AP Sports Writer
MIAMI — Free Agency 2011 will be nowhere near as celebrated for the Miami Heat as the player-movement bonanza that brought LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade together a year ago.
It still carries massive importance.
Looking at that list, the free-agent focus in Miami seems obvious: The top Heat priority likely will be an upgrade at center.
With the season now scheduled to start on Christmas Day, following tentative agreement between the NBA and the players union to end a lockout, the Heat are preparing to shop.
“We go in every day and we’re ready to hit the ground running,” Heat President Pat Riley said a week before the deal was announced. “Every single department’s up and running, ready to roll, and we’re all doing our jobs from that extent. … That’s what we do every day. And we’re ready to roll. When we find out, we’re ready to go.”
The financial terms of the agreement almost certainly will not help the Heat bottom line. A person familiar with the team’s financial picture told The Associated Press that the Heat, buoyed by the excitement created by James, Wade and Bosh playing together, turned a profit last season for the first time since moving into AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami more than a decade ago.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because deal details have not been announced.
With a more punitive luxury tax coming as part of this new labor deal, as well as a revenue-sharing plan, the Heat almost certainly will be spending more money than ever. And that doesn’t even take into account team payrolls being set to steadily rise over the course of the deal.
The Heat are apparently fine with that, the thinking being that losing money is better than losing a season and a chance at a NBA title. If they are so inclined, they could use the new amnesty clause to part with someone like Miller and get his $5.4 million off the cap books for this coming season. But those familiar with Miami’s plans say that’s not an option.
Instead, the Heat will happily do some spending once this free-agent window opens Dec. 9, driven in part by losing the NBA finals a season ago.
Joel Anthony remains in the Heat plans at center but there’s still no shortage of quality big-man options out there, including Tyson Chandler, Nene and Samuel Dalembert, who has South Florida ties and has spoken in the past about the prospects of playing in Miami. On the wing, Grant Hill could be a potential Miami target and Shane Battier told his Twitter followers that he’s already getting sales pitches from fans in Miami, Memphis, Houston and Oklahoma City.
Another interesting option for the Heat could be a reunion with forward Caron Butler, who was drafted 10th overall by the team in 2002, then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers two years later as part of the deal that brought Shaquille O’Neal to Miami. Butler said last month that he would not rule out a potential return.
Of course, money will dictate just about everything. Even some players aren’t sure what the market value will be for free agents. And as the Heat likely will be close to the salary cap for this season, they know they’ll have to choose wisely.
This much is known: Putting this team together won’t be as massive as the overhaul that followed last year’s offseason moves.
“We came together with nine new players with a big goal,” coach Erik Spoelstra has said. “I think that’ll help us this season, the fact that we spent almost nine months together on that journey. And the journey didn’t end, it’s just beginning.”
True — it’s the lockout that’s ending.
Wade wrote on Twitter early Sunday that games were missed, money and jobs were lost but that his silver lining was getting to spend additional time with his family. Now a reunion with his “work” family awaits.
“Glad we all are back to work,” he wrote.
All that’s left to see is who’ll be with him, James and Bosh on Christmas Day.
Photo: AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File
SCENE OF THE DEMISE: (L-R) Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James during a break in the second half of Game 4 of the NBA Finals basketball game, in Dallas last June.