Raja Bell signs $10 million deal with the Jazz

July 15th, 2010 3 comments

Raja Bell has agreed to a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth nearly $10 million.

Bell, who will turn 34 in September, played in only six games last season with the Bobcats and Warriors before undergoing surgery for a torn ligament in his left wrist. But he is a career 41.1% three-point shooter still capable of solid on-ball defense.

It was anticipated that he would play a big part on the Heat’s second unit next season.

Bell’s departure is certainly a loss. The Heat could use a floor-spacing shooter at the two guard spot, particularly someone also capable of playing strong perimeter defense. He is certainly aging and his athleticism is declining, but he nevertheless remains solid at what he does best. He figured to play significant minutes for the Heat as a potential as the only true reserve shooting guard on the roster behind Dwyane Wade.

The decision to join the Jazz is quite confounding in some respects.

Bell presumably wanted to play for a good team. With his track record, good teams certainly wanted him. That much is evident from the list of clubs after him, a list which reportedly included the Bulls, Heat, Lakers, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Jazz. If you’re 34 years old and looking to win your first championship before you hang it up, you can’t do much better than either the two-time defending champion Lakers or the future perennial favorite Heat. The Jazz doesn’t seem to offer the ten-year veteran an opportunity to win. Read more…

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What could have been, if only

July 14th, 2010 16 comments

Pat Riley had a plan. He executed upon it with deadly precision. He has put together what could very well be the best trio in NBA history. That’s the stuff of legends.

But even the legends make mistakes. And sometimes, they can prove costly.

Here are three bad decisions over the past nine months which never should have been made:

1. Picking up Daequan Cook’s Option.

It’s October 31, 2009. We are four days into the final season before the highly anticipated summer of 2010. Pat is deep within his strategy to maximize cap space, a strategy that had influenced nearly every decision he has made for nearly three years. He is now contemplating how to handle his latest two decisions – whether to pick up the 2010-11 options on Michael Beasley and Daequan Cook.

The choice on Beasley is obvious. Yes, he has been an underperformer. And yes, his $5.0 million salary would cut deeply into the Heat’s precious cap space. But Beasley has an undeniable trade value. He can always be moved in the offseason, if the need arises, in favor of the cap room. There’s simply no risk, therefore, in picking up the option. And if he goes on to have a breakout season, the range of possibilities for Riley in his attempt to build a championship roster in the offseason to come would increase exponentially.

The situation with Cook is completely different. Since winning the three-point shooting contest the year before, he has been completely non-existent. His career numbers are atrocious: 37.8 FG% and 36.7 3P FG%. His place in this league is tenuous at best. He will certainly never be a meaningful contributor for the Heat, not with Dwyane Wade ahead in the rotation. His option would count $2.2 million against the cap. He has negative trade value, so a mistake could prove costly. The choice is obvious, right? Wrong. In a decision that shocked everyone, even Cook himself, Riley chose to pick up his option – violating his own strategy to maximize cap space to make a run at three max contract free agents.

The Heat paid a steep price for the error. On June 23, Riley traded away the team’s 2010 first round draft pick — No.18 overall – to the Oklahoma City Thunder in order to rid himself of the Daequan Cook contract he had opted into just eight most earlier, and were returned the No. 32 pick in the second round.

The Thunder went on to trade Miami’s first round pick to the Clippers for a 2012 top-10 protected first round pick.

The Heat was apparently never destined to utilize its 2010 first round pick, choosing to conserve the cap space rather than seek out widely-recognized favorite for the pick Eric Bledsoe, who was available. And so, as it turns out, had Riley not picked up Cook’s option, he could have flipped the Heat’s No. 18 overall pick for a potential lottery pick in 2012. Or selected Bledsoe.

2. Not Trading Dorell Wright at the Trade Deadline.

It’s February 19, 2010. We’re less than five months away from the summer of 2010. Pat has another decision to make. The season is over in two months. It’s the trade deadline.

The Heat isn’t playing well. It doesn’t matter. It’s all about the offseason. The team is $2.8 million over the luxury tax threshold. Dorell Wright has a $2.9 million salary. Trading Dorell could save the Heat (i) the $1.2 million remaining to be paid on from his $2.9 million salary, (ii) a $2.8 million luxury tax bill, and (iii) an estimated $3.7 million luxury tax check distributed to all teams below the luxury tax threshold. That’s $7.7 million!

The Memphis Grizzlies reach out to the Heat. They are interested in acquiring Wright. They are offering a 2011 first round draft pick in return.

What do you do?

Dorell is the final year of his contract. He will become a free agent in the offseason no matter what decision Riley makes.

So… Is having Dorell Wright on the roster for the final 26 games of the season, for a team going nowhere while it awaits the offseason to come, worth $7.7 million and a first round draft pick?

Pat decided it was. Riley rejected the Grizzlies’ proposal. Memphis went on to acquire Ronnie Brewer from the Jazz in exchange for its 2011 first round pick.

The Heat was eliminated from the playoffs by the Celtics in the first round. Dorrell Wright is no longer part of the Heat’s future.

