Heat granted $5.5 million cap exception. Here’s what it means

Miami Heat’s Dion Waiters, right, dribbles against Atlanta Hawks’ Kent Bazemore in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Atlanta, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

CLEVELAND — The NBA has granted the Heat a $5.5 million disabled player exception for injured guard Dion Waiters, the team confirmed. Yahoo Sports was the first to report the news.

What does this mean?

Miami was granted the exception because an independent medical panel determined that Waiters will be sidelined at least through June 15. Waiters underwent season-ending surgery on his left ankle on Jan. 22.

The Heat now have $5.5 million to sign or trade for a player, but one only on an expiring contract. The exception signing would be limited to the rest of the season and would have to be used by March 12.

The exception can’t be combined with any other contract or exception, such as the Heat’s mid-level.

But in order to use the disabled player exception, the Heat would have to create a roster spot to make an addition since they’re already at the maximum of 15 players under standard NBA contracts. One way to open a spot on the roster is to waive center AJ Hammons, who has spent the entire season with the Heat’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls.

The question of whether Miami uses the exception or not could come down to, who will be available for the Heat to use it on? Waiting to see who becomes an option leading up to the March 1 buyout deadline might be Miami’s best chance of finding a player worth using it on.

Even then, the Heat could be satisfied with the help they are going to receive when Rodney McGruder returns from injury at some point over the next few weeks. McGruder continues to make progress from preseason leg surgery and is even traveling with the Heat on their current four-game trip, but coach Erik Spoelstra has yet to put a timetable on his return.

Miami must also figure out what it’s going to do with its two two-way contract players, Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr. Jones has seven NBA days and Walton has five NBA days remaining from the annual 45-day limit on their two-way deals.

After a two-way player has reached their 45-day NBA limit, they either must be converted to a standard NBA contract, remain in the G League for the rest of the season or be waived. If the Heat decide to convert Jones and/or Walton to a standard contract, they would need to open a spot on their 15-man roster to make room.

Even if Miami chooses not to use the $5.5 million disabled player exception, it’s still worth having in the toolbox. If an intriguing player becomes available at the buyout deadline, the Heat will have a chance to land them because of it.

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