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Mechanics Behind the Miami Heat Vision

January 29th, 2010 No comments

Fans are frequently tripped up by the idea of cap room. The premise is pretty straightforward – there’s a salary cap, and if the team’s payroll is at or above this amount, they don’t have any money to spend on free agents. But if they’re below it, they do. In practice it’s not so simple. Teams below the cap typically have less cap room than it might appear, and can actually be considered to be over the cap. Let’s take a look at how all this works.

First the basics: the NBA has a “soft” cap, which means teams can be over it and still function – albeit with restrictions. In fact, a team being over the cap (especially during the season) is far more common than being under it. There are mechanisms called exceptions which allow teams to sign players or make trades while they are over the cap. For example, the Mid-Level exception allows teams over the cap to sign a player or players for up to five years starting at the league average salary. Another well known exception is Bird rights, which allow teams to re-sign their own players while they are above the cap.

The system is designed so that teams may have either cap room or exceptions, but never both at the same time. In order to accomplish this, the league applies the following rules:

  • When a team is below the cap, they add additional amounts to their team salary. This includes the value of any unused exceptions, the scale amount for any unsigned first round draft pick, a cap hold for any free agent to which the team has Bird rights, and a charge equal to the rookie minimum salary for any roster spots fewer than twelve otherwise unaccounted for. This keeps the team from using its cap room on other teams’ free agents, spending right up to the salary cap, and then using their exceptions to spend above the cap. A team really has cap room only when their payroll and all these extra charges add up to a value that is below the cap.
  • An exception is a mechanism that lets a team function while they’re over the cap – a concept that doesn’t apply when the team is below the cap. So if the team is ever far enough under the cap that their payroll plus all these added charges are still under the cap, then they don’t get their exceptions. If they start out above the cap per these rules and they later drop below the cap, then they lose any unused exceptions.
  • A team can renounce its exceptions or free agents at any time. By renouncing an exception a team gives up its right to use that exception, but potentially gains an equivalent amount of cap room (if the team is under the cap without the exception). When a free agent is renounced the team clears the player’s cap hold off their books, but gives up its right to sign the player using the Bird exception.

Let’s look at how these cap rules will apply to the Miami Heat this summer, assuming the cap comes in at the current $56.1 million estimate.  Read more…

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Three Max Contract Players A Possibility?

January 27th, 2010 No comments

What will it take for the Heat to be able to offer three maximum contracts? What does the salary cap need to be?

That depends.

Here’s what we know:

Michael Beasley would need to be traded; that should be easy to do.

Daequan Cook would need to be traded; given that Cook will have an expiring contract with a $2.2 million salary next season, and that the Heat can offer up to $3.0 million in trade, that should also be easy to do.

James Jones has a unique contract that, unless the Heat is very creative and very lucky, will be impossible to trade. He will surely be waived by the Heat prior to June 30, and his contract will use up $1.856 million of cap space.

Here are the variables:

Joel Anthony has a $885,120 player option. That’s the minimum salary for a three-year veteran. He may want to test the market to see if he’s worth more. But he’s not worth more. He’s probably not even worth that. If he declines his option, he could find himself out of a job entirely. Or, if the Heat are creative, they could retain his Bird rights, at a cap hold as low as $854,389, and give him a substantial raise after all of its cap space used up. Better still, they could renounce his Bird rights, free up additional cap space, and still give him a minimum salary contract after the team’s cap space is all used up.

Mario Chalmers has a team option for $854,389. That’s the minimum salary for a two-year veteran. That’s a small price to pay for a point guard, particularly when considering that there aren’t so many great free agent options at the position.

The Heat has a first round draft pick. Assuming the Heat locks in a draft pick in the range of 15 through 20, it’s like to carry a cap hold of between $1.1 million and $1.4 million if the Heat utilizes the pick. The Heat could instead choose to trade it.

The Heat will need to deal with roster charges. When a team carries fewer than 12 players on the roster (including players under contract, free agents included in team salary, and first round draft picks) at any time during the offseason, a roster charge is automatically added. The amount of the charge is equal to the rookie minimum salary ($473,604 for next season) for each player fewer than 12. Such charges will restrict the Heat’s ability to utilize its available cap room.

