The Bizarre Saga of Donatas Motiejunas

December 7th, 2016 No comments
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Donatas Motiejunas is having a tough time navigating the difficult world of restricted free agency.

There are two types of free agency in the NBA: unrestricted and restricted. Both types of free agents are free to re-sign with their prior teams. But an unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any other team as well, and there’s nothing his prior team can do to stop it. A restricted free agent can also sign with any other team, but his prior team can retain him by matching the terms of that offer. This is called the “right of first refusal.”

Restricted free agency is allowed only in limited circumstances: For first-round draft picks who complete all four years of their rookie-scale contracts, and for players who have been in the league for three or fewer seasons. Only these players qualify for restrict free agency, and only if their prior teams first submit to them a “qualifying offer” at some point between the day following the completion of the NBA Finals and the subsequent June 30.

A qualifying offer is a standing offer of a one-year guaranteed contract, which the player can accept at any time while it remains outstanding. For a first-round draft pick, the amount of the qualifying offer is dictated by his draft position (with limited exceptions that could increase or decrease it). For all others, it is equal to the greater of: (i) 125 percent of his previous salary and (ii) his minimum salary plus $200,000.

Motiejunas was the twentieth pick in the first-round of the 2011 NBA draft. After having completed the fourth and final year of his rookie-scale contract in 2015-16, the Houston Rockets tendered a $4.4 million qualifying offer on June 30, 2016. Motiejunas therefore became a restricted free agent this summer.  Read more…

Recapping the Miami Heat Summer of 2016

October 21st, 2016 1 comment
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Update (10/22/16): The Heat has chosen to waive Briante Weber and Beno Udrih, and keep Rodney McGruder. The Heat’s backup point guard duties effectively therefore fall to Tyler Johnson.

The final 15-player roster is as follows: Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow, Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Udonis Haslem, Hassan Whiteside and Willie Reed.

The summer of 2016 was perhaps the most polarizing and divisive in Miami Heat history.

For Pat Riley, it was largely about two things: Retaining Hassan Whiteside, and maximizing flexibility to target a whale to complement him in the future. Despite the ensuing hell-fire it would cause.

Dwyane Wade is gone, having felt disrespected by Riley for years.

He would argue that Riley’s refusal to offer one last long-term contract, one befitting the most vital player in Heat history – whose 13-year tenure spanned nearly half the team’s 28-year existence – exemplifies that disrespect. That in the wake of LeBron James leaving two summers ago, Riley clearly made retaining Chris Bosh his first priority (offering a full five-year, $119 million max contract) while leaving himself toiled with a sub-par offer for a talent of his caliber ($15 million, with a player option for a second season at $16 million). That the offer was better last summer ($20 million), but only after owner Micky Arison intervened when highly contentious negotiations with Riley had stalled and only in exchange for an even shorter term (one year). That Riley clearly made his first priority for this season to retain Whiteside, and his second priority to pursue the never realistic pipe dream that was Kevin Durant. Wade is no third option – particularly after what had happened the prior two summers, and particularly when successful pursuits of the first two would severely limit that which would be left over for the organization to compensate himself. After all, it was only Riley’s failed pursuit of Durant that made even the two years and $41 million he did offer possible. The initial offer was downright appalling (some speculating in the neighborhood of $10 million per season).

He would argue that Riley didn’t even have the decency to present that $41 million offer. That Riley never even met with him this summer. That his inaction was intentional. That every move he made this summer had an ulterior motive. That he never truly wanted Wade back.

Riley would surely object to the assertion that Wade was disrespected.

He would argue that he was eager to sign Wade (and James and Bosh) to a full max contract in the summer of 2010, which would’ve paid out an NBA-second-best $126 million over the past six years; it was Wade who chose to take less.

He would argue that he was fully prepared to honor the two years and $42 million remaining on Wade’s contract, which would’ve been sixth highest in the NBA, in the summer of 2014; it was Wade who chose to opt out.

