Caleb Martin's Heat departure makes other free agent re-signing more crucial

Caleb Martin and Haywood Highsmith were the Miami Heat's top perimeter defenders last season. They might be able to afford losing one -- but not both.
Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Three
Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Three / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

Caleb Martin burned the Miami Heat (and himself) by turning down a five-year $65 million extension and leaving to sign with the rival Philadelphia 76ers in free agency. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report the Martin/76ers deal, worth $32 million over four years. The playoff rising, two-way Miami veteran wound up settling for north of $30 million less than what the Heat were originally able to offer.

Martin essentially bet on himself, as he reportedly aimed to earn $15 million annually. He lost that bet and was unable to find anything close to that elsewhere. After declining his player option and extension with the Heat, the team was unable to present him with that same initial offer due to the new CBA rules.

Factor in the no state-income tax with Florida, and this was a free agent departure that ultimately hurt both Miami and Martin. 

Now the team should be shifting all their focus to their last remaining free agent in defensive wing Haywood Highsmith. The 76ers expressed interest in both Martin and Highsmith earlier in free agency, but after the Martin signing, that makes the Highsmith possibility gone for them. The Heat and Highsmith have had mutual interest in a return since the start of the offseason.

He was always viewed as the more affordable option between the two. Now, Miami is in need of his three-and-D capabilities more than ever after losing out on Martin. The Heat also lost point-of-attack defender Delon Wright to the Milwaukee Bucks, leaving some major holes in the roster's defense.

Outside of Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, the lone capable perimeter defender is now Josh Richardson. For an organization that bleeds Culture and emphasis on the defensive side of the ball, Highsmith is their last hope of having an asset capable of defending at an elite level. It isn’t ideal to have the two stars in Adebayo and Butler sporting increased workloads on that end of the floor, considering how important they are for the team’s offense.

Highsmith brings energy and hustle to the table, while being relied on to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player. In the 2022-2023 season, he made a name for himself defensively. Most notably, he held Boston Celtic’s star Jayson Tatum to 2/14 shooting on the season as his primary defender. This Miami roster as presently constructed lacks a defensive-minded role player, which is the exact mentality Highsmith brings to the table.

At 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan, he has the versatility and length to be impactful in guarding positions 1-4 on a nightly basis. 

The Heat have just one roster spot open, potentially two if they decide to not guarantee Orlando Robinson’s contract and move on from him. With Martin now being off the table as an option, Highsmith should be seen by the front office as a necessity to bring back and utilize one of their last remaining spots.