So – even if you assume that both Beasley and Cook are traded and that Jones is waived, all of which are likely to occur – there are multiple answers. The answer you like will depend on the assumptions you are making:

  • $56,298,764: Anthony and Chalmers options declined; no first round pick
  • $56,679,549: Chalmers option exercised; Anthony option declined; no first round pick
  • $56,710,280: Anthony option exercised; Chalmers option declined; no first round pick
  • $57,091,065: Anthony and Chalmers options exercised; no first round pick
  • $57,906,361: Anthony, Chalmers options exercised; first round pick utilized (at midpoint)

There are countless permutations based upon the decisions Heat management and players make at the end of June. The finalized salary cap figure for the 2010-11 season won’t be announced until the fist week of July.

But, generally speaking, if the cap reaches $57 million, the Heat’s dreams of attracting three maximum contract free agents will be very much alive.

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Demystifying the James Jones Contract

January 25th, 2010 No comments

James Jones has a fascinating contract.

He is making $4.32 million in base salary this season, plus another $10,000 in bonuses, for a total of $4.33 million. He has three additional seasons remaining on his contract which will pay him base salaries of $4.64 million (2010-11), $4.96 million (2011-12) and $5.28 million (2012-13), as well as an additional $10,000 in bonus money for each season he remains on the Heat roster. The final season is subject to an early termination option in the unlikely event that Jones were to want to opt out early.

The final three seasons of his contract are currently only 40% guaranteed, for $1.856 million (2010-11), $1.984 million (2011-12) and $2.112 million (2012-13). However, each season becomes fully guaranteed if he is not waived on or before June 30, 2010.

The Heat want desperately to trade him so that they can move his entire salary off the books. But they can’t afford to take the risk of being stuck with his full salary obligations if they are unsuccessful in finding a trade partner. Therefore, any trade scenario involving Jones needs to happen on or before June 30. If a trade is not executed by then, Jones will certainly be waived on June 30.

Jones’ contract is further complicated by the presence of a trade bonus. If he were to be traded, the contract calls for a up-front bonus equal to 15% of the remaining value of the contract (excluding bonuses) to be paid upon execution. Since Jones currently has $14.880 million remaining to be paid over the next three years (he has already been paid in full for this season), the trade bonus would equal $2.232 million.

Payment of the trade bonus isn’t a big deal. While the $2.232 million would technically be the responsibility of the team trading for him, the Heat could throw up to $3.0 million of cash into the trade to more than offset it.

The trade bonus does, however, increase Jones’ current salary for trade purposes. Trade bonuses get allocated to all remaining contract years, excluding years subject to an option, in proportion to the percentage of salary in each of those seasons that is guaranteed. Thus, for trade purposes, his current $4.33 million salary would increase to $5.57 million from the perspective of a team looking to acquire him. His additional three seasons would count $5.146 million (2010-11), $5.466 million (2011-12), and $5.290 million (2012-13) against the cap if he is then retained by the team that acquires him, and $2.352 million (2010-11), $2.480 million (2011-12), and $2.112 million (2012-13) if he is subsequently waived prior to the June 30 deadline.

Despite the Heat’s strong desire, a trade is going to be virtually impossible.

There is not a single team in the N.B.A. with enough cap space to swallow a $5.57 million current season salary. Thus, the only way he could be traded is by utilizing the traded player exception. And since taking on salary in exchange for Jones defeats the purposes of this exercise, the team that trades for him needs to have a large enough trade exception to accommodate his current salary.

The only teams in the N.B.A. with a trade exception large enough to accommodate Jones’ current salary are the Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards.

So… unless you feel that one of these three teams is going to want to take on Jones’ contract (presumably to capitalize on his buyout) in return for some combination of Heat draft picks and up to $3 million in cash, Jones isn’t going anywhere before year end. And unless Pat Riley wants to risk guaranteeing the three years and $14.910  million remaining on his contract, Jones isn’t going anywhere… period.

