As LeBron James’ private plane was tracking from Anguilla to Van Nuys Saturday, backroom deals were being struck all over the NBA landscape.
The frenzy started minutes before the ball dropped on the NBA New Year at midnight and continued well into the morning. Within hours about 20 players reportedly agreed to deals, with most not allowed to sign before noon on Friday.
One team sitting out the madness: the Miami Heat. The Heat’s lack of flexibility makes it very difficult for Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg to become a major player this summer, other than through the trade market.
The biggest names – Golden State’s Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City’s Paul George, Houston’s Chris Paul, Denver’s Nikola Jokic – are returning to their old teams. The four will re-sign on deals ranging from two to four years and totaling more than $500 million. (And this is a summer in which the theme is fiscal responsibility.)
The most intriguing names on the move so far are DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers to Dallas, Trevor Ariza from Houston to Phoenix and two players who obviously do not Trust the Process in Philadelphia, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, who will sign with Milwaukee and San Antonio, respectively.
Other than that, few names will tilt the needle as we enter the week, with, of course, one exception.
James spent most of last week holed up in the Caribbean, weighing his options. Saturday morning, he and his financial team boarded his jet for Southern California, where, let’s face it, all signs point to him ultimately staying put as a member of the Lakers. But on Sunday, James’ agent, Rich Paul, reportedly was set to meet with a high-level Sixers contingent in Los Angeles.
Before meeting with Philadelphia, the only reported contact James had with any team after midnight was a phone call with Cleveland general manger Koby Altman. James owes the Cavaliers nothing after delivering on his promise to bring Cleveland a title after returning four years ago but perhaps he learned from the embarrassing way he left his hometown team the first time with a poorly-planned, hour-long infomercial in which he declared he was “taking his talents to South Beach.”
James is not holding this free agent season hostage as he did eight and four years ago, when he bolted Miami and returned to Cleveland. A sign that many believe James’ decision has been made is so many deals being reported in the early hours of free agency. If James had a long list of teams he was considering, everything would have been on hold, much like it was two years ago for Durant and last year for Gordon Hayward.
But James has been trending toward the Lakers for weeks and that narrative become stronger Friday when James informed Cleveland he would opt out of the final year of contract, which realistically narrowed his choices to the Lakers, Cavs and Sixers. The biggest question now is who rides James’ coattails to L.A. With George staying put in OKC, the Lakers (and likely James) have targeted New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins.
Despite the early rush, this will be a tight market for free agents. Just eight teams have cap space of any significance and already two of them, Dallas and Phoenix, have made their big moves. Of those remaining teams, just the Lakers, Philadelphia and Indiana appear willing to hand out substantial contracts. The others – Atlanta, Chicago and Sacramento – could sign mid-tier players and/or use their space for trades.
Many teams are looking back at the summer of 2016 when spending got out of control and some of the worst contracts in league history were handed out, and ahead to next summer when the cap will rise to a projected $109 million and the market will be deeper with Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Kevin Love among those all likely to be available.
As for the Heat, the first bit of news likely will involve free agent guard Wayne Ellington. Miami would like to retain the franchise’s record holder for the most 3 pointers in a season, but at what price? The Heat have Ellington’s early Bird rights and can pay him as much as $10.9 million next season but that could put them above the new luxury tax line, which was revealed last night as $123.733 million, unless other salary is shed through a trade.
Ilyasova, Belinelli and Doug McDermott (Indiana) are long-range shooters like Ellington and their contracts were in the $6-$7.3 million per year range. Ellington will receive interest as the market settles but expect him and the Heat to have several conversations.
Bigger and better things that almost certainly do not include the Miami Heat.
James informed the Cavaliers of his decision earlier today, according to several reports, and will hit the open market at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, which surely will add another layer of crazy to what every year is a fascinating NBA free agency period.
The decision (as opposed to The Decision III, which is coming soon) is not what Heat Nation wanted to hear. LeBron has essentially eliminated any teams over the cap as his future employer, which realistically reduces his options to the Lakers, Cavaliers and an outside chance Philadelphia jumps into the mix. The Cavaliers can offer James a five-year deal worth more a little more than $200. Any other team with space can sign him for four years and about $150 million.
LeBron taking his talents to South Beach for a second time in eight years had a much better chance of happening if he picked up that final year of his deal. That would have expanded the pool of teams to those over the cap, which would have put the Rockets and Heat at the top of the list, although Miami probably still would have been a distant second.
Miami is $18 million over the projected $101 million salary cap for the 2018-19 season and that’s with 10 players and before any decisions are made on Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Wayne Ellington. Just by rounding out their roster with minimum deals that would put the Heat close to $125 million.
James’ next max contract will come with a starting salary of $35.4 million. So, to add LeBron as a straight up free agent, and not in a sign-and-trade, the Heat would have to shed at least $53 million in salary.