He would argue that offering a string of shorter-term deals is not a sign of disrespect but rather a sign of compromise toward a common goal, in which the Heat could gain flexibility and Wade could benefit financially for enabling it. That these past two summers were a perfect microcosm. Wade had petitioned for a three-year deal paying out in the range of $45 million to $50 million in the summer of 2015; adding the one-year, $20 million deal he took that summer to the two years and $41 million he was offered in July totals to $61 million.

Both would be right. And both would be wrong. But did Riley truly want Wade back?

It seems reasonable to speculate that he may not have.  Read more…

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Pat Riley Says Chris Bosh’s Career with the Heat is “Probably Over”

September 26th, 2016 No comments
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Pat Riley, in a meeting with reporters, said that Chris Bosh’s career with the Miami Heat “is probably over” and that the team is “not working toward his return.”

Bosh, an 11-time All-Star, failed his preseason physical last week. The Heat had been prepared to clear him for play, contingent on him passing. During the testing, however, doctors reportedly found continued evidence of blood clotting.

“We headed down the road very excited to a point where we thought it would work,” Riley said. “And then the physical couldn’t clear him to the next step.”

Bosh was initially diagnosed with blood clots that traveled from his left leg to his lung in February 2015, and was subsequently diagnosed with blood clots in his left calf in February 2016.

Blood clotting is a normal process that occurs in the body to prevent bleeding and promote healing after an injury. The body forms blood clots when the platelets within the blood encounter a damaged blood vessel, and then breaks them down as the damaged tissue heals.

Clots can form unexpectedly, however, without notice or purpose, and have dangerous consequences. Certain clots, such as those that start in the leg or calf (called a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) and travel to the lungs (called a pulmonary embolism), can be fatal. And those who have endured previous clots in the past are particularly susceptible to a recurrence.

According to the NIH, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with DVT each year and roughly 30 percent of those patients develop a recurrence within 10 years, with the risk being greatest in the first two years. Recurrence is more likely in those who initially presented with a pulmonary embolism as well, as did Bosh, and is more likely to be another pulmonary embolism (as opposed to a DVT alone), leaving Bosh susceptible to a potentially more serious recurrence.

That Bosh has already endured multiple blood clotting episodes and that he plays a contact sport (professional basketball), both sharply exacerbate the risk of future recurrences. The risk for Bosh is therefore very real.

Blood clots are treated with anticoagulant drugs (blood thinners), which prevent further blood clots from forming as the body’s normal systems work to break up the existing clot(s).

For those who have endured a single clotting episode, blood thinners are typically continued for up to six months. Many professional athletes who have suffered blood clots have been able to successfully resume their careers without incident after completing their initial blood-thinner regimen.

However, people who suffer multiple blood clots are at sharper risk of a recurrence, and are typically therefore recommended to remain on blood thinners for the rest of their lives.

Blood thinners greatly reduce the likelihood of future blood clots, but they can have a potentially serious side effect: bleeding.

Since blood thinners slow the clotting of blood, unwanted and sometimes dangerous bleeding can occur with the use of these medications. Although infrequent, uncontrolled bleeding caused by blood thinners can be very serious. A blow to the head, for example, can cause bleeding on the brain and kill you!

Doctors and teams are therefore hesitant to allow players on blood thinners to return to contact sports, where a potential trauma could have disastrous consequences.

The issue for Bosh, then, becomes:

If he doesn’t take blood thinning medication, he is at risk of sustaining more, potential fatal, blood clots. Playing professional basketball only exacerbates that risk.

If he takes blood thinning medication to reduce the likelihood of a future clot, playing professional basketball puts him at increased risk of sustaining a potentially fatal bleeding event.  Read more…

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Analyzing Yi Jianlian’s Fascinating Contract

August 25th, 2016 No comments
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This is a quick and dirty post, to further explain my various tweets on the subject of Yi Jianliang’s new contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. As it has nothing to do with the Miami Heat, I may ultimately choose to delete it. The figures provided in the post are as publicly reported by Eric Pincus of BasketballInsiders. 

