Mar 30, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo (9) holds onto the ball while Chicago Bulls guard D.J. Augustin (14) defends during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Don't Underestimate the 2015 NBA Free Agency Class

With LeBron James opting to take his talents back to Cleveland, Pat Riley and the Miami Heat were quickly forced to regroup and come up with a new strategy and direction for the franchise.

By retaining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as well as adding veteran pieces around them, Riles opted to keep the Heat as viable contenders, as he eyes the next big prize: the 2016 free agency period.

We all know now the big names that will hit the open market that season: LeBron James (again), Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, etc. We know that Mr. Riley will not pass up an opportunity to add a huge name back to the mix in Miami.

That’s the reason that only two players got contracts that go on beyond the 2015 season: Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts. And even though he’s signed through the 2015 season only, it’s hard to imagine Wade donning anything other than a Miami Heat uniform.

The question that many free agents will have about the Heat during the 2016 free agency however will be what kind of team will the Heat have at that point. An already aging Wade in his mid-30’s, Bosh exiting his prime, and McRoberts, even with that amazing hair, will not be enough to attract top free agents to Miami.

Riley could always opt to try to sign two star players to contracts to bring their talents to South Beach. But that is going to be a tough sell with max contracts expected to rocket through the roof.

This is why I believe Heat fans should not be taking the 2015 free agency class lightly. There are potentially players in that class that could be on the radar for the Heat that could make sense for the Heat to sign. These players would then turn into key pieces to attract free agents, or even be trade chips, to help the Heat put together a sign-and-trade package during the summer of 2016.

Here is a look at the notable free agents that will hit the market after the 2014-2015 season:

Of all the names, the best fit for Miami, in my opinion, would be Rondo. When he’s healthy, he’s arguably a top-5 point guard. His passing skills and playmaking skills are among the best in the game. His shot making is not great, but is something I think he’ll work on as he ages and could improve.

However, his history with Wade could be a detriment for him signing in Miami. That and of course Rondo is on record saying that he’d never play for Miami. So while no doubt Riley could make a run at him, pairing him with Bosh and Wade, with the hopes of landing someone like Dwight Howard the following season, this scenario seems remote.

Bledsoe makes an appearance on this in the case that he signs the one-year qualifying offer he has from the Suns. If this scenario plays out, he would be positioned to sign a long-term contract with any team, without the risk of the Suns matching a deal. It would be interesting to see if at this point if Riley and Bledsoe’s agent Rich Paul, also LeBron’s agent, would be on talking terms that could lead to a deal.

Monroe is in the same boat as Bledsoe, as he is reportedly wanting out of Detroit. Monroe would fit the big man want of Riley that he has filled with rosters of his in the past. He’d likely command a max contract, but it’s yet to be seen if players would flock to play with him, like they would a Rondo or Bledsoe, as they are both sought after point guards.

The next two players are as about unlikely as any players to sign in Miami, but I include them in this exercise for some fun. Kawhi Leonard is going to be a restricted free agent after the season and with the rest of the Spurs cast aging, he’s likely to be the center piece for the Spurs for a long time. The Heat could throw any money at Kawhi and expect to see the Spurs match that offer.

In a scenario that the Cavs falter during the 2014-2015 season and LeBron and Love fail to coexist, Love would enter the picture for Miami to target. Riley is probably kicking himself for allowing Love to slip through his hands during the 2008 ill-fated NBA draft, one that saw the Heat take Michael Beasley second overall. I doubt Riles would pass up a second shot to land some Love into American Airlines Arena.

The quartet of Lopez, Gasol, Hibbert, and Jefferson could be enticing names for Riley to chase, as well. All four are big man who Riley has coveted in the past. Jefferson put on a one-man show during the playoffs against the Heat last season, likely leaving a nice memory in the mind of Riley as he swifts through the free agent list for 2015. His dominant inside game could be something Riley would salivate at the though of inserting next to Chris Bosh.

Hibbert is a bigger mystery name, as no one knows what to expect out of the 7-footer after a season that saw him disappear in important stretches for the Pacers. Of course, Hibbert owns a player option of over $15 million for the 2016 season, so it would be hard to see him opt out if he had another season like the past one. If Hibbert has a monster season and opts out, the questions surrounding him won’t be there.

Lopez and Gasol are both extremely talented players, but questions about their health are major sticking points. While either would fill a void that the Heat have had since Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning and future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal departed Miami, it’s hard to trust either of them to hand out a long-term contract. If either gets hurt after signing, they become untradeable contracts and would not be attractive pieces for outside free agents to want to play with.

If the Heat were to add either Rondo or Bledsoe to the fold from the 2015 free agency class they would seem like a more of a hot spot destination for players like Kevin Durant or Dwight Howard in the 2016 free agency. Both are still young and to enter their primes, leaving open a great opportunity to form a super team that could actually be better than the Heat roster that made it to 4-straight NBA Finals.

Adding someone the caliber of Love or Leonard would give the Heat elite young talent they have not had since the early years of the Big 3. Both scenarios are unlikely for the Heat, however.

Any of the other players would present the Heat with a potentially high upside, but they all carry a risk of some sort. We are unsure if players would flock to Miami to play with Jefferson or Monroe and there are health concerns with Gasol and Lopez moving forward.

Either way, it’s important for Miami Heat fans and their organization not to sleep on the 2015 free agent class. While it may not be as talented or as deep as the 2016 class, the pieces of the Heat’s next great roster could be sitting there, ready to bring their talents to South Beach (even though the Heat don’t play on South Beach).

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Tags: Chris Bosh Dwyane Wade Miami Heat

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