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Can the Heat Sign Kevin Durant AND LeBron James?

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“LeBron James promised the city of Cleveland, ‘I’m coming back to bring you that elusive title that has escaped this city since 1964.’ He never said anything about staying once he does accomplish that… I’m hearing about a return to Miami if this man wins. He ain’t going nowhere if he loses. But, if he wins, his options are open. LA, but especially Miami, a return to South Beach.”

That was Stephen A. Smith two days ago, talking about the prospect of LeBron James returning to the Miami Heat, just weeks after he said this about Kevin Durant:

“I believe the team that hasn’t been mentioned that much may be the dark horse in [the chase for impending free agent Kevin Durant this summer], which are the Miami Heat. Consider who the Heat are. You’re led by Pat Riley. You’ve got an exceptional young coach in Erik Spoelstra. You’ve got LeBron and D-Wade having captured two championships together there… Then you take into account the young guys — the Josh Richardsons, the Justise Winslows, the Hassan Whitesides… You add Kevin Durant to that equation and bring back Dwyane Wade, you’re talking instant title contention. Automatically.”

Unlikely as it may be, either James or Durant would be a game-changing free-agent acquisition for the Heat. But why either one? As long as we’re dreaming, why not both?

Why not a scenario whereby the Heat sign both James and Durant, while also also re-signing Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside, and retaining Chris Bosh?

Is it a reasonable possibility? Of course not.

But is it possible? Let’s have some fun and find out.

The concept, ludicrous as it may be, would presumably go something like this:

Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder somehow blow their current 3-1 series lead over the Golden State Warriors after two straight blowout victories, leading Durant to become so frustrated over his inability return to the NBA Finals as to consider his alternatives.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers push past the Toronto Raptors and somehow go on to beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals, whereupon James decides that he has fulfilled his obligation to his hometown team and is willing to risk again enraging his local fan base for a return trip to Miami.

A summit is held between James, Durant, Wade, Bosh and Whiteside. They contemplate a possible joining of forces. The Heat organization has nothing do to with it, of course.

They use the following assumptions to coordinate a plan of attack to bring to Pat Riley on July 1st:

What is that plan of attack? Here it is, in 13 easy steps: 

THIS SUMMER

  1. Justise Winslow is packaged in trade with Josh McRoberts while Goran Dragic is traded on his own, each in exchange for future draft considerations. Both would seem like reasonable assumptions.
  1. Hassan Whiteside agrees to take a one-year contract this summer with a base salary of $10.5 million and a bonus of $1.4 million which is tied to him playing 30 minutes per game over the course of at least 50 games next season (an $11.8 million total). The contract also contains an $11.3 million player option for a second season as an insurance policy against injury, which he will intend to decline. In exchange, the Heat promises him a full five-year, $145.2 million maximum contract next summer. The total payout spanning both contracts is $157.1 million over the next six years, a substantial increase over the four-year, $96.1 million maximum contract he would be eligible to receive this summer.
  1. Kevin Durant gets the one-year, $25.9 million maximum salary he desires (with a player option for a second season), which preserves his ability to seek out a new contract as a 10-year veteran next summer. (He could instead choose to sign a full four-year $110.6 million maximum salary deal, which the Heat would be more than happy to give).
  1. LeBron James takes a one-year, $25.9 million salary (with a player option for a second season), which is $4.3 million below his potential max but makes his salary equivalent to that of Durant. (He could instead choose to sign a full four-year $110.6 million deal, which the Heat would be more than happy to give).
  1. Dwyane Wade takes a one-year $1.6 million minimum salary this summer. The contract also contains a player option for a second season at the $1.6 million minimum salary as a small insurance policy against injury, which he will intend to decline. In exchange, the Heat promises to offer him a one-year, $35.4 million maximum salary that would make him the highest paid player on the team next summer. (The Heat would be happy to instead reach a multi-year arrangement on the latter contract, for up to five years(1) but preferably no longer than two, that could potentially pay him into retirement.)
  1. Tyler Johnson re-signs with the Heat, who utilize his Early Bird rights to exceed the salary cap in giving him a four-year contract with a starting salary as high as $6.2 million and paying out as much as $27.6 million in total.
  1. The Heat fills out the rest of a potential 13-15 player roster with some combination of the mid-level exception for room teams ($2.9 million, or $5.9 million over two years) and one- or two- year minimum salary contracts.
  1. Chris Bosh receives his medical clearance, and returns to play to start the 2016-17 season.

NEXT SUMMER

  1. Kevin Durant re-signs with the Heat, who give him a four-year deal with a starting salary of $31.1 million and a total payout of $132.7 million. His cumulative earnings over the next five seasons become $158.6 million, which is $13.8 million more than he could get in a five-year deal to be signed with the Thunder this summer.
  1. LeBron James re-signs with the Heat, who give him a four-year deal with a starting salary of $31.1 million and a total payout of $132.7 million. His cumulative earnings over the next five seasons become $158.6 million, which represents a strong alternative to the four-year, $132.1 million deal he could get from the Cavaliers this summer.
  1. Hassan Whiteside gets his five-year, $145.2 million contract.
  1. Dwyane Wade gets his one-year, $35.4 million contract.
  1. The Heat fills out the rest of a potential 13-15 player roster with some combination of the taxpayer mid-level exception ($3.6 million first year salary, up to three-years and $11.2 million), its first-round draft pick, and one- or two- year minimum salary contracts(2).

The hypothetical team would wind up costing Micky Arison between $95 million and $109 million for the 2016-17 NBA season depending upon which assumptions are made on the back end of the roster, well below the $111 million projected luxury tax threshold.

That’s not only imminently affordable, but the baseline for an enormously profitable season. For reference, the Heat’s total payroll costs for the 2015-16 season were initially projected in excess of $125 million. And the massive new national TV rights deal will increase Arison’s profits by $18 million next season alone.

The costs, however, would skyrocket in the 2017-18 season, to well beyond the $127 million projected luxury tax threshold, taking total payroll obligations to between $239 million and $329 million(2) depending upon the assumptions for the back-end of the roster. That’s roughly the cost of two NFL football teams.

Would Arison foot the bill, which would cause a single season of pain before stabilizing, for this team?

PG: Dwyane Wade / Briante Weber
SG: Kevin Durant / Tyler Johnson
SF: LeBron James / Josh Richardson
PF: Chris Bosh / TBD
C: Hassan Whiteside / TBD

Here is one potential scenario, in picture format:

(I think I am going to delete the picture because it’s my own personal work. If people really want to see it, I can add it back.)

Notes:
(1) A five-year contract would trigger Over-36 rules. The Heat would surely have problems doling out a five-year contract to the 34-year-old Wade but, in a scenario in which the team was okay with it, the Over-36 rules could actually help optimize the team’s cap management in such a scenario in that it would increase his cap hit for the first two years (limited only by maximum salary rules, which presumably would not be in an issue in any five-year deal offered) but decrease the cap hit in the final three years. 

(2) Assumes these concepts survive in any potential new CBA, and that the payouts on them remain as they would be in the current CBA. 

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