The Los Angeles Lakers signed Yi Jianlian to a fascinating contract on Monday, which can pay out anywhere between $250,000 and $8,000,000.

Yi’s contract calls for a base salary of $1,139,123 — the minimum salary for a player with five years of NBA experience — which is guaranteed for just $250,000. The partial guarantee is essentially equivalent to payment from the beginning of the season on October 25th through November 30th. If he continues to be on the roster after November 30th, he will then earn $6,701 in base salary each day thereafter through January 10th, at which point his entire $1,139,123 base salary would become fully guaranteed.

Yi’s contract also calls for three bonus payouts at $2,286,959 each, for playing in at least 20 games, 40 games, and 59 games, respectively. The 20th game can come no sooner than November 30th (at Chicago), the 40th game can come no sooner than January 6th (vs. Miami) and the 59th game can come no sooner than February 24th (at Oklahoma City).

The contract was clearly optimized not only to incentive Yi to perform, but also with potential trade implications in mind if he doesn’t.

Yi will be eligible to be traded as early as December 15th, at which point his contract will have paid out $348,438 in base salary and accrued another $2,286,959 in future bonus money if he will have played in at least 20 of his team’s then 28 games; that’s either $348,438 or $2,635,397 in total.

Yi will be eligible to be traded as late as the February 23rd NBA trade deadline(1), at which point his contract will have accrued his full $1,139,123 base salary, and accrued future bonus money of either $2,286,959 or $4,573,918 if he will have played in at least 20 or 40 of his team’s then 58 games; that’s as little as $348,438, or possibly either $3,426,082 or $5,713,041 in total.

Yi’s trade value is tied not only to how much of the bonus money he will have earned, but also to the classification of it.

There are two categories of performance bonuses: those that are classified as “likely to be achieved” and those that are classified as “unlikely to be achieved.” Only likely bonuses are charged against the salary cap. Yi’s bonuses have been classified as “likely to be achieved” (which is an interesting story in and of itself)(2). As such, his full $8,000,000 maximum potential payout will be charged against the cap for trade purposes, even if ultimately he does not earn some or any of his bonus money.

According to salary-matching trade rules, Yi’s contract can therefore potentially be used by the Lakers, on its own, to bring between $5,266,667 and $12,100,000 in salary in potential trade scenarios. More importantly, a potential trade partner could send out between $5,266,667 and $12,100,000 million in exchange for Yi’s contract on its own. And if that team were to immediately thereafter waive Yi, it would only owe the amount on his contract which has become guaranteed (i.e., excluding any as-yet unearned bonuses). That, in turn, could potentially offer substantial savings.

Below is the amount which will have become guaranteed on Yi’s contract, by day (for each day of the regular season):  Read more…

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Miami Heat Sign Dion Waiters to 2-Year, $5.9 Million Deal

July 26th, 2016 No comments
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Pat Riley wasn’t expecting to use the Miami Heat’s $2.898 million mid-level exception for room teams this summer.

“As far as the $2.9 million room exception, we’re going to hold on to that,” Riley said on July 16. “I don’t think we’re going use it for the rest of the summer. There isn’t anybody out there right now that I want to give it to.”

Little did he know, things would dramatically change just two days later.

There had been mutual interest between Riley and Oklahoma City Thunder free agent shooting guard Dion Waiters since the start of free agency. Any such possibilities, however, were rendered effectively meaningless by virtue the fact that he was a restricted free agent.

Waiters’ restricted free agent status caused two serious problems for Riley(1).

First, it meant that Riley would need to offer a contract that would not only be acceptable to Waiters, but also one that would be high enough such that he could be relatively certain the Thunder would not match. The Thunder, at the time, were expected to match any reasonable offer.

Second, it meant the contract would need to be for at least two seasons in length (not including any option years).

