Even as the Miami Heat spent Sunday living in the moment by finalizing the signings of Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard, the specter of 2021 NBA free agency loomed large.
With the opening of the NBA’s signing period at noon Sunday came word of Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell reaching an agreement for a five-year extension of his rookie-scale contract, one that could max out at $195 million.
Mitchell was selected with the No. 13 pick of the 2017 NBA draft, one pick before the Heat selected center Bam Adebayo.
The difference between the Jazz and the Heat is that the Heat’s 2021 free-agent blueprint largely is contingent on bypassing an Adebayo extension by the Dec. 21 deadline and instead taking care of the All-Star big man next summer.
Adebayo is eligible for the same extension as Mitchell, with the Heat under no obligation to extend an offer. Otherwise, Adebayo would become a restricted free agent following the coming season, able to solicit outside offers that the Heat then could match.
In the absence of an extension, Adebayo would count at $15.3 million on the Heat’s books at the start of the 2021-22 offseason. Should Adebayo receive and sign and extension, he would count at $28.1 million.
The difference between those figures would be enough for the Heat to pursue a top-tier free agent, with the Class of 2021 potentially to include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, Kyle Lowry and LeBron James, among others.
In addition to Mitchell, Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox, taken No. 5 in the 2017 draft and a former Adebayo teammate at Kentucky, also has received a max-level extension. Also expected to receive such an extension from the 2017 draft class by the March 21 deadline is No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum, the No. 3 selection.
The Heat’s entire salary-cap machinations during the current free-agency period have been made with the priority of maximizing 2021 salary-cap space. That has Dragic and Leonard returning on two-year contracts that include team options for 2021-22. Free-agent guard Avery Bradley was added on a similar deal, with free-agent forward Maurice Harkless added on a one-year contract.
The lack of multiple guaranteed years ultimately proved to be the reason the Heat lost forward Jae Crowder to the Phoenix Suns in free agency, with Crowder taking a three-year, $30 guaranteed deal.
The only players definitively on the Heat books for 2021-22 are Jimmy Butler ($36 million), Tyler Herro ($4 million), Precious Achiuwa ($2.3 million) and KZ Okpala ($1.8 million). There also would be nominal cap holds to hold the rights to Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn in restricted free agency.
Should Adebayo receive and sign an extension, the Heat’s ability for adding a prime free agent to Adebayo and Butler either would be by shedding almost the balance of the current roster, or convincing a free agent and his current team to enter into a sign-and-trade agreement for players under contract to the Heat.
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