The inevitable truth is that Jones will be waived by the Heat on June 30.

Once he is waived, he will cost $1.856 million, $1.984 million and $2.112 million against the Heat’s cap over the next three seasons. The $1.856 million will eat into the Heat’s cap space for the highly-anticipated summer of 2010.

When Jones was signed in July 2008, the partial guarantee was dubbed as one which ensures that Miami could still have maximum spending capability during the free agent summer of 2010. Riley went on to call Jones “a perfect fit.” Less than two years later, it is plainly obvious to see that the contract was a mistake.

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NBA Ticket Sales Beating Forecasts, Could Impact 2010 Salary Cap

January 23rd, 2010 No comments

Attendance across all N.B.A. franchises has reportedly dropped far less dramatically than originally projected over the summer.

The league had initially expected a 6% to 7% drop in attendance but, according to the New York Times, there has only been a 1.7% drop to date. League-wide, arenas are filled to 89% of capacity on average. Attendance is flat or ahead of last season’s pace in the majority of N.B.A. arenas. The Nets and Pistons account for most of the small overall decline.

With attendance so far beating forecasts, the league’s salary cap projects to drop far less significantly less than first feared.

The salary cap is set by calculations based on projected amounts for revenue and benefits for the upcoming season. Barring any adjustments that are necessitated, they typically use the set amount for national broadcast rights (which is determined in advance), plus the revenues for the previous season (other than national broadcast rights), increased by 4.5%.

The cap calculation takes 51% of the league’s projected revenue, subtracts projected benefits, and divides by the difference by the number of teams in the league. Adjustments are then made if the previous season’s revenues were below initial projections.

Therefore, as gate receipts for this season increase, so too do salary cap projections for next season.

The N.B.A. sent a memo to teams last July warning of a potential decline in the salary cap to a figure between $50.4 million and $53.6 million for the 2010-11 season. But, given the unexpected over-performance in gate receipts thus far this season, league insiders are now projecting a cap between $53 million and $54 million.

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Dywane Wade Named All-Star Starter

January 21st, 2010 No comments

Dwyane Wade, All-Star starter for the 6th straight season

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade has been selected by fan vote to start in 2010 N.B.A. All-Star game.

Wade finished fourth overall in fan voting with 2,327,550 votes, behind Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Wade will start alongside guard Allen Iverson, forwards LeBron James and Kevin Garnett and center Dwight Howard for the Eastern Conference. West starters include guards Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, forwards Carmelo Anthony and Tim Duncan and center Amare Stoudemire.

That makes six times Wade has made the All-Star team in his seven year career. It also means he has surpassed Alonzo Mourning for most appearances by a Heat player. In his five previous appearances, Wade has averaged 15.2 points, 3.0 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals.

The game will be played on February 14 at Cowboys Stadium.

While the Heat’s success this season will have very limited impact on the summer ahead, one Heat president Pat Riley hopes will drastically reshape the franchise, Wade’s performance individually — including his performance at the All-Star game, during which all of the Heat’s free agent targets will be present — will be vital to the team’s recruitment efforts.

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Miami Heat’s True Cap Position for 2010-11

January 19th, 2010 2 comments

Miami Heat president Pat Riley has staked his reputation on the team’s, and more specifically his, ability to lure two premier free agents to South Florida to play alongside future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade. Riley will be gunning to create a championship caliber product through what will be one of the most talented free agent markets in league history.

Exactly how much cap space he will have to work with in pursuit of that goal has been the subject of much confusion. There have been many figures published, showing numbers anywhere from $12 million to more than twice that figure.

What’s the true number?

Well, that depends on what you want to include.

Should non-cash charges be included? If so, which ones? Cap holds? Roster charges?

Should Dwyane Wade be included? He has a player option he is sure to decline in favor of becoming a free agent himself.

Should James Jones be included? He has a large, cap-space-destroying $4.6 million salary which is only partially guaranteed. The Heat is certain to terminate the contract to capitalize on the guarantee.

Should Joel Anthony be included? He has a player option which the Heat cannot control. If he exercises it, the team’s cap space will be reduced accordingly.

