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Could Marcus Camby wind up with the Miami Heat?

The Miami Heat are reportedly interested in trading for Marcus Camby if they fail to re-sign Chris “Birdman” Andersen.

Camby was dealt to the Toronto Raptors as part of a trade sending Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks. The deal can’t be completed until July 10, but Camby has already told the Raptors he wants to be moved or released. He wants to play out his remaining years on a contending team.

The Raptors have already begun to shop him. There’s at least one contender he can’t play for – the Knicks. The CBA prevents him from being dealt back to his original team. That leaves the Heat as an ideal trade partner.

Whether a 39-year-old, oft-injured, 17-year veteran coming off his worst NBA season has anything left to offer a two-time defending champion is subject for considerable debate.

But here’s the thing: Trading for Camby makes a great deal of sense for the Heat. Whether or not Birdman is re-signed. And it has nothing to do with his potential contributions on the court.

To see just how valuable Camby could become for the Heat would require some salary cap sophistication. 

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What would a potential trade look like?

The Heat is in a difficult financial situation. Including Mike Miller’s hefty contract makes a great deal of sense. But the Raptors already have shooting guards DeMar Derozan, Landry Fields and Terrence Ross on the roster, and small forwards Rudy Gay and Linas Kleiza – all under guaranteed contract. And Steve Novak and Quentin Richardson are on the way. There’s simply no need for Miller in Toronto. Nor does it make any sense for Toronto to take on his contract. Their goal is to increase their cap space.

The most realistic way a Camby acquisition gets done is in a swap for Joel Anthony.

It makes sense from a variety of perspectives: it’s a legal trade, it’s a one-for-one swap, it’s a center-for-center exchange, it reduces salary for a Raptors team trying to clear cap space, it provides Camby the opportunity to play for a contender, and, while anybody would be bummed to be traded from the Heat, it at least gives Anthony the opportunity to move back home (Toronto being 330 or so miles away from his Montreal birthplace).

The rationale for the Heat is even more compelling.

The Anthony contract, relative to the level of contribution he provides, is perhaps the worst on the Heat’s payroll. Over the past three weeks, you can bet that Heat president Pat Riley has done everything in his power to get rid of it. We, as fans, don’t really know how those conversations have gone. But Riley does. By now, he knows what the appetite for Anthony is around the league. He has a sense for how his marketability could materialize over the course of the summer. And what it might cost the Heat to get rid of him.

That Riley would even entertain a Camby trade proposal would speak volumes about how those conversations are going. If he were able to identify a way in which to rid the team of Anthony’s $3.80 million in salary for each of the next two seasons without taking back anything in return, you can bet that there is simply no way he passes that up to instead trade him for a marginally more talented player who makes even more money – $4.38 million next season and $4.18 in 2014-15. Why solve a problem only to create an even bigger one?

In fact, if the Heat are able to identify a trade partner willing to take Anthony for nothing in return, there’d be no reason to trade for Camby at all. The better approach would be to simply wait out the Camby ordeal in Toronto until the inevitable buyout – much like Joel, Camby has an untenable contract – and pick him up on a much more cap friendly minimum salary contract.

But, counterintuitive as it may seem, through creative maneuvering, Camby’s current, more expensive multi-year deal could actually become an asset for the Heat in trade.

That is, if the Heat were able to convince Camby into modifying it ever so slightly.

It stands to reason that Camby would entertain such a request. After all, he’d be getting exactly what he wanted. Out of Toronto. In with Miami – the team for which he was prepared to sign last summer had it not been for its inability to meet his salary demands. It doesn’t get any better than a Heat trade scenario for him.

Modifying a contract is tricky business.

Contracts cannot be modified to provide for a salary decrease. Nor can they be modified to shorten the term. They can, however, be modified to alter the compensation protection (i.e., the guarantee).

