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Riley Guarantees Dexter Pittman’s Contract

June 29th, 2012 1 comment

Working in advance of the league’s October 31 deadline for such moves, Heat president Pat Riley picked up the 2010-11 rookie-scale option on the contract of first-round pick Daequan Cook late in 2009.

Eight months later, Riley changed his mind. Attempting to clear as much salary-cap space as possible for free agency, the Heat traded the underperforming Cook and the 18th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In exchange, the Heat received the No. 32 selection. That pick became Dexter Pittman.

Pittman signed a three-year minimum salary contract with the last of the Heat’s remaining cap space in July of 2010. The final year, for the upcoming 2012-13 season, was fully unguaranteed, becoming guaranteed if not waived before June 30, 2012. Earlier today, Riley confirmed that the Heat would let that deadline pass, thus guaranteeing his contract.

The decision to retain Pittman is certainly understandable. The Heat desperately needs size. Apart from Pittman, LeBron James is currently the heaviest player on the Heat. Only Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony are taller.

While the Heat implemented its small-ball philosophy with great success during its playoff run, a strategy that the Heat seem destined to employ for the whole of next season, don’t kid yourself. It’s a strategy borne more out of necessity than desire.

But Pittman, who has played a total of 320 big-league minutes over the course of his two seasons in the league, is hardly a definitive answer at center. Any flashes of low-post skill he has displayed have thus far been more than offset by his propensity to foul (sometimes violently).

Therefore, while the decision to retain him may be understandable, the manner in which Riley chose to do so was certainly not. One must question what prompted Riley to offer a guarantee to a player who seemingly didn’t require one. He could have, and should have, waived the wide-bodied center prior to the June 30 deadline, and thereafter re-signed him to a make-good, training camp contract. Of course, the risk with such an approach is that some other team might make Pittman a better offer. But let’s be realistic. A better offer wasn’t coming.

Riley has done this before. In July of 2010, 2009 second round pick Patrick Beverley was offered a questionable (or, frankly, inexplicable) two-year fully guaranteed contract – making him the only player in the league to try out for the team that drafted him, fail to make the team, and then be offered a multi-season guaranteed contract the season after. Despite the guarantee, Beverley was waived one day prior to the start of the regular season. Total unnecessary cost incurred: $2.1 million (including the tax).

Unlike Beverley, however, Pittman’s spot on the roster is all but guaranteed. The cash-strapped Heat can no longer afford to repeat its sins of the past and eat guaranteed salary. It’s simply too expensive. Letting Pittman go would add an additional $1.7 million to a payroll already projected to approach $100 million, the highest in franchise history by a wide margin. The Heat is, for better or worse, invested in Pittman’s continued development.

Said Riley: “We expect improvement. Big guys, when you draft them late or in the second round, it’s a two- or three-year project. He’s going into his third year. We are going to give him a great shot and we expect this year he might be able to really contribute to us.”

The Heat now has eleven players under guaranteed contract for 2012-13. By league rules, the team must employ at least thirteen, but no more than fifteen, on its regular season roster. It can carry as many as twenty during the offseason.

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Heat Draft Moultrie, Trade Him to 76ers

June 28th, 2012 No comments

Well, apparently Pat Riley will wait until the start of free agency to upgrade to his championship roster.

The Heat selected Mississippi State power forward Arnett Moultrie with its No. 27 pick in today’s NBA draft, but then promptly dealt the SEC’s leading rebounder to the Philadelphia 76ers.

In exchange, the Heat received a future first round pick from the 76ers and the No. 45 pick in the second round of the draft, which Miami used to select LSU center Justin Hamilton, who is expected to be sent overseas for development next season. The first-round pick the Heat acquired is lottery protected for the next three seasons, meaning the Heat will get the pick as soon as Philadelphia makes the playoffs. If they miss the playoffs in all three seasons, the pick will turn into two second round picks — one in 2015 and another in 2016.

On the face of it, the move was something of a steal for the Heat. The pick they gave up was No. 27 overall. The one they obtained is likely to be in the high teens a year later, and in the meantime Miami still got to use Philly’s second-rounder.

But the trade comes in direct contrast to the plan laid out by the Heat’s vice president of player personnel, Chet Kammerer, during his pre-draft media session with reporters the day prior. Kammerer had suggested that the Heat were planning to draft a player with the pick, one who could contribute immediately and complement the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

As it turned out, a wild draft left such a possibility still on the board at No. 27.

