Rumors continue to swirl that the Magic are working to move Serge Ibaka by the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
With Orlando concerned that it could lose Ibaka for nothing in free agency this summer, trading the 27-year-old forward before this month’s deadline has become a very real option. And the Heat are reportedly one of the teams interested in the Congo native.
But does it make sense for Miami to make a move for Ibaka, who is averaging 15.1 points on 48.8 percent shooting and 6.8 rebounds this season?
The biggest reason it does make sense is because the Heat would acquire Ibaka’s Bird rights in a trade, as NBA salary-cap expert Albert Nahmad from the Heat Hoops blog explained. In addition, acquiring Ibaka in a trade would allow Miami to offer him a longer contract with bigger annual raises than any other team in free agency this upcoming summer.
So if the worry is that the Heat are trading for a player who could leave in a few months, there’s a good possibility Ibaka would re-sign with the Heat in free agency because of that contract advantage Miami has.
Now, let’s get to the cap implications.
Acquiring Ibaka’s Bird rights is a big reason trading for him is so appealing. It would allow Ibaka to be on Miami’s cap next season for less than he’s actually earning.
If the Heat traded for Ibaka before the Feb. 23 deadline, his cap hold and cap hit next season would be $18.4 million. By utilizing the rest of its cap space first, Miami could then exceed the cap to pay any of Ibaka’s salary above the $18.4 million.
Signing a player of Ibaka’s stature for an $18.4 million cap hit next season is a good deal in today’s NBA economic landscape. Consider this: Luol Deng is accounting for $18 million of the Lakers’ cap this season.
But what would the Heat have to give up to acquire Ibaka?
Probably a part of their young core and another piece to make the trade work financially. Is it worth giving up on 20-year-old Justise Winslow to land Ibaka?
Let’s explore one hypothetical trade scenario. If the Heat decided to trade Josh McRoberts and Winslow for Ibaka, Miami could still be left with enough cap room to acquire another big-name player this summer even after re-signing Ibaka.
Assuming Miami is able to clear Chris Bosh’s contract off its salary cap, Dion Waiters and Willie Reed opt out of their contracts as expected with more money likely available in free agency, and it doesn’t pick up Wayne Ellington’s team option for next season, the Heat would be left with about $51 million in cap space with a $102 million projected cap.
Sign Ibaka with his $18.4 million cap hold for next season and Miami still has about $33 million in cap space this offseason. Take away some of that due to Miami’s first-round pick and other cap holds, and the Heat end up with around $30 million to spend in free agency.
That money could be used to retain James Johnson and/or Waiters, or lure a star to the Heat. This year’s free agency class isn’t the best, but it’s expected to include names like Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward.
If the Heat want to rebuild quickly, trading for Ibaka without giving up Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic is one way to do it. How does a core of Dragic, Ibaka and Whiteside sound with the chance of adding Hayward to that group?
It sounds good. But is it worth giving up on the youth movement that Miami wanted to build around entering this season? That’s the big question.