As for a sign-and-trade, that, too, is very difficult because it triggers the hard cap, which is projected at $129 million. Teams receiving the free agent in the sign-and-trade deal — in this case the Heat — can’t surpass the $129 million apron at the end of the trade. Because of this, Miami would have to send out at least $31 million to take James’ $35 million salary back in a sign-and-trade.
Even if the Cavaliers wanted the Heat’s three youngest assets with the most potential – Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow – their 2018-19 salaries come to $16.7 million. The Cavs are not taking back another $14 million in long term salaries, especially if it is to help out the Heat. If Cleveland is going to lose LeBron, it certainly would rather see him go West.
If LeBron opted in it would have been a signal that a trade was lined up, probably meaning he was headed to either Houston or Miami. But even then, Houston is a much more attractive option with their backcourt of MVP James Harden and free agent Chris Paul, who, along with Wade, is part of LeBron’s inner circle when it comes to his peers. LeBron then would have formed a Big Three that could have challenged Golden State’s stranglehold on the league.
Some, though, might still believe the Heat have a chance and LeBron still could request a sit down with Pat Riley. And because we are talking LeBron and Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg’s magic calculator, perhaps it is foolish to completely count out the Heat until LeBron’s signature is on a contract with another team’s logo in the header.
Any news surrounding LeBron goes viral. But any LeBron news leading up to his free agency tends to break the Internet.
LeBron was in Miami last weekend, attending his son’s basketball game and the Internet was wild with speculation. He also was spotted in Brickell. The craziest speculation was an unconfirmed report that LeBron was involved in some clandestine meeting with Riley and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra during the week.
But this is not 2010. The Heat are not flush with money and Miami does not have bargaining chips like a Wade in his prime or Chris Bosh to entice the best player on the planet.
Unless Riley can pull off a miracle that would make any other of the splashy moves he has made in his 23 years in Miami look ho-hum, it’s time to move on Heat Nation.
Free agency starts at 12:01 Sunday. Barring any significant trades that allow them to shed salaries, the Miami Heat lack cap space to become a major player this summer.
More than 125 players are free to sign with any team, although several are restricted. Here is our list of the top players at this time at each position.
Chris Paul, Houston: The Rockets will try to find a way to bring back Paul – he can sign for $205 million over five years – and add LeBron James or Paul George.
Isaiah Thomas, Lakers: Thomas’ timing could not have been worse. He insists he is a max player but he won’t get close to that after a season in which his production fell and questions still persist about his hip.
Rajon Rondo, New Orleans: Rondo is no longer the player he was in Boston but he has rehabilitated his image in Chicago and New Orleans and continues to be a solid floor general.
Elfrid Payton, Phoenix: The Suns acquired Payton from Orlando at the trade deadline hoping he would be their point guard of the future. Not so and they are moving on from Payton.
Fred Van Vleet, Toronto (R): Van Vleet had a breakout year last season, his third in the league and will receive a nice pay raise from the $1.3 million he made in 2017-18.
Zach LaVine, Bulls (R): LaVine returned from ACL surgery and looked good in his half season in Chicago. If teams are not scared off by the injury he could get close to the max.
Tyreke Evans, Memphis: Evans had a solid year averaging 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists. At 28 he is looking at his last big contract.
Will Barton, Denver: An underrated player who has steadily improved the last four seasons had his best season heading into free agency. Mostly a reserve but proved last season he can be productive starting.
JJ Redick, Philadelphia: Redick made the most of his one-year, $23 million deal with the 76ers, averaging 17.1 points. Now, he is on the market again.
Marcus Smart, Boston: Smart has been a valuable reserve for the Celtics the last two years and helped his cause in the playoffs. One of the top defensive guards in the league.
LeBron James, Cleveland: Everything is on hold until James decides where he is headed – he first must decline his player option for $35.6 million. The Lakers appear to be in the lead but the Cavaliers are holding out hope he returns.
Kevin Durant, Golden State: Durant is expected to decline his player option for $26.2 million after signing a two-year deal last summer and re-signing with the Warriors. Durant said he’s ready to ink a long-term deal.
Paul George, Oklahoma City: The Thunder were hoping to retain George after the gamble it took last summer to trade for him and put together a team that could compete for a title. George opted out and will field offers, which doesn’t look good for OKC.
Trevor Ariza, Houston: The Rockets will make an attempt to somehow land James but that will take creativity and certainly would mean losing Ariza. Otherwise, the Rockets are in play.
Rudy Gay, San Antonio: Gay declined his player option for $8.8 million to test free agency for a second consecutive season. He averaged 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in his one year in San Antonio.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando (R): Gordon is going to get paid – he is seeking a max deal – and the Magic have a big decision as to whether they match an offer to keep him, let him go or try to work out a sign-and-trade.
