As Damian Lillard talks between the Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers remain at an impasse, let’s take a look at some of Miami’s other outstanding business and offseason questions.
1. Who starts at power forward?
The Heat may have answered this on the first day of free agency when they re-signed Kevin Love to a two-year deal. Love was Miami’s starter at power forward for most of his time with the Heat after getting bought out by the Cavaliers and signing with the Heat in February. Both the Heat and Love enjoyed the partnership and prioritized a longer-term deal this offseason.
Love started for most of the playoffs and the final four games of Miami’s NBA Finals loss to the Denver Nuggets. His size, rebounding and shooting gave the Heat a natural front-court partner with Bam Adebayo. Prior to signing Love, the Heat spent most of the season playing Caleb Martin out of position at the four. Love, 34, has the inside track at starting next to Adebayo next season.
Other options include Martin (though unlikely), Haywood Highsmith, second-year forward Nikola Jovic, rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. or centers Thomas Bryant and Orlando Robinson.
Martin and Highsmith are unlikely, given their lack of size and the fact that coach Erik Spoelstra prefers to play both off the bench. As promising as Jovic was in Summer League, he isn’t polished enough to start, though he should expect to see more minutes in his second season. Jaquez, a rookie, is a long shot and not a natural power forward. The Heat could opt to play Adebayo alongside another traditional center like Bryant and Robinson. Bryant is a career 36% 3-point shooter and Robinson flashed improved shooting in Summer League, making nearly 40% of his shots from beyond the arc. Each would provide size and rebounding to Miami’s front court and allow Adebayo to slide to a forward spot. But Bryant and Robinson still have to prove they can defend at the NBA level. They’ll have to prove a lot during training camp in order to push Love for a starting job.
Of course, there remains the variable of a Lillard trade. Should any of the young players be included in a deal, obviously they would not be candidates to start. Depending on how expansive the trade becomes, the Heat could also acquire a forward in the deal or use an open roster spot to sign someone like Christian Wood in free agency. For now, however, it seems like Love’s job to lose.
2. How do the Heat fill out the roster?
Again, this hinges on a potential Lillard deal. For now, the Heat have 13 roster spots filled with Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Josh Richardson, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Jaquez Jr., Highsmith, Love, Martin, Jovic, Adebayo, Bryant and Orlando Robinson.
Given that the Heat are already flirting with the second luxury tax apron, they are expected to carry 14 players on standard contracts (not two-way deals) during the season and leave the 15th spot open. So that leaves one spot to be filled, and they appear to be waiting on a resolution to the Lillard situation before deciding how to use it.
Available free agents include Wood, Wenyen Gabriel, JaMychal Green, Stanley Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr., T.J. Warren, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Will Barton, Terence Davis, Hamidou Diallo, Danny Green, Javonte Green, Terrence Ross, Austin Rivers, Kendrick Nunn, John Wall and Goran Dragic.
If the Heat have to send out more players than they get back in a Lillard trade, the Heat could sign more than one free agent to fill out the roster.
One other wrinkle here is that the Heat cannot begin signing players to exhibit-10 contracts — essentially training camp invites — until they have at least 14 players under standard contracts. Teams can carry up to 21 players during training camp.
The Miami Herald reported that the Heat have reached verbal agreements with players, including Summer-League standout Drew Peterson, for training camp, but the Heat obviously need to either resolve the Lillard deal before training camp begins or simply sign a 14th player.
3. Will Kyle Lowry be on the team next season?
There was a lot of speculation about Lowry’s future during and immediately after the season, with the Miami Herald reporting that the Heat considered waiving and stretching the final season of Lowry’s contract (worth $29.6 million) before reporting later that was no longer the case.
With that, it seems the Heat are content going into next season with Lowry’s expiring salary on the books if it’s not used as ballast in a Lillard deal. While hypothetically paying Lillard and Lowry a combined $75 million isn’t sustainable, the Heat could always explore trading Lowry before the trade deadline, when expiring contracts tend to have more value for teams looking to tank the second half of the season.
4. What about Miami’s two-way contracts?
Of Miami’s three two-way slots available, two of them are currently filled by guards Dru Smith and Jamaree Bouyea. After an impressive Summer League, Bouyea’s spot seems safe, although Smith’s status could be in question.
It’s important to note that two-way spots do not impact the salary cap or luxury tax, so the Heat can swap out players in these spots without increasing their payroll or tax bill. Jamal Cain, who finished last year on a two-way, is currently a restricted free agent and would like to be promoted to a standard deal. As outlined above, the Heat are waiting to make a decision on the end of the roster, so Cain’s position is unsettled.
The Heat aren’t in a rush and will use training camp to decide what players they want to give their two-way spots to.
5. Is there any hope that Tyler Herro can return and be happy?
Having been involved in trade rumors for the third straight summer, Herro recently wiped references to the Miami Heat from his social media accounts and appears to know his time in Miami is likely coming to an end. Herro is used to being in trade rumors but they were usually just that — rumors. Nothing involving James Harden, Donovan Mitchell or Kevin Durant ever measured up to these very-real Lillard conversations.
The Heat love Herro. They love his work ethic, skill level and tendency to raise his game in big moments. But they also know Lillard is their best chance to maximize Butler’s championship window and Herro is the best tradable asset they have.
Still, there’s a chance the Heat don’t trade Herro for Lillard and he is still on the roster for the start of the season. That would be an awkward position for everyone involved, and one they hope to avoid.