Modifying compensation protection is only commonly done as part of a buyout. There is a quid pro quo between the player and team regarding contractual obligation and salary – in exchange for gaining his freedom, the player agrees to give the team a break on the remaining salary he is owed. But it can happen in any circumstance. It’s perfectly legal, and would be ideally suited to the situation at hand.

Camby’s $4.18 million salary for the 2014-15 season is currently 25% guaranteed for $1.03 million. If the Heat were to acquire him in trade, and then subsequently keep him through the 2014-15 season, they’d owe him the full $4.18 million; that’s too much. If they were to instead waive him after the coming season, they’d still be on the hook for the $1.03 million partial guarantee; that doesn’t work either.

If he could first strike a deal with the Raptors, Riley would have all the leverage over a desperate Camby seeking to flee Toronto. What if he were to use it?

What if Riley were to issue Camby an ultimatum?

Something along the lines of: We’ll trade for you. You can come down to Miami. You can live on South Beach. You can play for the two-time defending champions. You can reap the tax benefits. You can get your full $4.38 million in salary for this coming season. But in return, all I ask is that you reduce your 2014-15 partial guarantee from 25% down to nothing.

What does Camby say?

What does Camby say to putting a meager $1.03 million at risk – having already made $128 million during his long career – to go from a undesirable situation in Toronto to a dream situation in Miami?

Does he say yes?

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Imagine if he does.

The Heat will have parlayed the two years remaining on Anthony’s contract into what effectively becomes an expiring Camby contract.

Why does that help? Two reasons:

First, the savings. The Heat would no longer be on the hook for Anthony’s 2014-15 salary. That’s big savings – $3.8 million in salary and as much as $16.2 million in tax obligations – created without being required to sacrifice even a single asset as an inducement. That’s $20 million of savings for the 2014-15 season!

And the savings could get even bigger. Imagine if the Heat were to be able to trade Camby away for nothing in return at the upcoming February 20 trade deadline. Doing so would clear Camby’s salary from the 2013-14 tax calculation as well. We’re talking massive savings now — as much as $30 million!

Why would somebody help out the Heat in this manner? Here’s why.

There will be 56 days left in the season at the trade deadline. Based on his $4.38 million salary, with just 56 days left, the remaining salary obligations to any team that acquires him would be just $1.44 million. The Heat could offer up to $3.2 million — an up to $1.8 million profit! – to any team willing to take him on. Yes! A trade partner could actually make nearly $2 million just to take Camby’s would-be expiring contract for less final two months of the season.  The Heat could instead, or also, throw in additional assets as an inducement, including the Sixers’ protected 2014 first round pick.

Who would have the resources to assist the Heat in this manner? There are currently four teams — Orlando, Denver, Golden State and Memphis — with a trade exception large enough to accommodate Camby’s $4.38 million salary with a team salary far enough below the tax level to not make them a taxpayer after acquiring it. The latter three of those teams could have reason to want Camby at his minimal remaining salary obligations, irrespective of any potential cash or picks as an inducement. Milwaukee and Philadelphia also project to have the necessary cap space. Perhaps the latter would be willing to complete a deal in return for nothing more than its own draft pick.

Second, the trade asset it produces. How many teams across the NBA would crave an opportunity to create an instantaneous $4.18 million of cap relief next summer? That’s exactly what Camby would become. A team would only need to acquire his contract in trade — from the Heat, of course, at a cost — and immediately waive him to capitalize on the savings. What might the Heat charge for that luxury? A complementary player? A 2014 draft pick?

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Through creative maneuvering, a Camby-Anthony swap could make a great deal of sense for all parties depending upon how things shake out this summer.

The Heat will surely first continue to exhaust all possibilities in seeking out a trade partner willing to swallow both remaining years on Anthony’s contract. You can bet that new Raptors GM Masai Ujiri will do the same with Camby. A Camby-Anthony swap is, by its nature, a last resort. One that could take several weeks to materialize. But it could be an ideal way to turn an unfortunate situation for two teams into a nice solution for both.

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