Julius Randle, Lakers (R): Randle’s future is as murky as anybody’s on the market depending on what happens in L.A. The Lakers are trying to land some combination of LeBron, Leonard and Paul George – or even all three – and how it unfolds will determine whether Randle returns.
Derrick Favors, Utah: Favors is an under-the-radar free agent who will be a nice pickup for somebody if he leaves Utah. The Jazz want him back but his future will have everything to do with how much money is left after the big names move.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee (R): Parker struggled this season playing just 31 games after returning from a torn ACL. Not sure the Bucks are eager to give him a large contract which could limit his offer on the open market.
Montrezl Harrell, Clippers: Another underrated player who played an important role on the Clippers after being acquired last summer in the Chris Paul trade. An explosive player with great energy who is a tough matchup at 6-8. Can also play center.
DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans: Cousins’ torn Achilles came at a bad time. He would have been a max player but likely will have to take less after suffering the injury in late January. The big question is if the Pelicans really want him back?
Clint Capela, Houston (R): The Rockets love Capela and matching an offer would be a no-brainer if it weren’t for their pursuit of LeBron. Ideally, Houston retains Chris Paul and Capela and somehow lands LeBron, but that will be difficult.
DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Jordan could exercise his player option and be traded to Dallas before free agency kicks off. He is a capable scorer, one of the best rebounders in the league and a huge asset defensively.
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland (R): Nurkic improved during his first full season in Portland but he remains an inconsistent player. The Trail Blazers will have a decision to make when he receives an offer.
Brook Lopez, Lakers: Lopez has expanded his game, making 246 threes on 34.5 percent shooting the last two years. He made just three threes in his first eight seasons. A return to L.A. is unlikely.
The NBA starts a new fiscal year at 12 a.m. Sunday, which also signals the start of free agency and what once again will be a busy offseason. The Miami Heat may not be as big a player as usual this offseason because of roster and payroll limitations, but president Pat Riley still will be busy trying to find a way to upgrade his roster, however difficult that may be.
The Miami Heat have sent a qualifying offer to Derrick Walton Jr. for his two-way contract, making the 6-foot-1 point guard a restricted free agent starting Sunday.
The Heat will be allowed to match any offers Walton might receive.
The move was made with the intention of bringing back Walton on another two-way contract, similar to what the Heat did with Derrick Jones Jr., earlier this month. The Heat still could offer a two-way contract to another player but would have to release Walton or Jones.
A player can’t play under two-way contracts for the same team for more than three years total. Walton just completed his first season with the Heat under a two-way deal.
Walton was signed to his two-way contract last July after going undrafted out of Michigan in 2017. He split last season between the Heat and Miami’s G League developmental team in Sioux Falls. Walton appeared in 16 games for the Heat, averaging 1.8, points 1.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 9.2 minutes. At Sioux Falls he played in 27 games, all starts, and averaged 16.1 points, 7.0 assists and 3.9 rebounds. He shot 90.2 percent on free throws, which was fifth in the G League.
Walton and Jones will be a part of the Heat’s summer league teams which play in Sacramento and Las Vegas in July.
Miami’s next order of business before free agency starts at 12:01 Sunday is to guarantee Rodney McGruder’s $1.5 million contract for next season. That decision must come before Sunday.
The Heat now have seven players from the 2017-18 roster who will become free agents Sunday: Luke Babbitt, Wayne Ellington, Udonis Haslem, Dwyane Wade, Jordan Mickey, Jones and Walton.
Miami has 10 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due about $119 million, including McGruder if his deal is guaranteed.
That puts the Heat above the projected $101 million salary cap and very close to the projected $123 million luxury tax line.
The NBA starts a new fiscal year 12 a.m. Sunday, which also signals the start of free agency and what once again will be a busy offseason. The Miami Heat may not be as big a player as usual this offseason because of roster and payroll limitations but president Pat Riley still will be busy trying to find a way to upgrade his roster, however difficult that may be.
This week we take a look at the biggest offseason questions surrounding the Heat. Today’s question: Will the most prolific single-season 3-point shooter in team history, Wayne Ellington, be back in a Heat uniform? We’ll shift to a different question each day leading up to the start of free agency.
MIAMI – The Miami Heat have few decisions when it comes to retaining their own free agents. But the most complicated centers around guard Wayne Ellington.
Ellington, 30, completed his second season with the Heat after general manager Andy Elisburg’s creative bookkeeping allowed Miami to pick up the team’s option last summer, guaranteeing Ellington $6.27 million for 2017-18. The deal was one of the best bargains on the team as Ellington produced all season, averaging a career-high 11.2 points and setting a career-high and team record with 227 made 3-pointers.