The safest assumption would be to predicate any underlying assumptions on factors the Heat can, in its sole discretion, control with the understanding that others factors not in its control have affect the numbers accordingly.

With that in mind, below is a look at the Heat’s salary commitments for the 2010-11 season (with footnotes below):

Dwyane Wade: $0 (1)

Michael Beasley: $4,962,240

Daequan Cook: $2,169,857

James Jones: $1,856,000 (2)

Joel Anthony: $885,120 (3)

Mario Chalmers: $0 (4)

First Round Draft Picks: $0 (5)

Roster Charges (9 total): $4,262,436 (6)

Total Salary: $14,135,635

The above figure, $14,135,653, represents the truest figure for the Heat’s team salary, based on how things currently stand.

Subtract ­­­­$14,135,653 from whatever the finalized salary cap number turns out to be, and you’ll end up with the amount of cap space Pat Riley has to work with. To recalculate the team’s maximum cap space as each new player is added, you just need to add the new salary and then subtract $473,604 from the roster charge amount above (until, of course, it gets to zero).

Current projections call for salary cap in the $53-54 million range.

Read more…

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How Bird Rights Work

January 17th, 2010 No comments

In 1983, with the health of the league in serious doubt with numerous franchises suffering from significant losses, the N.B.A. gained a great deal of attention due to its ground-breaking Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which instituted a salary cap for the 1984-85 season that guaranteed the players between 53% and 57% of the N.B.A.’s gross revenues (gate receipts, local and national television and radio revenue and preseason and postseason revenue). Neither the National Football League, nor the National Hockey League, nor Major League Baseball had a salary cap at the time.

While the most intuitive form of a salary cap was a “hard cap,” in which there is a set limit to how much teams can spend on salaries that cannot be exceeded for any reason, the N.B.A. instead adopted a “soft cap.” The “soft cap” allowed teams to exceed the cap (which was initially set at $3.6 million), but only under certain circumstances.

The basic idea of the soft cap was to promote players’ ability to stay with their current teams. Nobody likes it when a player plays with a team his entire career, the fans love him, he wants to stay, and the team wants to keep him, but he has to leave because the team is unable to offer him a large enough contract.

The league figured that it would be better for teams to be able to retain their stars if they so chose. Rather than force teams to let their players leave simply to stay under the cap, they instituted exceptions to the soft cap that would allow them to keep their players under these kinds of circumstances. They could do so either directly, by giving their own free agents contracts that exceeded the cap, or indirectly, by matching offer sheets given to their free agents by other teams.

The 1983 agreement would prove to be a major turning point for the league, and brilliant young players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan excited the fans.

While the exception was technically called the “Qualifying Veteran Free Agent Exception,” the exception has long since been referred to as the “Larry Bird Exception,” as it was supposedly developed so that Larry Bird, a free agent after the 1983-84 season, could be re-signed by his team, the Boston Celtics.

That might very well have been the intent of the rule (to specifically make sure that Larry Bird did not have to leave the Boston Celtics). However, the rule was not actually used on Bird! At least not back then!  Read more…

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Understanding the Charges

January 15th, 2010 No comments

After a wild ride through a doomsday scenario that would have made it impossible for the Heat to achieve its goal of acquiring thee maximum contract free agents this summer, things have somewhat stabilized.

The economy is slowly bottoming. Salary cap projections for next season are slowly rising.

The cap is still, by all accounts, expected to fall from this season’s $57.7 million level. But agents who have been briefed on updated financial figures now are using $54 million as their operating number, a stark improvement from previous league-issued projections as low as $50.6 million.

Unfortunately, the upcoming drop in the salary cap will not take the maximum salary amounts for the league’s most coveted free agents with it.

Max salaries are determined as a percentage (either 25, 30, or 35 depending upon a player’s tenure) of the cap (1). Therefore, when the cap declines, so too do all the maximum salary calculations. But there’s a fail safe. A free agent’s maximum salary in the first year of a new contract is never less than 105% of his salary in the last year of his previous contract. In this declining salary cap environment, the fail safe will apply to each of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Amare Stoudemire.

