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Archive for May, 2010

Filling Out the Roster

May 31st, 2010 5 comments

Many of us have our doubts. We ask ourselves whether it truly can be done. Can the Miami Heat realistically build a championship caliber roster while operating within the confines of the salary cap? It doesn’t seem possible.

We point to the evidence. The four semi-finalists in the 2010 NBA Playoffs have team salaries as follows:

1. Los Angeles Lakers: $91,341,066
2. Boston Celtics: $84,069,655
3. Orlando Magic: $80,449,669
4. Phoenix Suns: $74,738,817

Each is significantly to ridiculously more than the Heat will be able to spend. But for the sake of argument, let’s analyze these numbers for a moment.

Yes, the Lakers, Celtics and Magic made a conscious decision to (over)spend. But they’ve realized some nice returns on their investments. The organizations are wildly profitable, producing an average operating income of more than $20 million during the 2008/09 season. And they’re perennial powerhouses.

I take more of an interest in the Phoenix number. If you recall, the Suns completed a blockbuster trade in July that sent Shaquille O’Neal to the Cavaliers in exchange for Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavolic and $500,000. For the Suns, the trade was a straight salary dump. Wallace was subsequently bought out for $10 million from a contract that would have paid him $14 million. Pavolic, whose $5.0 million contract was only partially guaranteed for $1.25 million, was waived. With the moves, Phoenix saved $18.0 million in salaries and luxury tax payments.

The maneuvering also meant that $11,250,000 was spent on two players that didn’t make the regular season roster. So the true team salary, for comparative purposes, is a relatively paltry $63,488,817.

At just $63 million, the Suns put a big scare into the defending champions. The Heat, although constrained by the $56.1 million salary cap, will likely spend on the order of $60 million after utilizing its available exceptions. So all of a sudden, creating a winner seems possible. Difficult, but possible.

But operating with such limited funds does have its drawbacks. What it means is that Pat Riley will need to allocate the bulk of Micky’s money on the starting five. Therein lies the problem. The potential lack of depth becomes an overriding concern. Read more…

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Hedo’s unhappiness presents more trouble in Toronto

May 30th, 2010 No comments

Hedo Turkoglu signed a five-year, $53 million contract with the Raptors in July 2009

(Damn it! I’ve had this post in queue for weeks. Now that Hedo has come out and declared his unhappiness, it seems reactionary, rather than with brilliant foresight.)

Bryan Colangelo must be kicking himself now about his decision to sign Hedo Turkoglu.

It’s not Hedo’s fault that he was grossly overvalued on the free agent market. He’s not to blame for the fact that the Trailblazers and the Raptors wanted to pay him ridiculous sums of money: $52.8 million over five years to be exact.

What is Hedo’s fault is just how poorly he played in his first season in Toronto.

Some of it is a matter of skill, which makes it painfully apparent that Turkoglu isn’t the elite player many apparently felt he was. A solid and serviceable player, sure, but one with an inflated value due to an Orlando system that put the ball in his hands an inordinate amount of time.

Some of it is undoubtedly psychological. The pressures of living up to such a big contract coupled with the introduction to a new city can be substantial.

But a lot of it was purely motivational. He showed up to camp overweight and out of shape, and never seemed eager to do much of anything. Things got particularly uneasy as the Raptors suffered through a dramatic second half collapse, leaving the team outside of the playoff picture.

Whatever the case, one thing is for certain. The Raptor organization now finds itself in a difficult predicament. It could be something of a perfect storm in Toronto this summer: Chris Bosh will exit, the Raptors will have minimal cap space with which to work, and with the nearly unmovable contracts of Turkoglu and Jose Calderon, the Raptors seam poised for yet another season of disappointment.

Turkoglu has taken notice. Read more…

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Should the Heat be interested in Nate Robinson?

May 29th, 2010 8 comments

Robinson provided a big spark off the bench in Boston's Game 6 clincher against the Magic

Some of us that were watching the second quarter of tonight’s Celtics/Magic game may be contemplating the possibility of adding Nate Robinson to play the point for the Heat next season. After all, he will be an unrestricted free agent.

It may surprise you to know that the Heat did express an interest in Robinson at the trade deadline last season. But why would the Heat, a team known for its size deficiency in the backcourt, pursue the smallest player in the game today?

Nate’s lack of height is the first thing that comes to mind about him as a player. He is listed at 5’9″, making him one of the shortest players in league history (Muggsy Bogues, drafted twelfth overall in the 1987 NBA Draft by the Washington Bullets, was a starting point guard at a shocking 5’3″), yet his height is the only thing that makes him a point guard. He’s really a shooting guard masquerading at the point. He has a scorer’s skillset and a scorer’s mentality, playing point guard only by default. He tends to look for his own shot rather than to set up others and can get wildly out of control at times. Robinson’s jump shot is also inconsistent, and he takes more three pointers than his conversion rate would suggest he should.