The combination made a Heat pursuit of Waiters effectively impossible. Any first-year salary that, at the start of free agency, figured to be high enough to entice the Thunder not to match would also need to contain a second-year salary high enough to destroy any of the Heat’s grand visions for the summer of 2017. The Heat has big plans for that summer.  Read more…

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Breaking Down Russell Westbrook’s Complex Situation

July 24th, 2016 No comments
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Two months ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were positioned to perhaps consider themselves the best team in the NBA. They had pushed the defending champion and all-time regular season winning percentage record-holding Golden State Warriors to brink of elimination in the Western Conference Finals, with a home game among three opportunities to close the deal. A single win in three chances, followed by a series win versus a Cleveland Cavaliers team against whom they were projected to be favored, and the Thunder would be NBA champions for just the second time in franchise history, and the first since 1979.

Things didn’t work out as planned.

The Warriors went on to eliminate the Thunder in seven games. A short time later, Kevin Durant went on to join the Warriors, leaving Russell Westbrook and the Thunder to pick up the pieces.

Westbrook is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. With the balance of power in the Western Conference dramatically shifted, if a return trip to the NBA Finals is a priority, he may not want to remain in Oklahoma City.

The concept has sparked a fire-storm of speculation about a potential trade, which would at least allow the Thunder to avoid losing two top five NBA players to free agency in the span of a single year without receiving back anything in return.

The ability of Westbrook to leave in free agency next summer, however, is just as problematic for a trade partner as it is for the Thunder. If Westbrook were to leave the following summer, the trade partner would not only lose him without receiving back anything in return but also sacrifice the assets it took to acquire him. To that end, if a trade partner is to risk the type of assets the Thunder will demand for him, it is likely to demand that Westbrook agree to an extension.

The Thunder, for their part, haven’t given up hope of retaining their star point guard either. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. They, too, are positioning to offer Westbrook an extension that would provide the certainty required to build the team’s future around him. And they could make it quite tempting.   Read more…

Breaking Down James Harden’s Renegotiation and Extension

July 19th, 2016 No comments
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Heading into the 2016-17 NBA season, extensions for veteran players had all but vanished for several years — the result of changes to the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that make it more beneficial for players to finish out their existing contracts and enter free agency thereafter, even if they plan to re-sign with their prior teams.

The rapidly rising salary cap – which has reached an all-time record $94.1 million this season, a whopping 34.5 percent increase from $70 million in 2015-16 – has, however, created a short-term opportunity for teams to leverage intricate salary cap rules to offer key players extensions that, in some cases, can be too tempting to pass up.

Many teams are finding themselves with more salary cap space than quality free agents on which to spend it. For these teams, that cap space can be used to simultaneously renegotiate and extend the contracts of its key players, giving them more up-front money in exchange for more seasons under team control.

This is exactly what the Houston Rockets elected to do with its key player, James Harden, in what to this point has been the most intriguing utilization of cap space thus far this summer.

Contract renegotiation is a concept largely attributed to various other sports. Only very rarely do they occur in the NBA. They can only occur on or after the third anniversary of the original signing date of a contract (or extension or renegotiation), and they can only increase a player’s salary. To do so, a player’s team must have salary cap space to cover the full amount of the proposed increase.

Heading into this season, Harden had two seasons remaining on his contract — $16,784,032 for this season, and $17,811,626 for next.

Though he signed a “maximum” five-year rookie-scale contract extension in October 2012 that ran through the 2017-18 season, the subsequent jump in the salary cap meant that he was set to earn far less than his current maximum salary for this season.  Read more…

Pat Riley Addresses the Miami Heat Summer

July 17th, 2016 1 comment
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The following post attempts to parse through the eloquent words of Pat Riley, delivered at his press conference on Saturday, to arrive at their true meaning.

Things are not always necessarily what they seem.

During a press conference on Saturday to discuss the state of his Miami Heat team, Pat Riley opened up about the sadness he feels for having lost Dwyane Wade, the team’s most important ever player.

