Miami Heat Dump Roger Mason Jr. in Trade Deadline Deal

The Miami Heat have dumped the contract of Roger Mason Jr. at the Feb. 20 trade deadline, in a move that saves owner Micky Arison $1.05 million and opens up a roster spot to utilize either on a current free agent or on a player to be waived over the next 10 days.

The Heat will send Mason Jr. to the Sacramento Kings, who are expected to immediately waive him. They’ll also send $786,095 in cash to complete the deal.

While that amount of cash may seem random, it actually isn’t.

Mason Jr. is a 10-year N.B.A. veteran. He is playing under a one-year contract. He is earning $1,399,507, the minimum salary for a player with his tenure. However, he is only required to be paid $884,293 of that amount, equal to the minimum salary for a two-year N.B.A. veteran. The league will reimburse the rest at the end of the season. Therefore, he really only costs the smaller amount, and only the smaller amount is included in team salary for cap and tax purposes. They do this so teams won’t shy away from signing older veterans simply because they are more expensive than younger veterans.

As for the mechanics of how the reimbursement works, he is to be paid his full prorated salary of $8,232.39 per day (equal to his $1,399,507 salary divided by the 170 days in the regular season), until the total reaches $884,293. At that point, he continues to get paid his fully prorated salary but the league reimburses the rest. With the regular season having started on Oct. 29, he earned that much by Feb. 13, 2014. Since that time, his services have essentially been free of charge for the Heat.

However, since the contract has now been traded, the reimbursement will get allocated to the respective teams based on the number of days accrued with each team. Therefore, while the Kings will be responsible for the $452,782 remaining on his contract for the 55 days left in the regular season, they will actually only owe $286,095 after accounting for the reimbursement.

The Heat essentially covered his remaining salary obligations for the Kings, and then topped it off with a $500,000 profit, which serves as the only impetus for Sacramento to make the deal.

In order to send something back, which is required in all trades, the Kings will return the Heat a 2015 second-round pick which is protected for selections 31-49 and 56-60. If the pick ultimately falls within either of its protected ranges and is therefore not conveyed, then Sacramento’s obligation to Miami will be extinguished. This essentially means that the Heat will only get the pick if it lands between pick numbers 50 and 55.

While this range may seem random, it actually isn’t.

The Kings intended to provide enough protection on the pick to ensure that it will never be received. Such trades are commonplace in the N.B.A., and are typically accomplished by trading away a second-round pick on condition that it lands within the last five of the draft. However, the Kings have previously traded the pick to the Boston Celtics with that condition. So, now, the Celtics will receive the pick if it is among the last five, the Heat will receive the pick if it is among the previous five, and the Kings will retain the pick if it is among the first twenty of the second round, as is likely. 

The move validates the Heat’s decision to guarantee the remainder of Mason Jr.’s contract at the guarantee deadline last month.

Had the Heat chosen to waive Mason Jr. at the Jan. 7 guarantee deadline, they would have saved a total of $283,328 in salary obligations. With the team likely to end the season between $5 million and $10 million over the tax threshold, and thus with a $1.75-per-dollar marginal tax rate, the move would have produced another $495,824 in tax savings. That’s a total savings of $779,152.

Instead, as a result of the trade, the Heat will pay his entire post-reimbursement salary of $884,293 (part directly to him and part indirectly to him through the Kings) but get to wipe that same amount entirely from the team’s luxury tax computation, producing a tax savings of $1,547,513. After subtracting the $500,000 profit payout, the Heat realize a net savings of $1,047,513 on the deal.

The Heat also receives an $884,293 trade exception, equal to the traded away salary of Mason Jr. The exception is good for one calendar year, and can be utilized to acquire one or more players with cumulative salaries of $984,293 (i.e., the amount of the exception, plus $100K) in trade without having to send back salaries to match. It cannot be combined with other exceptions or players in order to acquire a more expensive player.

The move, though expected, comes in stark contrast to comments made by head coach Erik Spoelstra on Jan. 7. Spoelstra called the decision to keep Mason Jr. at the guarantee deadline “fairly easy.” He went on to say, “I’ve said this time and time before: It’s not easy to find guys like that, guys that will embrace that role, that are only about winning, only about the team, will do all the things behind the scenes and then you need him. He has a resume, he feels comfortable in those situations and he can produce for you. It is a unique role. It is not for everybody. Roger has embraced it and it fits.”

However, after Toney Douglas was acquired from the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 15, Mason Jr. had been spending most games on the Heat’s inactive list. He was signed as a free agent in the offseason, somewhat questionably, to help fill in during games when Dwyane Wade was to be inactive. Instead, Spoelstra had utilized Ray Allen and Douglas in recent games in those situations.

Mason Jr. played 25 games for the Heat this season, averaging 3.0 points, 0.9 rebounds, and 0.8 assists in 10.4 minutes per game, while shooting 37.3% from the field and 35.4% from three-point range. He wound up costing the Heat $1,384,293.

The move opens a roster spot for the Heat, which the team will look to fill in advance of the playoffs. Per league rules, players waived by March 1 remain playoff-eligible elsewhere, provided they are signed by the end of the regular season.

It remains unclear at this point which free agents might come on the market after being released by their current teams, but the Heat have needs both on the wing and in the frontcourt.

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