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Let the games begin…

April 27th, 2010 No comments

Now that the Miami Heat is eliminated from the playoffs, the 2010/11 rebuilding plan is officially underway.

The Heat is now allowed to pursue trades with other teams not currently in the playoffs. Off limits are any players who will become free agents or who have team or player options. That means no Bosh discussions just yet. But it does mean the Heat can start to desperately pursue suitors to take over the contracts of James Jones and Daequan Cook, and perhaps Michael Beasley.

The only team which can create cap space for trades is Oklahoma City. The Thunder could create as much as $2.4 million of cap space before the current season officially ends on June 30. Therefore, if the Heat aims to send out contracts without taking on contracts in return, it will need to pursue a trade with the Thunder, pursue a trade with a team with a large enough trade exception to take on the salary the Heat would be shedding, or agree to a trade that will technically be completed during the next salary cap year in July.

The next big dates to keep in mind:

June 24: 2010 N.B.A. draft
June 25: Last day for Joel Anthony to exercise his player option
June 30: Last day for the Heat to exercise its team option on Mario Chalmers
June 30: Last day for the Heat to waive James Jones, or his contract becomes guaranteed
June 30: Official end of the 2009-10 regular season
July 1: Free agency begins for all teams
July 8: Free agent contracts can be signed

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Asssessing Jermaine O’Neal’s Worth on the Open Market

April 23rd, 2010 No comments

Here’s a question for you. How many million dollars is Jermaine O’Neal costing himself with his postseason performance?

I’ll take a stab. I’ll boldly claim it to be over 8 figures. Yes, $10 million.

There were some predicting O’Neal, with his strong and unexpected regular season performance, could garner a multi-season contract with a starting salary of approximately $10 million. Seeing him play on a day-to-day basis, I always felt that was crazy. But he did shoot a career best 53% from the floor, and remains a significant interior shot blocking presence.

But the real Jermaine O’Neal has finally stood up. O’Neal’s playoff stat line is nothing short of ridiculous. In games 1, 2 and 3 he shot 3-14, 1-10 and 1-7 from the floor, respectively. That’s a mind-boggling 16%. Yes, he was matched up against perhaps the Eastern Conference’s second best low post defender. But 16%? His shooting has been awful. His rebounding not much better. And the sad truth is that he is an overrated defender. In my humble opinion, I see Jermaine as a strong shot-blocking help defender. But in one-on-one defense, he lacks the strength or desire to keep his man in front of him. He plainly gets dominated.

In the offseason, Jermaine will be looking for a championship contender, some place where he can sign a multi-year deal where he can finish out his career.

“I’m looking forward to it because basically it’s the stretch run for me,” O’Neal was quoted as saying a few weeks back. “I don’t plan on playing past the next four or five years. I definitely want to make a decision and put myself in the best position to compete for a championship.”

Now hitting the ripe age of 31 years old, O’Neal will get his first chance at becoming a free agent during his career. Can you see anyone handing him a four year contract?

There are data points working in his favor. Marcus Camby just got upwards of $21 million (with $5 more in incentives) from Portland at 35 years of age. And there are several N.B.A. clubs that can use an imposing (is that what he is?) big man with touch around the basket. I could see one stretching. But here’s how his last three performances have hurt him:

  • I never saw any team willing to offer him his desired four to five year contract. Three, however, was a possibility. That’s now two.
  • I never quite saw $10 million per season in his future, but I could have seen someone stretch to between $7 million and $8 million guaranteed. Now you can knock that down to the Mid-Level Exception (MLE).

I am currently projecting an MLE of approximately $5.8 million. That’s two years and $12 million. Or roughly $10 million less than three years and $21 – $24 million. Sounds about right to me.

Though not for the Heat. It’s too big a risk for Miami at those levels.

If O’Neal truly wants to win a championship, I would bring him back at no more than half that amount, as the starting center on a team that features Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Of course, based on current cap projections, that’d require big sacrifices from the latter three players. And he wouldn’t accept anyway.

Sacrificing O’Neal will be tough, if only because there simply aren’t any better options on the free agent market, certainly not at bargain prices. Which makes you think creatively. The Heat still owns his Bird rights. They could theoretically sign him to a one-year minimum salary contract, conserving cap space for this summer in the process, and then give him a huge boost in salary the following season to make up for it.

Great in theory, but not in practice. Negotiating two future contracts is a direct violation of league rules. It is considered by the league to be among the most serious violations a team can commit. It is punished severely when discovered. O’Neal would have to sign the first without any knowledge of the second. What he knew, and when, is hard to prove. But the contract values would speak for themselves.

O’Neal won’t be back next season.

