The challenge for the Heat to bring back reserve guard Wayne Ellington has been well documented.
But president Pat Riley hinted Miami may be willing to make a sacrifice to re-sign one of the more prolific 3-point shooters in the league.
Unless Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg find a way to shed salary, the Heat would be forced to cross the luxury tax line for Ellington to return, something many believe owner Micky Arison would be reluctant to do, especially for a roster that needed everything to go right just to be a No. 6 seed.
Riley sounded as if the Heat would be willing to pay the luxury tax, at least for a year, for Ellington.
“There’s no doubt that we want him back,” Riley said at his year-end news conference a week after the Heat were eliminated from the playoffs in five games by Philadelphia.
“It’s how do we get him back and deal with that … threshold. The tax threshold. If we signed Wayne and he takes us into the tax, then that guy right over there has 15 months to get us out.”
Riley pointed to Elisburg, who shrugged and smiled.
Riley continued, “But we want to sign him, we would love to sign Wayne back. He is pure Heat. He’s a hell of a player. He’s a contemporary player. He’s still young.”
Ellington, 30, made $6.3 million last season while setting a personal best and franchise record with 227 threes. The Heat have Ellington’s early Bird rights, allowing them to exceed the cap and play him 175 percent of his current salary. That means Miami could start Ellington for at much as $10.9 million next season and sign him for up to four years with eight percent raises each year.
The problem is the Heat already have 10 players under contract for about $119 million, well over the projected $101 million salary cap and just $4 million shy of the projected $123 million luxury tax line.
The only way to free up money would be to make a trade and the Heat are expected to be active this offseason, looking to deal long-term contracts while improving the roster.
Coach Erik Spoelstra was very much in line with Riley when asked about Ellington returning for a third season with the Heat.
“I love Wayne and we’re all hopeful of it. And I’m sure Wayne wants to be back,” Spoelstra said last month. “Regardless of whatever scenarios people could have. … first, I know the visions of my boss. Anything in this league, he can get done. And then, secondly, I know the creativity of Andy Elisburg.”
The scenario is similar to last season when Elisburg had to get creative to fit in Ellington under the salary cap line after agreeing to terms with James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk. But Elisburg found a way to pick up the team option on Ellington’s contract without exceeding the cap by including bonuses in the contracts of Waiters and Olynyk that did not count against the salary cap.
“I understand what’s going on with the salary cap, the luxury tax and all that kind of stuff,” said Ellington, who averaged a career-high 11.2 points this past season. “But I remain confident. That’s just the type of person that I am. I feel like when you want to get something done, there are ways to get things done.”