The latter player is currently earning slightly more than the former three. So if the goal is to acquire the former three within the confines of the cap, we can already definitively know how much it will cost. Each player will command a salary of up to his $16,508,968 maximum. Add three together, and you get $49,706,724.

So for every dollar the cap declines, that’s one less dollar the Heat will be able to apply to the $49,706,724 goal.

There are plenty of teams positioning themselves to sign two maximum contract free agents, and plenty of them in desirable perhaps equally desirable markets – teams like the Knicks and Nets in New York, the Clippers in Los Angeles, and the Bulls in Chicago. What most differentiates the Heat from the pack is its potential to sign three.

The Heat only has on its books for next season Beasley’s $4,262,436 salary, Cook’s $2,169,857 salary, and Jones’ partially-guaranteed salary which can be reduced to $1,856,000 if he is waived. That’s a total of $8,288,293, producing a net difference of $45,717,707 at an assumed $54 million cap level.

Trade away Michael Beasley and it increases to $49,974,143.

So that’s it. Trade away Beasley and the Heat are sure to have enough cap space to sign three maximum contract free agents, right? Wrong.  Read more…

Calculating Maximum Salaries

January 13th, 2010 No comments

The bidding war for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be coming soon to an N.B.A. front office near you.

Following years of anticipation and salary cap maneuvering, one of the most anticipated dates in N.B.A. free agency history – July 1, 2010 – is approaching.

Lots of teams will have cap room to throw at him. Miami Heat fans, and fans around the country, have logical arguments as to why one, two or even three of them will choose to lead their teams. Here’s a look at how much it will take to get them.

Unlike in other professional sports, N.B.A. salaries are capped.

Maximum N.B.A. salaries fluctuate in line with fluctuations in the salary cap.

The salary cap is set by calculations based on projected amounts for revenue and benefits for the upcoming season. Barring any adjustments that are necessitated, they typically use the set amount for national broadcast rights (which is determined in advance), plus the revenues for the previous season (other than national broadcast rights), increased by 4.5%.

The salary cap calculation takes 51% of the league’s projected revenue, subtracts projected benefits, and divides by the difference by the number of teams in the league. Adjustments are then made if the previous season’s revenues were below initial projections.

For maximum salaries purposes, a slightly different cap calculation is used, one that is based on 48.04% of the league’s projected revenues (rather than 51%). The calculations are otherwise the same.

There are types of maximum salaries. Each is based on a player’s tenure.

  • A player with 0-6 years of experience can make up to 25% of the salary cap
  • A player with 7-9 years of experience can make up to 30% of the salary cap
  • A player with 10+ years of experience can make up to 35% of the salary cap

A year of experience is earned for every prior season in which a player was on the active or inactive roster of an N.B.A. team for at least one day during the regular season.

These maximum salary rules only apply to the first year of a player’s contract. All remaining years are governed by the rule regarding contract lengths and annual raises.

The league builds in a backstop, however, to protect the maximum salary levels for players in decreasing (or minimally increasing) salary cap environments. A player’s maximum salary in the first year of any new contract can never be less than 105% of the salary he earned in the last season of his previous contract.

The salary cap is expected to decline for the 2010-11 N.B.A. season from the $57.7 million level at which it is today. Therefore, the backstop will apply to James, Wade and Bosh.

Each player earned $15,779,912 last season. Thus, each player will be entitled to 105% of that amount, or $16,568,908 in the first year of any new contract signed this summer.

While the starting salary is the same no matter where each of these player sign, the N.B.A.’s Collective Bargaining Agreement gives the home team a financial advantage when it comes to re-signing its own players.

Each of the three player’s home teams can offer him one more year (six instead of five) and bigger annual raises (10.5% of the salary in the first season of his new contract instead of 8%). This translates to an offer of $125.5 million over six years, versus the $96.1 million over five years that other teams can offer.

That difference, $29.4 million, is very real. But it is also something of an illusion.

