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Free Agency: The Frugal Approach

Heat president Pat Riley will enter the summer free agency period at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday with at least one comforting feeling: His team won't do any worse than it did during last season's free agency.

That would be almost impossible, wouldn't it?

It was this time a year ago when the Heat watched Jason Kapono bolt to Toronto faster than Shaq's honorary security badges got stripped last week. Certainly, there was no shame in the Heat's refusing to cough up $24 million to Kapono the way the Raptors did.

Nice fella. Great shooter. But just not worth that much money in the Heat's grand scheme.

But it had to be painful to watch Posey walk to Boston - after a long, drawn-out, we-really-don't-like-one-another-but-lets-pretend-like-we're-negotiating-in-good-faith process - and become arguably the fourth most critical player in the Celtics run to a title.

So how does the Heat make up for those moves? It signs Smush Parker and takes a shot at Penny Hardaway. Then, it trades for Ricky Davis and Mark Blount. If anyone cares to find what detonated the disastrous 15-67 season that soon followed, just look back to what transpired between July 1 and Oct. 24 of 2007. The Heat is here because it dared to go there.

But even amid that mess, Riley still managed to productively unload the bloated contracts of Antoine Walker and Shaquille O'Neal. So a total loss it was not.

Riley has a different plan this free agency period. He's recruiting with a reluctance to offer anything more than a two-year contract as the Heat looks to save up for the sweepstakes of 2010, when D. Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and LeBron James could be on the open market.

Taking such a frugal approach into free agency could lead to another long summer as the Heat waits for the market to set itself and the trickle-down process to take affect. Would Chris Duhon be willing to take a two-year, $12 million deal from the Heat when New York or Phoenix might double that offer?

Would DeSagana Diop? Would Beno Udrih? Or might the Heat be left to pick from the less desirables, which is how they ended up Smushed in the first place.

There's something to be said for taking the short view on a long-term approach for 2010. But there are still games to win and rebuilding to be done right now. Indeed, this is a roster that needs to be tweaked. Not torched. If the Heat is healthy, with a few adjustments, it's a playoff team again.

But if Miami is reluctant to pay the price to win now - even at a muted mid-level rate - it might prove to be too costly of a gamble later. The Heat squandered last offseason, in part, by being stubborn.

It can't afford to make the same mistake this time around by being too cheap.




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