Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Now that the Miami Heat are your 2012 NBA Champions, the franchise is already hard at work looking towards making any roster tweaks that are needed to bring the team back to the top of the mountain next year.
Everything starts Thursday night with the 2012 NBA Draft. The Heat has only one pick in the draft, the 27th overall pick in the first round. The Heat do not have a second-round pick which was dealt in 2010 for salary cap relief.
The possibilities the Heat have investigated includes players from every position. The list of potential draft targets include: Syracuse center Fab Melo; Kentucky guard Marquis Teague; Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli; and Vanderbilt small forward Jeffrey Taylor, to name a few.
One prospect who has been in free fall on mock draft boards is Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger. If he were to somehow fall into the Heat’s laps, he’d be a perfect fit as an athletic big man. But, he’ll likely be gone way before the Heat pick.
Melo would be an intriguing option as a legit 7-footer who could power his way into a nice rotation at center. He’s a strong rebounder and shot-blocker, but would need a few years to get his offensive game up to speed.
Ezeli is 6’11” and weighs 255 pounds. He’s a good athlete and averaged 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds in the SEC last year. He averaged 13 points and 6.3 rebounds the year before that and is a four-year senior graduating from Vanderbilt University.
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But the real action will start on Sunday with the launching of free agency in the NBA. It’s possible Mike Miller could retire, though it’s not likely. If he can’t come back from back surgery, the Heat could apply a disabled-player option, worth half of Miller’s salary to an additional player.
The Heat could also choose to amnesty Miller, though given what he gave to the team in the game-clinching game of the Finals, that’s not likely.
The Heat has a few free agents to deal with on the team including: Eddy Curry, Juwan Howard, and Terrel Harris. Out of that list, Harris is the most likely to get a second look from the Heat. Center Ronny Turiaf has a player option for next year at $1.2 million, which he’ll likely invoke.
The Heat is already over next year’s salary cap and above the luxury tax for another season. If the Heat can’t get under the luxury tax by 2014; they’ll have to pay hefty fines for every dollar above the luxury tax the team is that season.
For now, the Heat’s main tool to sign a decent free agent will be the $3 million taxpayer mid-level exception. If the Heat were below the luxury tax, which is estimated at $72-$73 million, they would have a $5 million mid-level exception.
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Heat could utilize the full mid-level exception and a $2 million bi-annual exception, but would not be allowed to exceed $74 million overall next season.
So, working with the mini-exception the Heat has plenty of targets, including some legendary NBA players.
The dream scenario of the Heat would be to convince veteran point guard Steve Nash to come to Miami via either the mini-exception or by signing for the veteran minimum. Nash, even at his age, is still arguably one of the top three point guards in the entire NBA.
Still, Nash will get bigger offers elsewhere; so it will be a question of does he want a ring or one more big payday.
Past Nash, the Heat could target shooting guard Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics, should the Celtics let him walk. Allen will be coming off of surgery, but when he’s on; he can still shoot with the best the NBA has to offer.
The Heat also have dreams of signing veteran center Chris Kaman to either start or be the main reserve player at center behind Chris Bosh. Kaman will command a lot of money in free agency, so he is likely just a dream for the Heat.
Other than Nash, a couple of other guards who could pique the Heat’s interest include Andre Miller, of the Denver Nuggets, and Chauncey Billups, of the Los Angeles Clippers; should either become available.
Overall, the Heat team you saw walking off the court at the AAA at the end of the NBA Finals is likely to be almost exactly what you see when the regular season tips off next year.
That said, if someone like Nash chooses to become a member of the Miami Heat; the Heat will become the hands-down favorite to repeat next year.
Everything starts again for the Heat starting Thursday night.