The flip side is that he brings tremendous energy to the game whenever he enters, and despite his size is capable of getting his shots off due to an explosive first step and impressive leaping ability. His defense is surprisingly effective for 5’9″ player, where his combination of strength and supreme athleticism allow him to stay in front of players far bigger than he is. Unfortunately, they’ll always be able to shoot over him.

Robinson is a high quality player as we saw tonight, despite the fact that God seems to have forgotten to grant him those final four inches. Even if his size worries you, his tunnel vision alarms you, and his swagger outright annoys you, you’d be hard pressed to deny his talent. He can flat out score in this league.

One can see why the Heat expressed an interest. He’s such a difficult force for opponents to contain, he’d be a perfect volume scorer off the bench – something the Heat has been desperately lacking for years. But his physical limitations and his temperament suggest he can never be anything more.

Simply stated, Robinson doesn’t work in South Florida. His skill set does not match the Heat’s need in the starting rotation – Miami needs more of a floor general, who can space the floor and contribute quality defense – and his value would price him out of the Heat’s range as a second unit contributor. Read more…

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Why LeBron James Should Consider the Miami Heat

May 28th, 2010 1 comment

I’m not sure if you already know this, but the rumor is that LeBron James is thinking of leaving Cleveland, now that his contract with the Cavaliers is up.

Everyone from Jay-Z to Barack Obama is in on the act of recruiting him.

Speculation over where he’ll end up has run wild. In the past 24 hours, Vegas oddsmakers have increased Miami’s odds of landing James from 35-1 to 7.5-1. In a poll of six ESPN experts, two felt Miami was the most likely destination.

What was once thought to be the ridiculous bantering of the hopelessly delusional is now a potential reality. A combination of Wade, James and Bosh has to be intriguing, and it is possible.

Moving the contracts of Daequan Cook and Michael Beasley are the only things that stand in the way. And both should be quite easy to move. You’d have to think a team would be willing to take on Cook’s expiring $2.1 million contract for, say, up to $3.0 million in cash. As for Beasley, you’d have to think a team would be intrigued about the possibility of acquiring the troubled forward at no cost, and perhaps even surrender future draft considerations to the Heat in order to do so.

Still, the ultimate trio would seem unlikely. And, as surprising as this may sound, it may not even be in the Heat’s best interests.

With LeBron in the mix, entirely new scenarios open up.

If I were Riley, my recruiting pitch to LeBron would go something like this:

I would talk about the benefit of playing in an no-income-tax state like Florida, something that would be worth millions to James, whose off-court earnings dwarf his on-court salary. I would cover the weather, the beaches, the lifestyle, and all else the city has to offer. I would point to the rings on my finger. They are, after all, exactly what he wants. I would point to Micky Arison, the multi-billionaire owner willing to spend whatever it takes to make it happen.

But my focus would be on building a dynasty. Read more…

Q&A: Under-the-table-agreements

May 27th, 2010 No comments

The following question to Ira Winderman has piqued some interest from my shockingly tiny reader base:

“In all your posts, you are undermining and flat out discarding one very real possibility for the Heat to round out the roster. That is, for veterans like U.D., J.O. and Q, and even possibly Dorell, to sign a one-year minimum deal and keep their Bird Rights.”

It is easy to understand the connotation behind this question, though it is not explicitly stated. The concept would be for the Heat to sign any or all of the players mentioned to one-season minimum contracts. Doing so would allow the Heat to maximize cap space this summer and, with Bird rights intact, exceed next year’s salary cap to grant them significant raises for their troubles.

While this is quite a creative concept, the premise is inherently flawed.

This approach is illegal. Teams are not permitted to make direct agreements with a player that are not reported to the league. If they do, the penalties can be severe. Such a violation is considered by the league to be among the most serious a team can commit. A violation can result in a fine of up to $5.0 million, forfeiture of draft picks, voiding of the player’s contract, and/or the suspension for up to one year of any team personnel who were involved. In addition, the player himself can be fined up to $100,000, and prohibited from ever signing with that team.

You might be saying to yourself that the easier solution would be to report the agreement to the league in order to avoid any allegations of wrong-doing. Future contracts, however, are also illegal.

You might also be saying to yourself the league would never find out. This is very risky business – particularly for complementary players – with the penalties being so severe.

