LAS VEGAS – More than one week into the start of a new NBA fiscal year and, as expected, the Miami Heat remain the same team they were when free agency kicked off July 1.
The Heat are one of the handful of teams who have yet to make a move since the calendar turned to July. The only announcement coming from the Heat in recent weeks was the signing of forward Derrick Jones Jr. to a standard NBA contract.
But any future moves by president Pat Riley will be made with the luxury tax in mind. With about $120 million committed to 11 players for the upcoming season, Miami is about $4 million away from crossing that luxury tax threshold and that is something the Heat would like to avoid, especially for a team that is not a contender.
The luxury tax comes into play in several scenarios.
The Heat are one of three teams that have been linked to Carmelo Anthony, who will part ways with Oklahoma City. If the Thunder is unable to trade Anthony, who is due $27.9 million this season, he could be available for a minimum contract. The Heat’s issue is two-fold: Where would Anthony fit in with a roster that is deep with rotational players and where does Miami stand with Wayne Ellington?
Ellington remains a free agent, and the top unrestricted free agent according to some. The fact that Ellington, one of the top 3-point threats in a league that values 3-point shooters, remains on the market is surprising. The Heat could still be hoping to make a trade to shed some salary to bring back Ellington at a higher price (but certainly not close to the $10.9 million they could pay him). If not, will Ellington settle for something close to the $6.3 million he made last season, whether it is with the Heat or another team?
For every dollar the Heat exceeds the $123.733 million luxury tax threshold up to $4,999,999 they pay a tax rate of $1.50. From $5 million to $9,999,999 over they pay a tax rate of $1.75, from $10 million to $14,999,999 they pay a tax rate of $2.50.
If the Heat matches Ellington’s contract from last season and pays him $6.3 million, he would in essence cost them about $9.8 million because of their luxury tax bill. If they were to give him his max of $10.9 million he would cost them more than $23 million.
That is not happening.
And remember, money has dried up around the league. Just three teams – Atlanta, Brooklyn and Sacramento – have space remaining of any significant. With all three building with youth, it is unlikely they would have a need to sign the 30-year-old Ellington?
One caveat: Every team has until the end of the season to get back under the luxury tax line. So, Miami could be willing to go over that line at the start of the season to a certain point with the confidence they can make moves by the trading deadline to get back under.
Other things to watch as the summer progresses when it comes to the Heat:
Kawhi Leonard: This story will not go away even though many believe Leonard could play out the year in San Antonio. Still, talks can continue for months, which means we will be hearing Leonard rumors throughout the summer. Whether the Spurs turn to the Heat and the Heat are willing to give up most of their good young players remains to be seen.
Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem: Both players are contemplating retirement and the Heat are awaiting their decisions. Haslem would return on a $2.4 million veterans minimum and the Associated Press reported Wade is seeking the Heat’s $5.4 million mid-level exception. That decision could be tied to what happens with Ellington and any luxury tax implications.
Hassan Whiteside: It is looking more and more unlikely that the Heat are able to move Whiteside and the remaining $52.5 million on his contract. Two teams that could have been trade partners for a 7-foot center came off the board this weekend. The Trail Blazers brought back Jusuf Nurkic on a four-year, $48 million contract on Saturday and today it is being reported the Bucks are signing Brook Lopez to a one year deal.
Veteran minimums: The Heat already have too many rotational players but Riley still will look for any bargains that might fit this roster. And several intriguing names remain on the market including Parker, Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas and Rodney Hood. Parker, Smart and Hood are restricted. The possibility of any landing with Miami is remote unless moves are made to free up cap and roster space.
SACRAMENTO – With the free agent market drying up, teams now will start re-assessing their trade options, something the Miami Heat were forced to do from the start.
The Heat were not a player in free agency this season with a roster that comes in about $18 million over the salary cap. That left Pat Riley’s lone avenue to upgrade the team through the trade market, which even for Riley will be difficult given the makeup of the roster.
Here are where things stand with three names when it comes to the Heat:
The market for Whiteside and the $52.5 million remaining on his contract was not great to start with and has diminished following the draft and free agency. Less than a month ago Phoenix, Dallas and Washington were looking for big men. Now, all three have found their center with the Suns drafting DeAndre Ayton, the Mavericks agreeing with free agent DeAndre Jordan and the Wizards and Dwight Howard ready to strike a deal now that Howard has finalized his buyout with the Nets.
