One of the Heatís top offseason priorities will be adding a veteran center, and Miami has strong interest in Sacramento free agent Samuel Dalembert. But even if the midlevel exception remains part of the new labor deal (which is undetermined), the Heat knows other teams can offer Dalembert more and would not be surprised if he signs elsewhere.
If the midlevel survives, and if itís close to this yearís $5.8 million, that would give the Heat a better chance to find a decent center who could lessen the reliance on Joel Anthony (whoís better as a backup) and represent an upgrade over Zydrunas Ilgauskas (considering retirement), Erick Dampier and Jamaal Magloire. And remember, Chris Bosh will continue to log significant minutes at center when Udonis Haslem is in the game.
But if the midlevel shrinks to $2 million or so or is eliminated, that would limit Miamiís options and make Dalembert highly unlikely here. The Heat will be over the cap and can sign players only to the league minimum (topping out at $1.4 million) or the two exceptions (the mid-level and the $2.2 million biannual one) if they are part of the new deal.
Among centers, potential unrestricted free agents Tyson Chandler, Nene (player option) and Glen Davis (more of a forward) would be out of Miamiís price range, as would restricted free agents Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan.
Free agent Yao Ming said heís not sure he will be able to return from a serious ankle injury. Portland has suggested it likely will extend an $8.8 million qualifying offer to Greg Oden, making him a restricted free agent. But thatís not definite.
If Miami cannot persuade Dalembert to take less to sign here, other options include Kwame Brown (7.9 points, 6.8 rebounds for Charlotte), Nazr Mohammed (7.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 52.2 percent shooting for Charlotte and Oklahoma City) and Bostonís skilled-shooting Troy Murphy, who probably is better suited for forward.
Thereís also Joel Pryzbilla (a solid defender who has played in just 66 games the past two years because of knee injuries) and Kurt Thomas, 38, who played well for Chicago. The rest of the unrestricted free agent center list features journeymen and retreads: Jason Collins, Tony Battie, Etan Thomas, D.J. Mbenga, Jeff Foster, Francisco Elson and Hilton Armstrong.
Donít rule out Eddy Curry if he gets in better condition. The Heat thought he was clearly out of shape when Miami auditioned him in April.
As for Dalembert, the Heat will have competition from the Knicks, the Kings and several others. The 6-11 Dalembert ó who averaged 8.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 24 minutes per game this season ó expressed strong interest in the Heat during a March visit to Miami. But he was vague at a Heat playoff game last month.
ďI havenít given it thought,Ē he said of his plans. But the Heat meets at least two of his criteria: ďI want to play for a team that can win a championship. And a team that can run the fast break. Miami has a good one.Ē
Dalembert, 30, likely will get offers higher than the value of the midlevel. Would he consider taking less money from the Heat?
ďWeíll see,Ē he said, adding he would ďlike to be in a place that appreciates me.Ē Dalembert has a home in Boca Raton and that could work in the Heatís favor, but only if Miami can make a competitive offer. He has traveled with the Heat on earthquake relief missions to Haiti.