Birdman Will Keep Flying with the Miami Heat
The Bird is back!
Chris Anderson will receive a one-year minimum salary deal worth approximately $1.4 million from the Miami Heat, with a player option on a second year.
When the Heat originally signed Andersen last January, they were hoping for an extra body off the bench who could bring energy, rebounding and defense. The veteran forward/center gave them much more than that.
Andersen’s “Birdman” infectiousness helped energize the Heat during their franchise-record 27-game winning streak and throughout the playoffs. He has become known in South Florida for his shocking efficiency, wildly athletic dunks and reckless intensity. What he lacks in unpainted skin he more than makes up for with a floor-burn-inducing style of play and an arsenal of eccentricities that have won over fans across the region. The decibel level at home games soared when he checked his human-wrecking-ball act into the game.
Fans spiked their hair mohawk-style, fake-tattooed their bodies. The level of detail – from the neck tattoo to the earlobe stars to the headband to the sleevework – was, at times, jaw-dropping. They imitated his signature Birdman hand gesture by interlocking their thumbs and flapping their fingers whenever Andersen threw down one of his high-flying dunks. He averaged just five points and four rebounds on the year, in less than 15 minutes of playing time, but seeing that toothy grin after he crashed into the stands trying to save a ball he had no shot at saving was always worth the price of admission.
Fans showed their love. The Birdman returned the favor, accepting a reduced salary while he certainly could have commanded better deals elsewhere. He simply couldn’t bear to leave such a good situation in Miami.
“It feels like as soon as I got into the city, I had nothing but big support for me,” he said. “Everywhere I was going, they were rooting me on. To be able to come in here midseason and collaborate with these guys and play for such an extraordinary, talented team and play with some of the best all-time players, it’s amazing.”
Andersen is already owed $4,818,000 from the Denver Nuggets for next season, the final season of a contract which was terminated utilizing the amnesty provision in July 2012. That’s already a nice chunk of guaranteed money.
He will double-up when he officially signs his new contract with the Heat. But not entirely. The Nuggets will be allowed to reduce the amount of money it still owes him by a commensurate amount. This is called the right of set-off.
It is not a straight dollar-for-dollar offset. When a player is claimed off amnesty waivers, it is a straight dollar-for-dollar offset. But Andersen wasn’t. He cleared waivers, became an unrestricted free agent, and was subsequently signed by the Heat. Therefore, a different set of rules applies. The amount Denver would get to set off is equal to one-half the difference between Andersen’s new salary and the $788,872 minimum salary for a one-year veteran. So, to figure Andersen’s combined total compensation, the formulas would be as follows:
1. Set-off Amount = (New Salary – $788,872) / 2
2. Total Compensation = Salary from Denver – Set-off Amount + New Salary
There were only three types of contracts the Heat could offer Andersen: (i) the $1,399,507 minimum, (ii) up to 120% of the minimum, or $1,679,408, using his Non-Bird rights, or (iii) up to $3,183,000 using the Taxpayer Mid-Level exception.
For financial reasons, they chose the minimum. The math works out like this:
Chris Andersen 2013-14 Compensation Breakdown
Set-off Amount: ($1,399,507 – $788,872) / 2 = $305,318
Denver Pays: $4,818,000 – $305,318 = $4,512,683
Miami Pays: $1,399,507
Total Compensation = $5,912,190
Andersen will make $1,094,190 more than his original contract with Denver
It was a wise decision. The difference between the agreed-to amount (the minimum) and the most the Heat could have offered (the MLE) was only another $891,747 to the Birdman for next season. For the Heat, when including the tax, it was many millions more.
The addition of the second year player option, however, was very costly – much more costly than offering a one-year minimum salary contract this summer, followed by a one-year contract next summer. The reason requires an understanding of how minimum salary contracts work.