In the summer of 1999, the Minnesota Timberwolves tried this approach with Joe Smith. Smith left the Philadelphia 76ers to sign with the Timberwolves. The two sides made an under-the-table agreement that Smith would play under three consecutive one-year contracts at below market value ($1.75 million, $2.1 million and $3.6 million), and the Timberwolves would reward him by using their Bird rights to sign him to a much larger contract beginning with the 2001/02 season (reportedly worth between $40 and $86 million over seven years, dependent on performance clauses).

The league discovered the arrangement the following season, and responded by fining the team the maximum (at the time) $3.5 million, taking away their next five draft picks (two were later returned), and voiding Smith’s then-current contract. Owner Glen Taylor and GM Kevin McHale also agreed to leaves of absence (in lieu of suspensions). Most interestingly, the league also voided Smith’s two previous, already-completed contracts. This essentially stripped the Timberwolves of any Bird rights to Smith.

If Riley were to be found in violation, leniency would not be something that would be afforded. Pat has a history of violations of league rules. Read more…

Be Careful What You Wish For With Joe Johnson

May 26th, 2010 No comments

Joe Johnson is a great player. He has great length, great handles, a nice shooting touch, and he sees the floor. He’s also about as unselfish a player as you can get from an All-Star. He’d be a nice addition to any team, particularly the Heat.

But there are plenty of issues to worry about.

For starters, let’s rid ourselves of the notion that Johnson is worth a max contract. That’s flat ridiculous.

When the Hawks reportedly offered Johnson a four-year $60 million contract extension last summer, even that was arguably a big stretch. It ignored his age, his style of play, and his lack of production in key situations. But at least you could see the logic. The Hawks were a team on the rise, and Johnson was playing a key role. The Hawks were paying him as much for his past as his future. They were paying for a beloved Atlanta fixture to stay.

After having rejected that proposal, he figures to seek even more on the open market. A maximum five year contract would run his new team about $18.3 million per season.

So where does Johnson actually rank in the NBA? Let’s ignore need for a second, and focus solely on ability.

Amare, Bosh, Carmelo, Deron, Duncan, Durant, Gasol, Howard, Kobe, LeBron, Nash, Nowitzki, Paul, Roy and Wade and are inarguably better than Joe Johnson. You can’t even make a case that Johnson is better than any of one of these fifteen guys, right? Read more…

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Lessons in Game Theory

May 25th, 2010 No comments

What LeBron James’ uniform says next season could be a simple matter of game theory

LeBron James continues to insist his upcoming free agency decision will be based purely on the potential to win.

It’s not about legacy. It’s not about marketing. It’s not about becoming basketball’s first billion-dollar man.

If that’s true, it’s all just a simple bout of game theory.

The game consists of a set of players (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and Joe Johnson), a set of moves available to those players (Cleveland, New York, Chicago or Miami), and a specification of payoffs for each combination of strategies (title or no title).

LeBron is clearly aware that he is the centerpiece of the upcoming free agent class. He knows that whatever move he makes will be followed tit-for-tat by the other players. So all he really needs to do is break down the potential scenarios and weigh the likely outcomes.

LeBron’s possible destinations:

1. Cleveland

If LeBron chooses to remain in Cleveland, the Cavs get no better than this past season.

Dwyane Wade re-signs in Miami. Chris Bosh joins him there. Miami still has another $10 million or so with which to round out its roster.

Chicago then makes a strong push for, and gets one of, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer. The Bulls hold right there, unless someone is willing to take on Kirk Hinrich or Luol Deng.

New York re-signs David Lee. Joe Johnson becomes the consolation prize.

Net Result: James’ decision will have created two more perennial powerhouses, and one significantly better organization, with which to compete on an annual basis. The odds of LeBron winning a championship decrease dramatically. Not a viable option. Read more…

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A Look Ahead to the 2010 NBA Draft

May 24th, 2010 2 comments

Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe would be an intriguing option if available to the Heat at No. 18

The Heat has four picks in the upcoming draft – the 18th pick in the first round, and the 41st, 42nd and 48th picks in the second round.

The three mid second round picks won’t provide much value. They hardly ever do. So let’s focus on the first rounder.

In this post I suggest that the best alternative for the Heat may be to swap it to a trade partner in exchange for a 2011 first round pick.

Why? Because the Heat needs every bit of its cap space in order to build a title contender. It’s certainly possible. Take a look at what $56.1 million can do.

The prospect of winning the Larry O’Brien trophy in just five months is certainly thrilling.

Wouldn’t it be even more thrilling to win the trophy next June and then enter the 2011 draft later in the month with two (or potentially three, should the Raptors make the playoffs) first round draft picks? Imagine the dynasty that could be created if those three first round picks were traded in exchange for just one lottery pick.

That’s what I see. It sounds all too perfect.

