Heat's odds of keeping Wade increase

It was at the end of Friday’s Board of Governors press conference, which I was giddy to unexpectedly find live on NBA TV, that David Stern revealed a massive surprise.

The commissioner says that the league is now projecting next season’s salary cap to be a robust $56.1 million, which is still down from this season’s $57.7 million but incredibly encouraging after last summer’s harrowing projections of the cap nosediving to a range between $50.4 million to $53.6 million for 2010-11.

“We found out this morning,” one team executive said. “It’s beyond huge.”

How huge?

The Knicks, for example, can now expect to have just over $34 million in salary-cap space, which is almost enough room for two max-level players … provided New York parts ways with David Lee.

The bigger winner, though, appears to be the Miami Heat.

The combination of a sudden $2.5 million in unforeseen extra cap space along with Toronto’s failure to make the playoffs –- which means that the Heat will not have to take on the Raptors’ first-round pick as expected –- will give Heat president Pat Riley sufficient financial flexibility to re-sign Dwyane Wade, sign someone like Amare Stoudemire away from Phoenix (as many league insiders expect) and still have room to sign another quality free agent above the mid-level exception.

Said the aforementioned team exec: “Miami might have just taken control of free agency.”

Washington, Chicago, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Clippers would also all have sufficient cap space to sign one max-level free agent thanks to the spending money teams will gain if the current projections hold firm over the next two-plus months before the official cap figure for 2010-11 is announced in July.

The Bulls will be especially pleased -- since they should now be able to afford a max-level player such as Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson without being forced to trade away a veteran such as Kirk Hinrich or Luol Deng or rookie James Johnson -- while New Jersey will be able to trump every team except New York with a projected $26 million in cap room.

But the biggest development to be gleaned from Stern’s disclosure is that Miami’s chances of keeping Wade have never looked better, since the Heat will have the requisite funds to promise Wade quality help if he stays.