Miami Heat 2013 Offseason Primer

Over the past three offseasons, the Miami Heat has constructed, augmented and refined.

Three summers ago, it was uniting LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Mike Miller with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem as a team that would reach the NBA Finals.

The following offseason, one delayed by a lockout, glue guy Shane Battier supplemented the mix to help the Heat win the 2012 NBA championship.

And last summer, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis were added to help turn the 2012 title into a 2013 repeat.

Because of the team’s ongoing success, as well as the 2013-14 contract options of Allen, Lewis, James Jones and Mario Chalmers all leading them back for another season, there doesn’t figure to be much heavy lifting this time around.

The NBA’s free agency period officially began Monday morning at 12:01 EDT.

While teams can start negotiating immediately, most free agent signings, and all trades, cannot be officially executed until July 10, allowing the league time to compute revenues for the now-expired 2012-13 season and finalize the salary cap and luxury-tax calculations for 2013-14.

However, signings that do not rely in any way upon the specific value of the salary cap can be executed with the start of the new salary cap year on July 1. Such signings include minimum salary deals for up to two years in length.

For the Heat, still basking in a second consecutive championship, the concerns are limited, with 12 players already under guaranteed contract for next season: James, Wade, Bosh, Chalmers, Haslem, Battier, Allen, Lewis, Jones, Miller, Joel Anthony and Norris Cole. In addition, neophyte power forward Jarvis Varnado has a non-guaranteed contract in place that becomes $250,000 guaranteed if he is on the opening-night roster.

That’s 13 regular-season rosters spots potentially filled. Teams can have as many as 20 players under contract in the offseason, in addition to players involved in summer-camp and summer-league tryouts, but need to reduce to between 13 and 15 by the start of the regular season.

While virtually the entire championship core from last season has already committed to return, there is still work to be done: 

Chris Andersen: The only internal free agency concern is center Chris Andersen, whose “Birdman” infectiousness helped energize the Heat during their franchise-record 27-game winning streak and throughout the playoffs.

Andersen reportedly wants to re-sign with the Heat. He is the Heat’s primary offseason target, and will almost certainly be offered a minimum salary contract.

Amnesty Provision: During a one-week period, from July 10 to July 16, teams that have not done so already may exercise a one-time use of the NBA’s amnesty provision, which allows them waive a player who was on the roster prior to December 2011 and not have the waived salary count against their salary cap or luxury tax computations. Teams must continue to pay the guaranteed base salary of their amnestied players.

For the Heat, Anthony, Miller, Haslem, Bosh, Wade and James qualify. The Big Three aren’t going anywhere. Haslem is a mainstay. Anthony doesn’t make enough money. The Heat will almost certainly amnesty Miller. Shaving the $12.8 million in salary he is owed could save the Heat well over $40 million in luxury-tax payments to the league over the next two seasons.

Trade Market: While the Heat do not figure to be buyers on the trade market, they will try desperately to be sellers. By offloading a non-essential salary (Anthony, Miller) it could spare another from amnesty, or it could afford the Heat the ability realize a double savings.

Miller is facing an imminent amnesty waiver. The Heat would love to instead trade him away in order to avoid the up to $12.8 million in ongoing salary commitments.  The situation with Anthony is worse. Even with a Miller amnesty, Anthony would still cost the Heat approximately $30 million over the next two seasons, largely as nothing more than a spectator. However, given the untenable contracts of both, neither is likely to be traded.

Some have suggested that the Heat may be wise to offer Chris Bosh in trade. It won’t happen. Not even if, say, Dwight Howard were available. Teams that are over the apron, the line of demarcation $4 million above the tax threshold, are precluded from acquiring outside free agents via sign-and-trade unless the trade takes them below the apron upon completion and at all times thereafter. So, for the Heat, lofty dreams of acquiring one of the big name free agents like Howard are realistically impossible.

Whatever the scenario, trade assets are limited. The Heat has a wonderful collection of complementary pieces surrounding its Big Three core, but almost none would be considered a valuable trade asset. Most are on the downside of their careers and fit so well in Miami primarily because of LeBron James, a luxury no other team in the league has. Most of the rest are too valuable to trade.

First round draft picks will be difficult to trade. Picks can only be traded up to seven years into the future. The Heat has already traded away a bunch. The only ones remaining are its own picks in 2014, 2016-2019 and the conditional first rounder received from the Sixers in the Arnett Moultrie trade. But teams are also restricted from trading away all of their future first round picks in consecutive seasons. Therefore, the Heat can’t trade away a first round pick of its own, unconditionally, until 2017 at the earliest. The Heat can trade away a pick prior to then, but only on condition that it receives the Philly first rounder, which will almost certainly not happen. The Philly pick can be traded at any time.

Second round draft picks hold little value. The chances of a player chosen in the bottom few picks in the draft making it into the NBA are slim. Such picks are valued accordingly in trade.

Cash can be included as part of a trade package. Even that, however, is limited. The total cash compensation that can be sent out across all trades for the entire 2013-14 season is $3.2 million. This limit cannot be netted against cash received.

Free Agency: The capped-out Heat are limited in their offers to outside free agents to either the veteran minimum, which maxes out at $1.4 million for a 10-year veteran, or the single-use $3.2 million taxpayer midlevel exception. While the Heat have realized value with the latter in the past, their precarious position against the tax this time around likely precludes the spending of anything beyond the former.

Contracts utilizing the mid-level salary exception cannot be executed until July 10. While the option is available to the Heat, the team is not expected to utilize it.

Minimum salary contracts can be consummated immediately. But that does not necessarily mean they will be. Such contracts tend to be accepted as a last resort, when players recognize that their perceived value does not match the market. Expect a relatively slow start to free agency as the Heat waits to pick off anyone who has exhausted more lucrative alternatives and instead might be willing to chase an NBA title.

Depending upon how things go with Varnado, Andersen, the amnesty provision and trades, there could be up to five open spots on the Heat roster. Among the low-cost free agents who could be available in the Heat’s price range are point guard Mo Williams, shooting guards Anthony Morrow and Daniel Gibson, power forwards DeJuan Blair and Lamar Odom, and centers Samuel Dalembert and Greg Oden, among others.

The Heat also hold draft rights to second round draft picks Justin Hamilton (2012) and James Ennis (2013) and can sign them to tax efficient minimum salary contracts starting at $490,180. Both, among many others, will be competing on the Heat’s summer league team that will play games from July 7-12 in Orlando and July 13-22 in Las Vegas. The Heat would be eligible to offer a contract to any of its summer league players who don’t already have one, as well as to any players on any other summer league rosters who are unsigned and not beholden to their teams via draft rights.

The journey to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance — and third straight NBA Championship — has officially begun.

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