“What happened with Dwyane floored me. And I’m going to miss the fact of what I might have had planned for him and his future and how I saw the end and my thought process in how I could see his end here with the Heat… It’s not going to be the same without him… I have been here when Zo left, Shaq left, when Brian Grant, Eddie Jones. But Dwyane is unique.”

After 13 seasons, Wade is gone. Officially signed by the Chicago Bulls.

Wade will get paid $47.0 million over the next two years, with a player option on the second season. That’s more than the Heat’s two-year, $40.0 million offer. But this wasn’t about the money.

Wade’s decision was predicated on a deteriorating relationship that resulted from a fundamental difference in philosophies. A difference that was two years in the making.  Read more…

Revamped Heat Roster Maintains Youthful Core, Flexibility for 2017

July 11th, 2016 1 comment
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I ask that you please not copy my work or ideas without providing proper credit. It feels rather awful to continue having to ask this favor, but I have specific reason to believe it continues to happen. 

The Miami Heat initiated its post-Dwyane Wade transition by completing a flurry of moves in rapid-fire succession on Sunday, the timing of which dictated by the man potentially set to replace him and the execution of which pursued with a singular goal in mind.

Pat Riley has always dreamed big. In the past 12 years, he has acquired Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James — arguably the NBA’s two greatest post-Michael-Jordan era players — and paired them with Wade to secure the franchise’s five NBA finals appearances and three titles.

Title aspirations are standard course for Riley and owner Micky Arison. It represents the foundation for everything they do. How they think. How they plan. How they negotiate, even if the parameters for negotiation ultimately lead to the loss of a franchise icon.

Facing the potential overwhelming loss of the team’s most critical ever player, Riley and Arison were unwilling to concede so much in their negotiation with Wade as to paralyze their team’s ability to build a title contender. They believe the Heat is currently in a better position to succeed than would have been the case if they were to have met Wade’s demands. They believe they have compiled a solid core of multi-talented youngsters in guards Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson, forward Justise Winslow and center Hassan Whiteside. They believe they have a potentially perfect, floor-spacing frontcourt compliment to Whiteside in Chris Bosh, assuming health. And they believe they have a strong lead guard in Goran Dragic to spearhead the charge.

They may be right.

Johnson will compete with Richardson for the starting shooting guard role (a battle which he’ll win to start the season, with Richardson still sidelined with a partially torn medial collateral ligament). But, perhaps more importantly, he also serves as insurance against a lack of development from Winslow.

In his first season, Winslow showed great promise as a defender. But his offense at times proved to be so limited that defenders constantly sagged away from him, often effectively relegating the Heat to playing four-on-five basketball. If he improves his shooting, he could quickly become one of the Heat’s most vital players. If he doesn’t, his future as a starter could quickly be jeopardized.

Imagine, for a moment, a Dragic – Johnson – Richardson – Bosh – Whiteside unit.

In an offense system designed to capitalize upon it, what was once a shocking inability to space the floor – predicated largely on the always imperfect backcourt tandem of Wade and Dragic — could now be considered a strength. And depending upon where Richardson – who led the entire NBA in three-point shooting percentage after the All-Star Break, at 53 percent – and Johnson – who shot 41 percent on three-pointers last season (excluding heaves), despite often being miscast on offense as a point guard — level off with their shooting, a potentially big one at that.

That type of shooting could provide Whiteside — now a franchise cornerstone with his four-year, $96.4 million contract secured – the much-coveted floor-spacing into which to maneuver.

At 7-feet, 265-pounds, and with a ridiculous 7-foot-7-inch wingspan, Whiteside alters the geometry of the game. His individual statistics last season were silly – 17.6 points (on 60.6 percent shooting), 14.7 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per 36 minutes played. And he did it despite constantly having two, three, and sometimes four defenders draped all over him every time he tried to touch the ball. Because why not collapse at even the hint of danger? Who’s going to hurt you from the perimeter if you do? Not Wade.

