The Miami Heat once convinced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to take minor discounts on their contracts in order to facilitate the forming of one of the game's all-time great trios. Can they do the same in order to keep their current band of lovable overachievers together?
Today's Heat are, of course, not the perpetual championship front-runners those Heatles teams were, but they did look like world-beaters in closing the season on a 30-11 run, and their key free agents are hoping to return. Because so many of them played so well down the stretch, though, bringing everyone back could put Miami in a salary crunch.
James Johnson, one of the Heat's breakout stars and an impending unrestricted free agent, says he'd consider taking less money if it meant keeping the group together.
"The grass is always greener on the other side, that's the only thing that's going on in the back of my head right now," Johnson told reporters in his exit interview on Monday. "I might not have the same opportunities that I had this year, to get out the box and play the way I feel like I can to contribute to winning. Who knows if I can get that with another team? Money has nothing to do with that. I love basketball, I love the game, and I love it here."
Johnson has credited the Heat culture for helping him drop nearly 40 pounds and get into the best shape of his life this season. After seven years as an inconsistent journeyman and occasional coach's bane, Johnson turned in easily his best season as a pro after signing a one-year, $4-million deal with Miami. He averaged career highs in points (12.8), rebounds (4.9), and assists (3.6) per game, with a career-best 34.1 percent 3-point shooting mark. He should garner a handful of Sixth Man of the Year votes for his efforts.
"I love the culture here," Johnson said. "I'm very passionate about this place."
The Heat will also have to make a free-agent decision on Dion Waiters, another reclamation project who had his own inspiring breakthrough this season. Head coach Erik Spoelstra hopes he'll get a chance to run it back with both guys in tow, and build on the team's extraordinary second half.
"Hopefully this is dot-dot-dot continued and we can build on this," Spoelstra said.
"I haven't forgotten the potential and what we can build on this summer."