When a player has been in the NBA for three or more seasons, and is playing under a one-year minimum salary contract, the league reimburses the team for part of his salary — any amount above the minimum salary level for a two-year veteran. In 2013-14, the minimum salary for a two-year veteran is $884,293, so for an eleven-year veteran like Andersen, with a minimum salary of $1,399,507, the league would reimburse the team $515,214. Only the two-year minimum salary is included in the computation of team salary and luxury tax, not the player’s full salary. They do this so teams won’t shy away from signing older veterans simply because they are more expensive than younger veterans.
Therefore, instead of paying just $884,293 in salary next season — and being taxed on that amount — the Heat will pay and be taxed on the full $1,399,507.
While that ~$500K per season difference probably doesn’t sound like much, it is significantly more than you might realize.
At the Heat’s current tax level, the incremental difference will cost about $2.2 million next season. Should Andersen exercise his player option, assuming a similar tax level, it would add another $2.9 million the following year.
That’s right! Signing Andersen to a two-year minimum salary deal will cost approximately $5.1 million more than signing him to two consecutive one-year minimum salary deals. Even though Andersen himself would make equivalent money. He wouldn’t lose a cent.
Was Andersen really that committed to formalizing the second year offer?
The Heat could have instead elected to sign Andersen to a one-year minimum salary contract, and then made a marginally illegal, undocumented promise of a minimum salary contract the following season if Andersen should so desire (marginally illegal because future contract offers are not allowed; however, without documentation, it is nearly impossible to know they exist; they are speculated to exist in large quantity across the NBA). The word of no man around the league means more than that of Pat Riley.
Were the Heat really wise in taking on the extra $2.1 million this year, and a projected $2.9 million extra in a season in which team salary projects to be more than $120 million, in order to give it to him?
Whatever you believe, the contract is now official. Andersen will be receiving $4,512,683 from the Nuggets and another $1,399,507 from the Heat for the current season.
Andersen now becomes the latest of a slew of players who have agreed to take less to play for the Heat. His concession, however, is of particular note.
He has never really had that break-the-bank contract on which to fall back. He’s made just over $24 million thus far into his NBA career. Including this season’s dual paychecks, that amount will rise to $30 million. But he was denied another $10 million when his 4-year, $14 million contract with the New Orleans Hornets was voided in January 2006 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He would spend more than two years away from the game before being reinstated in early March 2008.
“When I look back at everything that happened, I don’t regret it,” he said. “This whole thing saved my life. I needed this to happen. I don’t know where I’d be today if I didn’t change my ways.”
He certainly knows where he is now – in a city that loves him, playing with teammates who have embraced him.
Outside of LeBron James, Andersen was the Heat’s most important player on offense during various stretches of the regular and postseason. Andersen was the beneficiary of James’ creative passing, scoring mostly at the rim, mostly on dunks, adding vertical floor spacing to the Heat’s offense, drawing double and triple teams away from the perimeter, and forcing opposing defenses to pay the ultimate price for their help defense. He was particularly spectacular in the Heat’s Eastern Conference finals series against the Indiana Pacers, making 15 consecutive shots. For the postseason as a whole, he shot .807 from the floor, bettering his already astonishing regular season conversion rate of .577.
Outside of James, he was also the Heat’s most important player on defense at times. James has praised Birdman profusely in the past, comparing him to his former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Anderson Varejao for his hustle and energy. He blocks shots, he’s versatile enough to check both frontcourt positions, and he rebounds the basketball.
At 35 years of age as of two days ago, the undrafted big man from humble beginnings in the nowhere town of Iola (Texas), who lived out a year of his youth in a depression-era barn amid hay and horseflies and across from stalls and chicken coops, who sacrificed a scholarship to the University of Houston because he couldn’t make the grades he needed, who never knew you had to officially apply for the draft rather than just publicly declare it, who started his pro career with the Jiangsu Nangang Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association before being the first-ever D-League call-up, who more or less threw away the first five years of his NBA career, has come full circle. Despite it all, he seems to have plenty in the tank to contribute to yet another deep playoff run.
“Let’s try to get a three-peat next year,” said Andersen.
The Heat will now look to solidify its frontcourt with the possible additions of Greg Oden and Samuel Dalembert.