This Heat team may well have lost its best player, but it will be fast in transition and it will look to capitalize upon a type of floor spacing it has never before had in the half court.

Imagine what Whiteside could do in an offense that spaced the floor around him. Is it so preposterous to imagine he could become one of the best, and most efficient, scorers in the whole of the NBA?

Is it so preposterous to envision a constant stream of Whiteside pick-and-rolls, Bosh pick-and-pops, and swished three-pointers when defenders rotate away from Heat shooters to try to stop it?

Is it so preposterous to imagine that with Whiteside down low; Bosh, Richardson and Johnson to space the floor around him; and Dragic’s speed and Winslow’s defense thrown into the mix; that the team, despite the absence of Wade – it’s leader and, perhaps more importantly, it’s closer — could still be a force with which to be reckoned?

Is it so preposterous to imagine that while it might struggle on offense at times with the absence of its most reliable crunch-time scorer, its defense will be undeniably improved without him?

Is it so preposterous to imagine that the addition of one elite player could have it competing for titles? Riley surely believes it.

But how do you get that elite player?

With Wade’s departure, the Heat found itself with just $19 million in salary cap space left to be spent on any one player, not nearly enough to grab an elite contributor, if even he were willing and available. It simply wasn’t going to happen this summer.

That, in turn, made Riley’s goal for filling out the roster crystal clear: Maintain maximum flexibility for the summer of 2017.  Read more…

Heat Rounds Out Its Roster With A Flurry of Questionable Moves

July 11th, 2016 No comments
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In the wake of certain posts that appeared just after I sent this series of tweets, I have pulled out the following paragraphs from this earlier post in order to highlight some specific thoughts I presented in a broader post written on July 11, 2016. Virtually this entire post can be found word for word in my previous post (with only a few very minor modifications so as to make it a stand-alone piece). 

The Miami Heat initiated its post-Dwyane Wade transition by completing a flurry of questionable moves in rapid-fire succession on Sunday, the timing of which dictated by the man would could potentially replace him.

Tyler Johnson, who was on the books at just $1.2 million (the amount of his qualifying offer) to start the summer, signed a four-year, $50 million offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets on July 7th.

Johnson’s official execution of his offer sheet served as the trigger upon which the team’s entire summer was based. It provided the Heat three days, until midnight Sunday, to decide whether to match it and retain him.

The Nets (in accordance with NBA rules) structured the contract to make it more difficult for the Heat to match, which would produce cap hits of $19.2 million in each of the last two seasons. Johnson will receive $5.6 million the first year and $5.9 million the second year. The Nets attempted to make the contract as poisonous as possible, also attaching a 15 percent trade bonus which would take effect if the Heat were to subsequently try to trade the contract down the road.

The question, then, becomes: Why would Johnson have signed it?

Johnson had reportedly met with the Heat organization in the hours leading up to his signing the offer sheet with Brooklyn. What they discussed, and why he ultimately signed the offer sheet, is still unclear.

Had he chosen not to sign the offer sheet and instead sign with the Heat outright, it could have leveraged a portion of its $19 million of remaining cap room to provide him the same $50 million payout, but in a more standardized way (say, $12.5 million per season).

That, in turn, would seemingly have benefited all parties. For the Heat, it would’ve meant smoother cap hits with no poisonous back end, and no rush to try to match anything. For the Nets, it would’ve provided immediate clarity, and eliminated the need to tie up $12.5 million of cap space for three valuable days (i.e., the Nets, by rule, were required to maintain cap space equal to the average value of the offer sheet from the moment it was signed to the moment the Heat announced its decision on whether or not to match). For Johnson, it would’ve meant a more accelerated payout of equal money.

Nevertheless, Johnson signed it. Which necessitated that the Heat match, which, rightly or wrongly, it chose to do.

The only question then remaining: How would the Heat complete its roster in the wake of that decision, while keeping intact its primary goal to maintain maximum flexibility for the summer of 2017Read more…