The 6-foot-11-inch, 235-pound Moultrie seemed to be just the kind of player Miami could use to add depth to a thin front line that features just Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Dexter Pittman and Joel Anthony. Moultrie is long and athletic, with great quickness, explosive leaping ability, and a knack for grabbing and finishing off offensive rebounds. But he is also a skilled perimeter player with range that many expect will extend all the way out to the three-point line in time, a vital component for a Heat team that had postseason success by playing three-point shooting specialist Shane Battier out of position at power forward. Moultrie, therefore, seemed to be a perfect fit. With Battier overmatched at power forward and Haslem’s stills in a rapid state of decline, it’s not inconceivable that Moultrie could have become a starting caliber addition in the years ahead.

The Heat had other intriguing options available as well, including Baylor’s Perry Jones III at combo forward — a super-athletic big with the skills of a guard and the height of a center, and seemingly an even better fit for the Heat with an even higher potential upside.

So why the trade?

Many have speculated that the rationale for the trade was the financial flexibility it provides. By trading out of the first round of the draft, the Heat won’t have to add a multi-year guaranteed contract to a payroll that already exceeds the league’s $70.3 million luxury-tax limit. Such a rationale, however, seems unlikely. The salary scale of a player selected at No. 27 in the draft, $868,600, is roughly identical to the minimum salary contract to which the roster spot is now likely to be allocated. There’s no savings there. And, as far as next year is concerned, the Heat will likely find itself in this very same situation – required to offer a multi-year guarantee to the player selected with its newly acquired pick, only this pick will very likely be much higher up than No. 27, and thus significantly more expensive. There’s no savings there either.

Riley’s explanation, that “the players that we had on our board were not there at the time, and we felt we had a great option with Philly to get a future first next year” is also not very likely. The depth in the 2013 draft is widely considered to be comparatively weak.

A more likely rationale for trading into a future first round pick is in its potential value as a trade asset.

Teams are restricted by league rule from trading away all of its future first round draft picks in consecutive years. The Heat has already traded away its 2013 first rounder and its 2015 first rounder to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the LeBron James sign-and-trade. Therefore, without the Philly pick, the Heat couldn’t have utilized a first round pick in trade until the 2017 draft at the earliest. So it opens up a world of potential trade possibilities.

The Heat has several undesirable long-term contracts allocated to players who figure to have a diminishing role in the years to come – among them Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony. That doesn’t bode well for a team which will have a payroll well in excess of the luxury tax threshold for 2013-14 and beyond, when the league’s more punitive tax penalties kick in. Riley will presumably look to trade away at least one at some point in the future, and it won’t be easy. The toxic nature of these contracts would suggest that the Heat might need to include additional assets as an enticement to complete such a trade, let alone expect anything of value back in return. As it stands, the Philly pick now represents the Heat’s best trade asset.

And so what otherwise might have been a promising young rookie in Moultrie may well become nothing more than a means in which to undue a bad mistake. That’s the cost of doing business. Mistakes are inevitable. And costly to unwind.

And so passes by another uninspired NBA draft… unless, of course, it turns into something great next year.

Congratulations, Miami Heat!

June 21st, 2012 4 comments

Thank you, Miami Heat.

This might just be the beginning of something great. But before we delve into what happens next, before we talk about salary caps and luxury tax consequences and free agency and draft prospects, let’s take a moment to reflect on what has just taken place.

You showed poise against a hating world. And in doing so, you proved everyone wrong.

Thank you for not letting the haters beat you down.

Remember Dan Gilbert declaring, “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”?

Remember how the critics called Wade’s brainchild and Pat Riley’s free-agent coup a colossal failure? How they said the only way the Big Three could win is if there were three balls? That three NBA superstars couldn’t possibly share the limelight?

Remember Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock summing up after last year’s Finals loss, “The Big Three is done. It was a noble experiment. James and Wade deserve credit for trying to make it work, for being completely loyal to and unselfish with each other for an entire season. Now it’s time to move on before they inflict further damage on their reputations.”

Well, they were all wrong.

Remember how you were vilified for having no heart? No will to win? No guts to rise above adversity? Remember how everyone left you for dead after you trailed 2-1 to the Pacers, 3-2 to the Celtics, 1-0 to the Thunder?

Well, you went 9-0 after trailing at any point during a playoff series this postseason. It doesn’t get any better than that.  Read more…

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