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Heat’s reported No. 1 offseason priority: Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 03: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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When Heat president Pat Riley called re-signing Hassan Whiteside “our No. 1 priority,” that was news to Dan Le Batard of ESPN.

According to Le Batard, Kevin Durant – not Whiteside or Dwyane Wade, who will also be a free agent – tops Miami’s list.

Dan Le Batard of ESPN:

The plan is and always has been: Go after Durant and free everything up – so much so that you insulted your superstar this offseason by telling Dwyane Wade no on multiple years, even though that’s what he wanted. Dwyane, who deserves more of your allegiances as business and a company and management than Chris Bosh does. Because the whole thing is get in a room with Durant after this season.
What I’m telling you, no matter how much you laugh at it, is that the Heat is getting in the room with Durant. Now, what happens from there, who knows? But you can sit here and laugh at it all you want, but the plan, the construct is – the priority, the No. 1 thing this offseason – is get in the room with Durant.
You do what you want with the information. All I’m telling you is priority No. 1 is not get Dwyane locked up, Whiteside locked up. No. 1 on the list is can you get the superstar that is the big get in free agency while also taking care of your people around that?

Of course Miami will pursue Durant. Not every team will. Some will deem their odds too low and not want to miss other opportunities while wasting time on Durant. Others will stick a toe in the water, also fearing the downside of swinging and missing. But the Heat are different. They pulled the biggest free agent coup in NBA history, signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh and re-signing Dwyane Wade in 2010. They go all-in in these situations.

But signing Durant would require some hard choices.

First of all, on Durant’s end, where does he want to sign? Just because Miami wants him doesn’t mean he’ll sign there. He can go wherever he wants, and staying with the Thunder must look more appealing given their playoff run. If he wants to leave for a better team, the Warriors might be the only option. If he wants to go to the Eastern Conference for an easier path, the Celtics’ assets give them a brighter future on paper than the Heat.

It’s not much easier in Miami. The Heat would surely let supposed No. 1 option Whiteside walk if it meant getting Durant, one of the NBA’s premier players. But what about Wade, a – as they love to say in South Beach – “Heat Lifer”? Even if Miami dumps Josh McRoberts and renounces all its other unrestricted free agents, Wade would have to accept about $53 million less than his max over four years to facilitate room for a Durant max. I’m not sure he goes for that.*

*Even for a Whiteside max rather than a Durant max, Wade would have to accept $34 million less than his max over four years to facilitate enough room in the same scenario. This will be an interesting summer for Wade, whose contract negotiations last summer were far more contentious than expected.

The Heat could clear space to sign Durant and Whiteside or Wade (though almost certainly not both) by trading Goran Dragic, but that makes the team less appealing. Why would Durant choose a 48-win team that lost two good starters to sign him?

And then there’s Bosh, who may or may not play ever again. His health makes him practically untradeable. If Bosh’s illness turns out to be career-ending, only the Heat can get his salary excluded from their books. No team is going to risk being stuck with an unplayable and highly paid Bosh for the next three years. How would the Heat sell Durant in regards to Bosh? Would they tout Bosh’s ability to complement Durant on the court or their ability to have monstrous cap room in 2017 once Bosh medically retires? I mentioned Wade’s potential hurt feelings above. That’s nothing compared to the potential with Bosh.

These are the issues Riley won’t address publicly, mostly because he can’t. Even if Riley views Durant as his top priority, mentioning Durant would’ve been tampering.

But Riley stated his desire to land a “whale.” Does that sound like Whiteside or Durant?