Now, bringing back Ellington for a third year gets a bit trickier to Miami.
Ellington will become an unrestricted free agent Sunday and is set to sign the most lucrative contract of his career. After finishing tied for sixth in the league in 3-pointers made and establishing and NBA record for the most threes while coming off the bench, some lists have Ellington as high as fifth among free agent shooting guards.
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 as much as $10.9 million next season and sign him for up to four years with eight percent raises each year. A deal that could reach $44.5 million if maxed out.
The problem is unless president Pat Riley and Elisburg find a way to shed salary, the Heat would be forced to cross the luxury tax line for Ellington to return, something the Heat will be reluctant to do on a team that finished as the No. 6 seed and was ousted from the playoffs in five games.
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. Signing Ellington to a starting salary of $10.9 million would mean a luxury tax bill of more than $10 million on top of Ellington’s salary if the rest of the team remains intact.
Riley was asked last week how optimistic he was about Ellington returning.
“The guy’s had a great, great two years with us,” he said. “We’re up against the tax but we’re going to do everything we can do to try to keep him.
“He’s here every day, working out, making threes. I have a video screen in my office, so I can watch him every day. He’s still putting the same kind of work in now that he did last year. So, that is something we’re going to have to be very creative with.”
Ellington’s future with the Heat will depend on many other things. Are the Heat able to shed salary, not so much to get under the cap but at least create more space between the bottom line and luxury tax threshold to bring back Ellington without a luxury tax bill? Can the Heat make any trades and if so do they find a nice scoring option off the bench that would lessen the necessity of re-signing Ellington?
And what about Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem? They, too, are unrestricted free agents and could cost Miami about $7.7 million to bring back. Add that to Ellington’s salary and the Heat certainly are not bringing back all three, which would put them about $14.6 million over the luxury tax line, without making any deals to reduce the payroll.
The wildcard is if the Heat go over the luxury tax they have until the end of the regular season to get back under the tax line before paying the penalty. So, if it meant going over by a few million to sign Ellington with the idea they’ll figure a way to get back under they could take that chance.
Riley even hinted that could be case when he met with the media a few days after the season ended.
“There’s no doubt that we want him back,” Riley said of Ellington. “It’s how do we get him back and deal with the tax threshold. If we signed Wayne and he takes us into the tax, then that guy right over there (Elisburg) has 15 months to get us out.”
The NBA starts a new fiscal year at 12 a.m. Sunday, which also signals the start of free agency and what once again will be a busy offseason. The Miami Heat may not be as big a player as usual this offseason because of roster and payroll limitations but president Pat Riley still will be busy trying to find a way to upgrade his roster, however difficult that may be.
This week we take a look at the biggest offseason questions surrounding the Heat. Today’s question: LeBron James appears to be ready to bolt Cleveland for a second time, do the Heat have a shot of bringing James back to Miami? We’ll shift to a different question each day leading up to the start of free agency.
LeBron James was spotted in Miami this weekend. He was seen walking in Brickell and at his son’s basketball game. What does it mean? Not much unless James was able to squeeze in a highly secretive meeting with a realtor and put in a down payment on a new home in the area.
From there, James and his camp will start setting up meetings. Those that appear most assured to getting in the door with James are the Lakers, 76ers and Cleveland. Several others have been mentioned as possibly getting a sit-down, including the Heat.
Miami’s odds, though, are growing longer, according to those in that business. At one time, the odds were 25-to-1 the Heat landed James. Most recently those odds are up to 40-to-1. The reason is, unlike 2010, the Heat currently lack the salary-cap space to sign James in free agency. The Heat already are close to the luxury tax line with 10 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due $119 million. That puts Miami about $18 million above the projected $101 million salary cap and very close to the projected $123 million luxury tax line.
Pat Riley admitted last Friday, minutes after the draft ended, that there would be no midnight meetings and he didn’t think the Heat were “going to be in it that way because we can’t. We don’t have the cap space and we’re up against the tax, so we have to do some other things in reversing that direction.”
Realistically, the only way to acquire James would be through a sign-and-trade with the Cavaliers and that would mean Cleveland having an incentive to deal with Miami, which is not likely. If the Cavs are going to lose James and are able to pull off a sign-and-trade they would want draft picks and cap space and not long-term contracts in return.
Eight summers ago, the Heat were in the driver’s seat with it came to James. They had the cap space and the ability to put together a juggernaut with James and Chris Bosh being free agents and Dwyane Wade already in place. Now, other teams are attempting to sell James on that same concept, teams like the Lakers, Philadelphia, Houston, San Antonio, possibly Golden State. Teams that could have the space to sign two max players or already have a superstar in place for James to join.
As for Miami, put the Heat at the bottom of that list when it comes to the possibility of James taking his talents to South Beach for a second time.