Because of the way the contracts on their books are set up in the future, the Miami Heat were sort of compelled to spend a bunch of money this summer.
They preferred to use it on Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin or Russell Westbrook, but those targets didn't work out. So they ended up dividing it up among a trio of role players in Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson and Dion Waiters over a 24-hour period on Wednesday and Thursday.
There's a reason to do it. Waiters and Johnson were terrific last season for the Heat, overachieving as part of a 30-11 run in the second half of the season that gave the team hope for the future. Olynyk is a skilled big man who is young, and it's hard to find such players, so there was absolutely a market for him.
Maybe Waiters is on the cusp of becoming a true star. Maybe Johnson is the perfect versatile forward for today's game, even though he had been a journeyman for seven seasons until arriving in Miami. Maybe in the Heat's fierce conditioning system, Olynyk will get the kind of bounce many before him have. He can shoot a little, and his plus-minus numbers are promising, though his rebounding and defense are worrisome.
Maybe Pat Riley will flip two of the three for a bona fide star in the next 18 months and this usage of salary-cap space will reveal itself as an asset play. The average annual values -- Olynyk and Waiters around $13 million and Johnson at $15 million -- aren't out of line, though it's debatable just what the other bidders might've been offering.
All of those possible outcomes have a reasonable chance of happening and would make the Heat feel OK about their Hayward backup plan. And the fan base, which continues to support the Heat passionately despite the loss of the stars, will be happy in the short term. It fell in love with Waiters and Johnson last season. Olynyk sometimes toes the line between hustling and playing dirty, a formula that often wins over the home crowd.
The issue here, though, is the length of the contracts: four years handed out to all three. The moment they are signed, they are no longer going to be attractive assets for a while, especially with the league expected to be headed for a bit of a cap squeeze over the next several years after a few heavy-spending summers across the league.
Contracts this summer have been getting shorter, shown by the number of two- and three-year deals on the rise. Now, the Heat's books are stuffed with this new money and they're going to be capped out.
With these new deals on the books, the Heat will have around $100 million committed to Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Olynyk and Waiters in the 2018-19 season. That's not exactly the Golden State Warriors' starting lineup, but it's going to be close to the same price.
Over the past two summers the Heat have combined to lock Whiteside, Waiters, Olynyk and the Johnsons into deals totaling more than $310 million. Add Dragic, who signed in 2015, and the outlay is nearly $400 million. The number of All-Star appearances from the group: zero.
There are at least three East playoff teams taking a step back this season, with the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks going through various phases of rebuilding. The Heat will enter the season expected to return to the playoffs after missing them last season. That is an accomplishment.
But with this roster they probably will not be considered a genuine threat. That's a spot they hope they're not locked into for long, even though the roster they now have is indeed locked in for long.