The first five years of a home team’s maximum contract offer would total $100.2 million, which isn’t too far away from $96.1 million. In most circumstances, unless a maximum contract player suffers a catastrophic injury, he will make a large salary in the sixth year no matter where he signs -– so locking in that sixth season now simply provides additional peace of mind.

So, for a player like James, that sixth season shouldn’t matter too much. Conversely, for a player like Wade, whose playing style and injury history place him at risk for breaking down, locking in that sixth year guarantee could be quite important.  Read more…

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Preliminary 2010-11 Salary Cap Projections

January 11th, 2010 No comments

Miami Heat president Pat Riley is squarely focused on the summer of 2010.

He is attempting to structure the biggest free agent coup in N.B.A., perhaps sports, history.

The economy isn’t helping him.

When Riley stepped down as coach to focus squarely on his duties as president in April 2008 – before the global economic downturn that, as with most businesses across the world, hit the N.B.A. hard – some teams around the league were projecting a 2010-11 salary cap in the range of $63 million.

It seems liked a reasonable projection at the time. The league was in the midst of the biggest expansion in its history. Commissioner David Stern was about to announce a record $58.68 million salary cap for 2008-09 season, a massive $3.0 million jump from the prior season. The future was looking bright.

Since the N.B.A. instituted a salary cap starting with the 1984-85 season, the cap had only ever declined one time from the previous season, in 2002-03, and that was only due to the allocation of a massive new ABC/ESPN television contract which was to pay out $4.6 billion over six years, far more than the previous NBC contract, but allocated less to 2002-03 than NBC paid in 2001-02.

Projecting the cap to grow from $58.68 million to $63 million in two years seemed like a relatively safe bet.

Then came the global economic meltdown.

In July of 2009, Stern announced the league’s second ever drop in the cap, to $57.7 million in 2009-10. He also delivered shocking projections for the following season, warning that the cap was estimated to drop a second consecutive time, this time to somewhere between $50.4 million and $53.6 million for the 2010-11 season pending league-wide revenue performance during the upcoming 2009-10 season. The high end of the range was predicated on a 2.5% drop in league-wide revenues (technically termed “Basketball Related Income,” or BRI), and the low end on a 5.0% drop.

Teams had been bracing for such significant reductions in the cap heading into the 2010-11 season, fully aware of the crumbling economy, but seeing such numbers circulate was still jarring for many team officials.

“Teams should be aware of this projected BRI decrease and plan accordingly” said the memo that was distributed to each team.

So in the best-case scenario outlined by the league that day, Miami would have roughly $10 million less in spending money this summer than it originally planned for, although the memo did include a disclaimer stressing that these were “early” projections that could “change based on economic conditions and as more information on league-wide business performance becomes available.”

Things have changed for the better in the intervening six months, if only slightly.

With N.B.A. gate receipts down less than anticipated, the doomsday scenario of an $8 million drop in the salary cap for the 2010-11 season now seems overly pessimistic.

Everyone still expects the cap to drop heading into the summer of 2010, when the league will have its strongest free agent class ever, but by how much is the critical question.

The Heat are apparently the most conservative of all teams in their estimates, reportedly basing their planning for next summer’s cap at $52 million. That could have serious ramifications for how they plan to utilize the upcoming N.B.A. trade deadline. It could make the goal of acquiring three maximum contract free agents virtually impossible. The Heat could, in turn, seek to short-circuit the process and start the rebuild early. Amare Stoudemire has emerged as a prime focus for the Heat after it became clear earlier this month that he would be unable to work out an extension with the Suns.

The league office told teams on the eve of the season opener to expect the cap to come in somewhere around the $52 million range, but agents who have been briefed on updated financial figures now are using $54 million as their operating number. Such estimates have re-invigorated hopes of a potential Big Three scenario for the Heat.

Gate receipts over the remainder of the season will impact the cap calculations going forward (the other primary source of league-wide revenues, national and local television contracts, are locked-in prior to each season), so the numbers listed above are merely the best available estimates at this time.

But one thing is certain: the Heat is desperately hoping that ticket sales and gate receipts continue to come in stronger than originally forecast, which will give them more money to throw around when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and a host of others become unrestricted free agents.

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