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Beasley Trade Expectiations

April 21st, 2010 No comments

Let’s discuss Michael Beasley for a moment.

For whatever reason, he’s not living up to expectations.

The sad truth is that he was an unwise draft selection for the Miami Heat.

It’s a shame when you consider that beneath his personal and professional struggles is a truly nice guy.

It’s a shame when you consider how much talent was available to the Heat at positions of greater need – from point guard Russell Westbrook, to power forward Kevin Love, to center Brook Lopez to name a few.

Some of us blame Pat Riley for drafting him, some of us blame Erik Spoelstra for the way in which he has been handled. Some of us blame Dywane Wade for his lack of mentorship. Others of us put the blame squarely on Michael’s shoulders.

At this point, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. The only thing that matters is putting championship-caliber pieces around Dwyane Wade in the offseason.

Michael Beasley should not be one of those pieces. At this point, a separation is as good for Michael as it is for Miami. And it’s coming. It’s inevitable. As soon as the Heat successfully signs Bosh or Stoudemire or Boozer, Michael becomes expendable and clearing his salary more valuable. So the question is not what the Heat should do with him but rather what it can expect in return for him.

Expecting much of value in return for Beasley will not be easy.

Consider the perception of him from those outside of South Florida. Off the court, he has had a worrisome and checkered past. On the court, he appears very unpolished and, even worse, all-too-often completely lost. Nobody’s quite sure if he’s a small forward or power forward. His physical attributes – height, weight, shoulder width, etc. – suggest he’s the former but he seems to perform better as the latter. He can’t defend either position.

All indications thus far seem to suggest interest in the troubled forward from around the league is waning. The Heat were interested in Amare Stoudemire at the trade deadline but never offered Beasley up in return, instead communicating a commitment to build around him as a cornerstone.

Since that time, Beasley’s game has deteriorated. He’s averaging a mere 13.1 points, on 42.0% shooting, and 5.6 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, his production has been worse. Last night was telling. He was playing in front of a national audience. The entire country was watching. He was matched up against the undersized and not so fleet-of-foot Celtics backup power forward Glenn Davis, a great match-up for the swift and agile Beasley in his bid for redemption. And he stunk.

People have thrown around Beasley trade proposals involving anyone from Darren Collison to Tyreke Evans to Stephen Curry (my favorite N.B.A. point guard, a must-acquire for the Heat if at all possible, no matter what it costs, short of Wade, though it’s not possible, and I’m just dreaming) to Chris Bosh. Such proposals would seem ludicrous at this point. I would suggest that we all temper our expectations just a bit. Right now, the bigger worry is about Miami’s ability to move him – and his $5 million expiring contract – at all.

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UPDATED: Heat’s True Cap Position

April 18th, 2010 No comments

Will the Heat have enough dollars to build a contender?

Commissioner David Stern changed the landscape of the free agent market on Friday. During the N.B.A. board of governors session in New York, he revealed that the league’s projection for the 2010/11 salary cap is now $56.1 million — a substantial increase from its earlier projections of as low as $50.4 million.

This is a wonderful development for a Heat team looking to retool. Let’s take a look at exactly what it means.

Salary Commitments. The Heat have the following players under contract next season:

Michael Beasley: $4,962,640

Daequan Cook: $2,169,857

James Jones (Partial Guarantee): $1,856,000

Joel Anthony: $885,120

Mario Chalmers ($854,389 Team Option): $0

Total Salary Commitments: $9,873,217 

N.B.A. Draft. The Heat hold the 18th pick in the first round of the 2010 N.B.A. Draft, to be held on June 24th.

First round draft picks, unlike all other N.B.A. players, have a defined salary scale for which they must be paid. It’s a sliding scale based on the position within the draft the player is selected. Such players count against the cap at their scale amount immediately upon being drafted. They can ultimately be signed for between 80% and 120% of their scale amount. In reality, however, they nearly always make 120%.

At No. 18, the player who the Heat selects in the draft will count $1,237,500 against the cap. If they prefer, the Heat can choose to trade the pick, possibly for a future pick, in order to clear the cap space. If they keep it, once the player is ultimately signed, he will likely earn a 20% increase to his scale amount, or $1,485,000. The Heat can keep him at the smaller number, utilize all of its cap space, and then exceed the cap to give him the larger number. Should they keep the pick, that’s precisely what they’ll do.  Read more…

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N.B.A. Raises 2010-11 Salary Cap Projection to $56.1 Million

April 16th, 2010 No comments

David Stern dramatically altered the landscape of the summer’s free-agent market on Friday. At the league’s board of governors meeting in New York, he revealed that his latest projection for the 2010-11 salary cap is now $56.1 million – a robust increase from its already-increased earlier projections.