That is, unless the Heat can snag a game-changing talent here and now. The 2010 draft may just have a couple of those types of players, and both might just be worth selecting if available.

Read more…

Dirk Nowtizki won’t be available this summer

May 23rd, 2010 No comments

Dirk Nowitzki will join the best free-agent class in NBA history, but he's not going anywhere

Rumors are swirling in South Florida now that Dirk Nowitzki is reportedly planning to opt out of his contract and test the free agency market this summer.

Everybody calm down. It means absolutely nothing.

Media outlets and fans are confused as to why the eleven year veteran would consider leaving an organization so committed to winning and so supportive of its players. In short, he isn’t. Dirk’s decision is purely for peace of mind, nothing more. He’s not leaving Dallas.

Dirk has one year remaining on his current contract, which will pay him $21.5 million next season. However, he has an early termination option that would make him an unrestricted free agent this off-season if exercised.

Dirk wants to lock in a long-term contract under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire after the upcoming season, because it is generally regarded to be significantly more favorable than any new agreement to come. So he needs to act now.

Dirk turns 32 years old on June 19. Due to the overly complex “Over-36 Rule” (which I won’t bother to explain unless you ask me to), if he wants to secure maximum dollars, he has two options: (i) he can sign a three-year extension (in addition to the year remaining on his existing contract) or (ii) he can terminate his existing contract and enter into a new four-year deal.

If he enters into a new four-year deal, Nowitzki is eligible to make up to $96.2 million from Dallas. The contract could be written in July, based on the current agreement through the life of the contract.

If he signs a three-year extension, things get a bit more complicated. Utilizing the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, Nowitzki would be eligible to make nearly equivalent money – up to $96.1 million or more over the next four years. The difference, however, is that, by rule, extensions do not actually take effect until the summer before the first extended season. Dirk still has one year left on his existing contract, which means his extension would take effect in the 2011 off-season. By then, the new collective bargaining agreement will (hopefully) already be in place, which would expose Nowitzki to potential after-the-fact reductions to his annual wage if league owners are successful in their attempts to lower the value of maximum salaries.

I would imagine it to be highly unlikely that a reduction in maximum salaries in any new agreement would affect an extension that has been signed under the terms of a previous agreement. I just can’t see the players association agreeing to that.

But let me put it to you this way – what does Dirk have to lose?

By opting out, he gets the peace of mind of having his entire contract fall under the terms of the current agreement. He gets the ability to include a no-trade clause in his contract, something he couldn’t include in an extension. And he gets an additional $178,978.95.

What does he lose? Nothing. Mavericks owner Marc Cuban is clearly willing to offer him a full, four-year maximum contract. So he’s taking no risk in sacrificing his guaranteed $21.5 million upcoming salary.

There will continue to be widespread panic in Dallas for the next two months, particularly given the Mavericks’ first round exit at the hands of the Spurs. But Cuban has shown a commitment to spend beyond the tax threshold in order to retool. This summer, he has his sights set on LeBron James (which he illegally made known to the world, at a cost of $100,000). Whether or not he is ultimately successful need not matter. He will always do right by his players.

Dallas fans need not worry. Dirk isn’t going anywhere. It’s all just minor contract stuff.

Short N.B.A. Playoff Series Affecting the Salary Cap

May 22nd, 2010 No comments

N.B.A. commissioner David Stern projected last month that the league’s 2010-11 salary cap would be about $56.1 million when figures are released in early July, but he admitted they “might have to hustle to get it.”

His projection came just before the start of the playoffs. Since that time, things might not have gone quite the way he expected.

Six of the 12 playoff series in the first two rounds ended in four or five games. Those first two rounds had the fewest number of total games played, 63, since the NBA expanded to a best-of-seven first round format in 2003. That’s down from the seven-season average of 67.7. The previous low was 64 during the 2007 playoffs.

The Conference Finals aren’t doing us any favors either. As of right now, the Boston Celtics have taken the first three games of the series with the Orlando Magic in the east, and look to sweep at home on Monday. In the west, the Los Angeles Lakers have taken the first two games at home against the Phoenix Suns.

Since the expansion in 2003, the playoffs as a whole have lasted as few as 79 games and as many as 89, with an average of about 84.7. This year’s edition can finish in as few as 75 games or as many as 84 – although 84 would be a stretch. A more likely total is 80 – which would rank this year’s playoffs among the shortest since the first round expanded.

But how do so many short playoff series affect the league’s salary cap outlook?

Fewer games means less revenues. That, in turn, means a lower 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 – the difference, multiplied by 51% and then divided by the number of teams in the league, is subtracted from the cap.

Thus, the lower the revenue this year, the lower the salary cap in 2010-11.  Read more…

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