Retooling around Big Three begins


With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh still not re-signed, Heat president Pat Riley finally made his first splash of free agency.

Apparently, the first step to luring the Big Three back to Miami is remaking the 2010-11 Indiana Pacers. That sound you hear is the agents for James Posey and T.J. Ford frantically dialing Riley's cellphone.

In all seriousness, the Heat's two moves Monday gave us some insight into their plans for retooling around James, Wade and Bosh. With little spending power, the Heat were never going to strike a blockbuster deal. But from their agreements to sign Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger with their cap exceptions, we can learn a few things about the Heat's thinking as we head into Riley's planned meeting with James on Tuesday.

Here are three takeaways:

1. The Heat wave good-bye to cap space

By using the non-taxpayer's midlevel exception and biannual exception, the Heat have effectively announced that they will not be operating as a team with cap space this free-agency period. Those two tools are made available only to teams that are above the projected cap of $63.2 million. How can the Heat be over the cap if they haven't signed any players yet?

Good question. Though the Heat have not reached a deal with anyone in free agency up until this point, cap holds from James, Wade, Bosh and Udonis Haslem alone take them up to an effective cap number of about $68 million. Over the cap.

All that talk about the Heat's cap space? They have chosen the other door.

The Heat could have carved out some cap space by getting rid of the cap holds, but that would require renouncing the Bird rights to James, Wade, Bosh and Haslem (among others). Going that route would have been risky without commitments, and it's unclear how much cap space the Heat could clear without pay-cut assurances from James, Wade and Bosh. Bird rights are important for title chasers like the Heat. They allow teams to re-sign their own players over the cap. The Heat will retain those, which may come in handy pretty soon.

By going over the cap, the Heat will also cut ties with their room midlevel exception. That would have been a tool to have a starting salary of $2.7 million to throw at a free agent, but that disappears once a team operates above the cap. That's not a huge deal. The Heat still played another card -- their biannual exception -- which goes for $2.1 million in the first year and can be used to sign a player (or be split among multiple players) for up to two years. The biannual exception isn't a game-changer, but some solid veteran players have been signed using it. C.J. Watson, Jermaine O'Neal and Nate Robinson were all recipients last season.

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