As discussed here and elsewhere, Heat President Pat Riley has his work cut out for him as he tries to sign players to cap-friendly contracts that will set up the team for success next season while preserving flexibility to bring in a marquee player (or two) in 2016.
So, whom might the Heat pursue next year?
The answer depends to a great extent on three current Heat players who have the option of becoming free agents this summer: point guard Goran Dragic, shooting guard Dwyane Wade and small forward Luol Deng.
Miami needs these stars in uniform to have any success next season, but not at the cost of salary cap flexibility next summer.
It is a complicated landscape for Riley to navigate, but assuming he is able to field a competitive roster going into the 2015-16 campaign without spending the franchise out of contention for next summer’s top free agents, here are five players the Heat could target in 2016:
1. Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Kevin Durant will undoubtedly be the most sought-after player hitting the market next summer, and perhaps the most prized NBA free agent in league history not named LeBron James (who, coincidentally, will also be a free agent in 2016 but is expected to stay in Cleveland).
Durant has nearly every piece of hardware in his trophy case — league MVP, All-Star Game MVP, Rookie of the Year Award, Olympic Gold Medal, four scoring titles — except one: the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
The 6’9″ 240-pound superstar just finished his eighth season as a pro out of the University of Texas, though it is one he would like to forget. He missed most of 2014-15 due to a Jones fracture in his right foot, and the Thunder did not qualify for the postseason for the first time in five years.
But Durant will only be 28 years old when the 2016-17 season tips off, and if his foot heals properly (as expected), the Heat could sign a player entering his prime who is already widely recognized as the second-best in the league behind James.
Inking Durant to a contract next year may not be as far-fetched as it seems: according to at least one report, Pat Riley is asking Dwyane Wade to exercise his player option for next season as step one in the Heat’s plan to lure KD to South Beach.
Next: Kevin Love