The salary-cap amount is determined in large part by the league’s revenues from the previous season. If the league had a good year, the cap goes up a lot the next season. But the league didn’t expect this to be a good year. Due to the worldwide economic downturn, Stern notified teams in a memo last July that the 2009-10 cap was to be set at $57.7 million, a 2% drop from $58.67 million the year before, because revenues weren’t meeting expectations. He then lowered an even bigger boom, warning teams to expect the salary cap for the 2010-11 season to fall even further, all the way down to between $50.4 and $53.6 million, which was based on an expected 2.5% to 5% decline in revenues.

It was forecasted to be the biggest drop year-over-year drop in the cap in N.B.A. history, and by a long-shot. Prior to that day, 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. Now the league was looking at two consecutive drops, totaling as much as 14%.

The N.B.A.’s advice to teams at the time was both simple and ominous: Be aware of this projected decrease and plan accordingly.

Many teams headed that warning. The gloom-and-doom projections led to teams being more conservative, selling off assets at bargain prices in order to create additional cap space. In that regard, the players’ union might have a bone to pick now. They can’t be too happy that teams were forced to take such action based on preliminary projections that are turning out to be nowhere near true. They’ve even threatened to file a collusion lawsuit if the league did not have a good-faith basis to predict such a precipitous drop.

The league periodically revises its projections as the season progresses based on economic conditions and revenues. At around the All-Star break, it revealed that the cap likely would fall on the high side of the earlier projections - somewhere in the $53-54 million range.

A cap as high as $56.1 million comes as a complete surprise. It still represents a drop of about $1.6 million from the current cap, which translates to an approximate 0.5% drop in revenues from last season. But it makes a huge difference for teams that were hoping to use the huge 2010 free-agent market to build a perennial powerhouse.

Teams that were a little short of being able to offer the full maximum salary to premier free agents will now find themselves with sufficient cap room to do so. Teams that were resigned to letting go of their own free agents to create cap room now have the ability to hang on to a player or two – signing a free agent and preserving some of their depth at the same time.

The revelation mattered most to the teams that dreamed the biggest. Teams with significant cap space that will be positively affected by Friday’s news include the New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers.

Teams that are hurt the most by the revelation are the teams that had the most to lose, namely the Cleveland Cavaliers, who now have to compete with a host of other teams that can offer some fairly compelling packages for the ongoing services of LeBron James.

Nowhere is that more true than with the Miami Heat. The latest cap projection puts the Heat within a mere $1 million of being able to offer three full maximum contracts. It makes the once-thought-to-be-ludicrous dream of pairing James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in South Florida, for the first time, an imminently real possibility. It was a quietly huge revelation for Heat fans everywhere!

The finalized salary cap numbers will be determined in the first week of July.

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Another Opportunity Wasted

April 15th, 2010 No comments

Somebody please explain to me why the Miami Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra chose to win its season finale against the New Jersey Nets. Perhaps I am simply not as smart as I thought I was.

In my crazy mind, the Bucks did us a huge favor by beating the Celtics. The victory meant the Heat could quite literally have chosen its desired playoff match-up. By intentionally losing its season finale, the Heat could have fallen to sixth in the Eastern Conference and secured a first round playoff match-up against an Atlanta Hawks team it holds a 3-1 record against on the season. Better still, it would have allowed for a potential second round match-up against an Orlando Magic team it played to a 2-2 push.

By taking the win against the league’s worst team, the Heat has taken over the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. That means a first round match-up against the fourth-seeded Boston Celtics. The Heat played the Celtics to an 0-3 record on the season. The Heat, in fact, is 1-11 in its last 12 games against Boston, with its only win coming when the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. It also means that if the Heat miraculously took out the Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers would be waiting in the wings. The Heat are the proud owners of exactly zero wins against the Cavs.

I thought coach Spoelstra was a numbers coach. The numbers are about as obvious as could possibly be expected.

It’s difficult to understand why the Heat chose not to give away the game.

Some might say it was so the team can enter the playoffs on a roll. But the team’s top three players all sat the game out anyway. Can you really be on a roll when Yakhouba Diawara, who will be ineligible to play during the playoffs, hits the game’s biggest shot?

Others might say tanking a game is bad karma. I would submit that any coach who believes in karma, fairies, angels or demons should not be a coach in the N.B.A. Coaches should believe in their players, and they should believe in match-ups. By all accounts, the Atlanta Hawks were a better match-up. The Heat had complete control over its fate, and chose the match-up that will in all likelihood end its season. Had it chosen otherwise, I would imagine Vegas odds-makers would have had a Hawks/Heat series at a virtual toss up.

Somebody please explain.

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