tax territory if they give Kapono a fair deal. Still, it might be worth it to secure a player of his services.
Udonis Haslem continues to be a consistent presence on the Heat’s front line. He will always be there to provide about 10 points, 8 boards, and shoot 50% from the field. He has also been one of the healthiest Heat players, missing just six games in his three-year career. The team owes Haslem a modest $6, $6.5, and $7 million the next three seasons.
With all of his past kidney ailments, who would have thought that Alonzo Mourning would play more games the last two years than Shaquille O’Neal? Zo nearly played a full season and averaged a nice 8.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game, maintaining his phenomenal defensive skills. Miami will continue to see him guarding their paint next year for a cheap $2.7 million.
The Bad: It’s official: Shaquille just doesn’t have it anymore. Injuries have hampered him badly the past two seasons and this year he only managed to appear in 40 games. During that time, he easily set career lows for points (17.3) and rebounds (7.4) as well as an embarrassing 42% from the free throw line. At age 35 with bad wheels, can Shaq really go back to averaging 20 and 10 again? With a contract that pays him $20 million each of the next three seasons, Miami certainly hopes so.
Speaking of players who aren’t what they used to be, Antoine Walker’s game is dropping like one of the many bricks he heaves at the rim. Walker will make $8.5 and $9.3 million the next two seasons and over $10 million a year the two seasons after that. That’s a lot of money for someone whose scoring average has dropped by four points a game for four consecutive years, bottoming out at 8.5 per game this season. Walker also shot 39.7% from the field, an especially bad 27.5% from the three-point line, and a strangely Shaq-like 43.8% from the free throw line. Luckily for the Heat, the final two years of Antoine’s contract are a team option. At this point, I think it’s safe to say they will not be exercising it.
The Future: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The defending champs didn’t put up much of a fight trying to reclaim their title. Injuries to their two stars, Shaq and Dwayne Wade, were mostly to blame, but so was a general lack of desire, somewhat understandable given the new ring on their fingers. So where do they go from here?
This team is built around Superman and the Flash, but both have major question marks heading into next season. Shaq’s tired legs make him look closer to retirement than ever before. Wade, their young superstar and future of the Heat, is about to begin his four year, $57.5 million contract extension by having not one but two surgeries in the off-season. Work done on his knee and shoulder could cause him to miss some games early next year and it’s difficult to say when he will truly be back at full strength, if ever. Wade is one of the greatest talents in the game and has a wonderful personality. It would be a shame if these injuries hampered his career.
Even if they come back and play well, who is going to help them? Antoine Walker is in serious decline, Gary Payton is likely to retire, James Posey and Jason Kapono are free agents, and Jason Williams and Alonzo Mourning have just one year left on their contracts. With Shaq, Wade, and Walker eating up over $40 million in cap space the next few seasons, they won’t have much money to spend (barring any generous pay cuts from title-seeking veterans). Miami will have to get creative to keep a high-level basketball team on the court.
With luck, Shaq and Wade will be back and playing well next year. Using Jason Williams’ $8.9 million expiring contract, I’m willing to bet that the Heat can swing a deal to bring in another star. Wade’s health will obviously be the key to their success. At full strength, there is nothing that can stop him. Miami is his team now.
Free Throw: In a way, the Heat affected this year’s playoffs more than people realize. When they stole game three from Dallas in the finals and went on to win three more to capture a title, Miami crushed the Mavs’ mojo and affected them psychologically. Dallas responded by cruising through the regular season. What happened the next time they faced some playoff adversity? They wilted, just like they did in the finals against Miami. You could see it in their eyes and their body language that last year’s choke in the finals weighed on their minds. Partly thanks to the Heat, Dallas may never be the same team again.