That leaves two teams that still could be looking for an upgrade in the middle: Milwaukee and Portland.
The Bucks are waiting for someone to offer restricted free agent forward Jabari Parker and then must decide if they want to retain Parker and at what price. The Heat could try to work out a deal involving Parker but any sign-and-trade would put Miami into the hard cap. Any trade with Milwaukee, whether for Parker or not, likely would include center John Henson.
The Blazers have shown interest in Whiteside before and their starting center, Jusuf Nurkic, is a restricted free agent. The two players have similar numbers but Whiteside is a better rebounder and defender and would be a better fit for Portland.
The Heat would like to finding cap relief while upgrading the roster in any trade involving Whiteside. That will be very difficult.
Butler, though, presents the same problem as Kawhi Leonard. Butler will make $18.7 million this season before a player option in 2019, which means he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. And with reports that Butler and Boston’s Kyrie Irving would one day like to play together, trading for Butler also is a risk.
The biggest issue, according to NBA sources, is Miami is unwilling to risk losing all its best young players for what could be a one-year rental, which could be the case with Butler. But a year ago, nobody thought Oklahoma City had a shot of retaining Paul George after acquiring him in a trade, and even after a season that ended in disappointment George re-signed with the Thunder.
So, would Riley take that risk with Butler and trade some combination of his young players (Josh Richardson certainly would have to be in a Butler deal) if he received at least a confirmation that the Heat would have a chance to retain him next summer? Perhaps.
Kawhi Leonard: The Leonard trade rumors have cooled a bit with the Spurs willing to be patient. The latest is Leonard may not be so keen on teaming up with LeBron James on the Lakers and now the Clippers could come into play if San Antonio is willing to deal with a Western Conference team.
If not, Miami probably could get into the conversation but would fall in behind the Sixers and Boston – do not believe the reports the Celtics completely are out of the Leonard talks, not with their abundance of young desirable players and draft picks. Philadelphia is building a package around Dario Saric, Robert Covington and first-round picks, likely including Miami’s unprotected 2021 pick the Sixers received from Phoenix.
Miami could top that Sixers offer but, again, the biggest issue is the Heat could lose all its best young players for what could be a one-year rental. Miami will not part with Richardson, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow for a player who is set to enter the market as a free agent next summer. Miami could seek some kind of commitment from Leonard but even then nothing is guaranteed.
Ellington, 30, is one of several shooting guards who remain on the market the second day of free agency. But with players agreeing at a whirlwind pace, money drying up and teams looking to show fiscal responsibility, it appears Ellington’s options are dwindling.
The Heat and Ellington would like to get this done. Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra sincerely have a soft spot for a player who not only gives everything he has to make himself better but is as solid a person off the court as he is an asset on the court. And Ellington proved how valuable he is on the court last season when he established the Heat’s single-season record with 227 made 3-points, which was tied for sixth in the league.
But for the Heat to bring back Ellington at the $10.9 million they are allowed to pay him next year by having his early Bird rights, that would put them about $7 million into the luxury tax, and that does not include money for Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem. With a team that isn’t a contender in the Eastern Conference, Miami is not likely to foot a large luxury tax bill.
The Associated Press reported 23 teams reached out to Ellington at the start of free agency although just eight had enough cap space to sign players above the exceptions. Among them, the Lakers, Suns, Phoenix have handed out significant deals. Atlanta, Chicago and Sacramento have space but they appear more interested in using that for trades. Indiana has just enough room but they signed Doug McDermott.
Which leaves. … the 76ers.
Philadelphia still has about $13 million remaining in cap space and could target Ellington, whether or not they are able to acquire Kawhi Leonard. After losing Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee) and Marco Belinelli (San Antonio) the Sixers could use another shooter, especially in the backcourt on a roster that includes two guards _ Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz – who are challenged offensively when it comes to perimeter shooting.
And remember, Ellington was born and raised in the Philadelphia area and relished the opportunity to play in front of family and friends during the playoffs.
The point is coming soon where many, many free agents will start scrambling for deals. Among the shooting guards still available: Tyreke Evans, Zach LaVine, Jamal Crawford, Avery Bradley, Rodney Hood and, of course, Wade.
The chances of Miami bringing back Ellington appear to hinge on two things: Whether Wade and Haslem return (and that may not even be known for weeks or even longer) but more likely whether Riley can make a trade to move some contracts and open enough space to re-sign Ellington without crossing the luxury tax line.