Miami Heat, Josh Richardson Agree on Four-Year, $42M Extension

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookEmail this to someone

The Miami Heat and Josh Richardson have agreed to a four-year, $42 million contract extension.

The deal, which kicks in starting with the 2018-19 season and includes a player option on the fourth year, represents the most Richardson could have been offered in an extension under the league’s current collective bargaining agreement (and would have been impossible under the prior collective bargaining agreement).

Richardson became eligible for the extension on Aug. 3, and the parties had until Jun. 30 to execute it. Without it, the Heat could’ve made Richardson a restricted free agent next summer.

Under the extension, Richardson will make $9.4 million in 2018-19, $10.1 million in 2019-20, $10.9 million in 2020-21 and, if he exercises his player option, $11.6 million in 2021-22.

He will make $1.5 million this season, before the new deal kicks in.

Richardson now joins a Heat nucleus that includes point guard Goran Dragic; shooting guards Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson and Rodney McGruder; small forward Justise Winslow; power forwards James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk; and centers Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo. All are under contract for at least the next three seasons (when including options) except for McGruder and Winslow, who can be both be made restricted free agents when their contracts expire two seasons from now.

Heat president Pat Riley bypassed future cap flexibility with this summer’s free-agency signings of Waiters, Johnson and Olynyk. He doesn’t have much in the way of future draft picks (Miami owes its 2018 and 2021 first-round picks to the Phoenix Suns to complete the 2015 acquisition of Dragic, and has traded each of its second-round picks through the 2021 draft) either. Instead, he has amassed a compilation of youngsters on what could be considered bargain contracts if they have breakout seasons, which he could seek to leverage them if trade opportunities emerge. It’s his new version of “flexibility.”

All Heat players will be eligible to be traded no later than Dec. 15 except for Richardson, who, as a result of the extension, will not be eligible to be traded until after the Heat’s season is over.

Despite the long-term commitment, however, substantial questions remain as to what version of the 6-foot-6, 200-pound shooting guard the Heat will be getting, which, when coupled with the Heat’s precarious financial position, makes the extension something of a risk.

A big part of Richardson’s value to the Heat lies in his defense. He leverages his long, wiry frame and quick feet to defend at an elite level. Last season, h held the man he was guarding to 41.0% shooting (215 for 524), ninth-best among 135 NBA guards who defended at least 300 shots.

Another big part of his value, however, is based on the effectiveness of his shooting stroke. And that remains uncertain at this point.

The version of Richardson who led the entire NBA in three-point shooting in the second half of his rookie season (at 53.3%) could potentially have warranted something well in excess of the $42 million extension he accepted next summer.

The $42 million payout is significantly higher than the full Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception is currently projected to pay out. Which means that in order to meet or exceed it would have required an outside team to free up at least $10 million of cap space. There are currently eight NBA teams projected to be able to free up that kind of room – the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Sacramento Kings. While the Heat would’ve been able to match an outside offer from any one of them, they couldn’t afford to get into a bidding war.

Locking Richardson in now, in such a context, would seem like a prudent decision.

The version of Richardson who struggled mightily with his three-point shooting throughout the course of last season (at 33.0%), however, may not have warranted anywhere close to the $42 million payout he has now locked in. Which could prove problematic.

The extension greatly increases the already huge investment the Heat has made into the shooting guard position.

Excluding Richardson, the Heat had already committed $32.3 million to three shooting guards for next season – Dion Waiters ($11.6 million), Tyler Johnson ($19.2 million), and Rodney McGruder ($1.5 million). Richardson’s $9.4 million salary now takes it to $41.7 million for four shooting guards – with Wayne Ellington also set to become a free agent next summer, and McGruder the following summer. Ellington, the Heat’s only strong three-point shooter on the move, is now unlikely to be re-signed.

The extension also leaves the Heat flirting with the luxury tax next season.

The Heat has now committed $119.0 million in salary to 11 players for 2018-19 (including McGruder’s non-guaranteed $1.5 million). That salary commitment will rise by at least another $4.5 million or so as the Heat increases its roster size to the league-mandated minimum of 14 players.That’s $123.5 million, which is already past the projected $123.0 million luxury tax level.

And it could rise further, by as much as $2.6 million, if Waiters and Olynyk reach incentive bonus for games (70) and minutes (1,700) played, respectively. Even more if the Heat were to increase their roster to the 15-player maximum, and more still if they were to bring back Ellington and/or Okaro White and/or utilize the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (which is currently estimated at $5.3 million).

Barring trade or cap-crushing waive-and-stretch scenarios, the Heat is now guaranteed to be a luxury taxpayer next season – with a team salary that could realistically reach anywhere from $123.5 million to $130 million-plus – something they surely don’t want, not with this roster anyway. Which suggests that, despite limited assets, they may be forced to be active on the trade market over the course of the next couple of seasons.

Locking Richardson in now, in such a context, would seem like a very questionable decision. This is a man who won’t deserve his contract unless he can prove can provide a sustainably efficient 3-point shot. Which, for a player who was never all that effective with his shooting in college, and had a rather awful year of shooting last season, is a high stakes gamble for a team so deep into the luxury tax territory for next season. Which could, in turn, lead to questions as to why the Heat felt the need to rush. There was no apparent urgency to get the extension done. Veteran extensions can be signed all the way through June. A few weeks or months into the season could’ve provided some valuable insight.

The key question therefore becomes:

What version of himself will Richardson be able to provide the Heat over the next four-plus years?

If it’s the former version, the extension will surely look prophetic in the years ahead. If it’s the latter version, the extension will surely look reckless, rushed and unnecessary.

How the Heat is expected to utilize him provides some cause for concern.

Richardson is a tall and lanky shooting guard who excels with his shooting when his feet are set, but he hasn’t yet shown NBA-level ball-handling and play-making skills against pressure defenses.

The Heat, which has refused to sign a true backup point guard for several seasons now, will surely utilize Richardson a great deal in the role. Doing so puts him in a difficult position — requiring him to create shots for teammates and himself, and causing the majority of his shots to be off the dribble or otherwise in motion. Which could, in turn, cause him to reach a steady-state 3-point shooting efficiency closer to last season’s average than anywhere near what he was able to achieve in the second half of his rookie season (when the vast majority of his attempts were spot-up shots created by Dwyane Wade penetration).

The Heat also doesn’t have a single true small forward anywhere on the roster (other than Justise Winslow, who isn’t starter quality at this point). Richardson is expected to compete for a starting spot at the position, which could leave him firing his shots against the outstretched arms of lankier opponents.

Richardson is most effective when he’s playing off the ball as a shooting guard, where he can set his feet and fire over shorter and less physical opponents.

***

Josh Richardson figures to be a valuable part of the Heat future. That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that the four-year, $42 million extension was a wise decision. Was it?

Will Richardson be worth that kind of money next summer?

Could he potentially be worth more than that next summer? Even if so, was he likely to be offered such a contract as a restricted free agent (given the limited number of teams which project to have the cap space to offer it, and the hesitation such teams often feel in offering it to restricted free agents)?

Could he potentially be worth less than that next summer? If so, does the extension become an ugly contract for a team with limited future resources and a high-cost roster?

Given the uncertainty, was the timing of the extension right? Or did the Heat (which had until Jun. 30 to execute it) rush into it too quickly?

Only time will tell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.