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Miami Heat Sign Justin Hamilton, Release DeAndre Liggins

Many of the mid-season maneuverings by Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have appeared somewhat erratic, confused and questionable. But did they, accidentally or otherwise, end up in the right place? That’s for you to decide.

On Jan. 7, former All-Star center Andrew Bynum was released by the Chicago Bulls. Upon being waived, he expressed an immediate interest in joining the Heat. 

It seemed inevitable. The Heat had a definitive need at the position. They had the non-guaranteed contract of Roger Mason Jr., which could’ve been terminated at no further cost to the Heat, to release in order to free up the necessary roster spot. They had the financial wherewithal to get a deal done, having traded away Joel Anthony in a financially-motivated move that saved the Heat far more than Bynum was sure to cost. They had a player in Bynum who, when healthy and properly motivated, provides exactly what this Heat team needs.

The Heat instead chose not to waive Mason Jr., not to create the roster spot, and not to pursue Bynum. Heat officials were concerned about how adding Bynum would affect Greg Oden, who had done everything the Heat has asked, because Miami wanted to give him minutes. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra called the decision any easy one, insinuating that Mason Jr. never even had anything to worry about.

Bynum went on to sign with the Indiana Pacers. In his first game with the Pacers, against the Boston Celtics last Tuesday, he showed a great deal of promise – grabbing an avalanche of rebounds, showing explosiveness at the rim and putting his sweet interior passing on display. His 16-minute performance in a reserve roll behind incumbent starter Roy Hibbert was better than anything Oden has produced thus far this season for the Heat.

Bynum was, and still is, no sure thing. One strong performance against an undersized Celtics team changes nothing. He is still very much a health risk, and it is still very much undetermined as to whether or Bynum will remain engaged and focused. But it was nonetheless a painful reminder of the upside on which the Heat elected not to pounce for reasons difficult to justify.

Six weeks later, Mason Jr. was gone anyway. Traded at the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Traded for nothing but $1 million in savings.

Still, it appeared to be a good move. Mason Jr. did nothing for the Heat. And while Bynum was gone, the move did nonetheless create a roster spot for the Heat to utilize in the weeks ahead. A ton of free agents were about to hit the market. After the trade deadline, a bunch of veterans on expiring contracts always try to secure their release from losing teams so that they may join contenders. Their existing teams generally comply, so long as they save some money in the process (in the form of a buyout). Such players have until Mar. 1 to secure their release and be playoff eligible for any new team with which they sign.

The Heat knew that quite well. And yet, before the market even had a chance to materialize, they instead chose to sign a D-League call-up with substantial legal issues, following a plea deal on allegations of domestic abuse and kidnapping. And so, on Feb. 25, at a cost of $143,047 including the tax, the Heat brought in bricklaying guard DeAndre Liggins on a 10-day contract.

Liggins contributed next to nothing during his ten days. His departure ten days later was as quiet as his tenure. No announcement by the Heat. No reporting on it by any of the local newspapers. Nothing.

Nearly two full days passed before the Heat elected to bring him back on a second 10-day deal, at the cost of another $143,047. What they were doing in the interim, during which time Liggins was forced to pack his bags and leave the premises, can only be speculated. It would appear the Heat weren’t totally committed to Liggins, but offered up a contract anyway because they couldn’t find a better alternative.

And now, just seven days into his second 10-day contract, he has been released.

The Heat made what could possibly be their final roster move of the season on Friday, when they released Liggins from his contract in order to sign center Justin Hamilton.

The addition of Hamilton gives the Heat four centers: starter Chris Bosh and reserves Chris Andersen, Greg Oden and, now, Hamilton.

Hamilton becomes the first player signed by the Heat this season with fewer than two years of NBA experience. No other team in the league has had fewer than two such players on their rosters at some point during the season. The average across the league is nearly six. Hamilton, therefore, represents the entirety of the Heat’s developmental program.

The Heat seem poised to make it count. Unlike with Liggins, Hamilton was signed for the balance of the season and, smartly, for next season as well. His salary is fully guaranteed for this year but fully non-guaranteed for next, which allows the Heat the flexibility, but not the obligation, to retain their rights to the LSU product for an additional season at a bare minimum of cost.

Hamilton showcases himself as a rather unique near-seven-foot big in that he projects as a solid three-point marksman. He’s also shown an ability to score in the post, utilizing his big 260-pound frame, solid footwork, and soft touch. Perhaps most surprisingly, he was one of the D-League’s best offensive rebounders as well this season. While he’s not exceptional at any one thing, he possesses an intriguing all-around skill-set.

He has a reasonable chance to become a solid contributor for the Heat in future seasons. If he can make it into the rotation, he could give the Heat a dangerous scorer to help extend the defense. Pairing him with Chris Bosh in the frontcourt could give the Heat two players who can hit the three-point shot who are both at least 6’11″ tall. That could counteract defenses which tend to guard the Heat by stuffing the paint and making it difficult for LeBron James and others to attack the rim, without requiring the Heat to sacrifice inches to accomplish that goal.

Hamilton will earn $98,036 for the rest of the season, and cost the Heat $407,539 when including the tax.

He was originally selected in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and then acquired by the Heat later that night, and spent training camp with the Heat in October and then went on to spend most of the season as a non-affiliated player with the Heat’s D-League franchise, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

He appeared in 37 games (all starts) with the Skyforce, averaging 19.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.03 blocks, 1.5 assists and 35.8 minutes while shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from three-point range and 81.2 percent from the foul line. He recently appeared in one game with Charlotte, recording one steal and one turnover in 3:44 minutes of action, after signing a 10-day contract with the Bobcats on March 4.

Despite playing for the Bobcats beyond the March 1 deadline for playoff eligibility with another team, Hamilton will be playoff-eligible for the Heat because he was only on a 10-day contract with Charlotte. March 1 is the final day in which a team can request waivers on a player and still have him eligible for the playoffs with another team. Players on 10-day contracts, however, are never placed on waivers – they either complete their contracts in full, as was the case for Hamilton in Charlotte, or get released outright, as was the case for Liggins in Miami.

Hamilton is a player the Heat organization very much likes, and seemingly represents a solid developmental project for a team that often gets criticized for its lack of youth. But the irony of his signing is the rationale provided.

According to Spoelstra, the Heat made the decision to add Hamilton based on the desire for more depth at the center position after trading Joel Anthony in January.

“You lose a big [in Joel Anthony], you add a perimeter [in Toney Douglas],” Spoelstra said. “We felt that [this move was prudent] just for extra insurance at that position…”

Anthony was traded long before the Pacers even expressed an interest in Bynum. In fact, Bynum remained a free agent for 17 days after Anthony was traded. And so it needs to be asked: If your goal was to have added depth at center in the wake of the Anthony departure, would you rather have Andrew Bynum or Justin Hamilton?

  1. Gary
    March 16th, 2014 at 19:56 | #1

    Bynum, no doubt. As illustrated again today.

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