3. Sacrificing all those draft picks for LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

It’s July 10, 2010. The miracle has come true. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have all agreed to play for the Miami Heat. It’s time for Heat fans to celebrate. But not for Riley. He has a decision to make. The Big Three have committed. Now they need to be signed.

For Wade, it’s easy. The Heat holds his Bird rights. Riley can sign him whenever he wants.

For James and Bosh, it’s not as easy. Riley has two alternatives to offer each player:

  • A six-year contract with an average salary of $18 million: this alternative requires that Riley pursue a sign-and-trade for each player, with the not altogether rational Cavalier and Raptors organizations
  • A five-year contract with an average salary of $18 million: this alternative can be executed immediately

James and Bosh are both perhaps the best in the game at the positions they play. They are both still young. James will be 30 and Bosh 31 at the end of five years, both still in their primes. As long as each could earn at least $19 million in a new contract in year six, the five-year contract is more beneficial from a financial perspective. And no matter what the new CBA to come looks like, each will undoubtedly command a salary far greater than that.

Of course, there is more to consider than just the salaries of James and Bosh. The first alternative, while less attractive to the duo, allows the Heat to add both Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller to the mix. The second alternative requires the Heat to add only Miller. And that’s unfortunate.

But James and Bosh would each be making more money. And the Heat would have six – yes, six! – more draft picks to deploy over the next seven years. Among the six would be four first round draft picks, including a first rounder from the Raptors which is lottery protected from 2011 to 2014 and completely unprotected in 2015 – making it a potential No. 1 overall pick from in 2015 NBA Draft.

That’s not a bad way to start the 2015 offseason — with the potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft a week after the contracts of James and Bosh expire!

So the question needs to be asked: Is Udonis Haslem truly worth four first round draft picks and two second round draft picks over the next seven years?

***

Why does it matter?

The Heat now finds itself in the following situation from a draft pick perspective (picks acquired from other teams in parenthesis):

2011: No first round picks; one second round pick (Minnesota)
2012:
 One first round pick; one second round pick (Memphis; Top 55 protected)
2013:
 No first round pick; one second round pick
2014
: One first round pick; two second round picks (Minnesota)
2015
: No first round pick; one second round pick

This is the situation the Heat could have found itself in had different decisions been made in the three scenarios presented above (picks acquired from other teams in parenthesis):

2011: Three first round picks (Memphis and Toronto lottery-protected through 2014); two second round picks (Minnesota)
2012:
 Two first round picks (LA Clippers); two second round picks (Memphis; Top 55 protected)
2013:
 One first round pick; one second round pick
2014
: One first round pick; two second round picks (Minnesota)
2015
: One first round pick; one second round pick

That’s Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, eight first round draft picks, and eight second draft picks over the next five years.

If only!

Note: 
The math in regards to the contracts of LeBron James and Chris Bosh under a scenario where they were not signed-and-traded assumes the Heat would build out a contract for James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade that pay out identical average salaries over the first five years of their contracts (though Wade, because the Heat own his Bird rights, would be receiving a sixth year guarantee). 

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Reviewing the Miami Heat’s Forgone First Round Draft Picks

July 13th, 2010 No comments

The Heat have traded away multiple first round draft picks in the sign-and-trade transactions that enabled them to acquire LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The years in which those picks will be conveyed are rather straightforward in practical terms. However, literally speaking, there are various rules and protections in place that make it impossible to determine with certainty.

The trading of N.B.A. draft picks is restricted by a series of intricate rules that have been put in place in order to protect teams that are trading away the picks from themselves. History suggests that teams need these protections so as not to unwittingly destroy their own franchises.

No one N.B.A. personality is more historically-renown and nationally infamous for his incompetency than Ted Stepien, former owner and de fact general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 1980, Stepien parlayed his minority stake in the Cavs into full control of the franchise. After purchasing the club, Stepien thought he could quickly assemble a competitive team, but he proved to be a horrendous judge of basketball talent. He spent ludicrously lavish sums of money on marginal players and made a series of controversial and, to outsiders, ludicrously one-sided player trades.

His first big move happened two months before his purchase of the team went through: He flipped backup guard Butch Lee and a 1982 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for backup forward Don Ford and a 1980 first-round pick (needless to say, not a great pick considering the Lakers were competing for titles). Two years later, Los Angeles picked future Hall-of-Famer James Worthy first overall with Cleveland’s pick.  Read more…

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The Result of Winning Over Money, Friendship Over Fame

July 13th, 2010 18 comments

One has to wonder if the enormous salaries the NBA offers have caused players to forget the reasons why they play the game. Or that it is a game. The concept of playing because it was a childhood dream, or the dream of hitting the game-winning shot as time expires to take home the NBA title seems largely gone. The game has changed. It has changed from being played on the court to being played in the owner’s office. Players seem to care only about one thing: money.

What Pat Riley is doing in South Florida is unprecedented. Sure, there have been isolated cases where the magnanimous nature of an individual athlete enables him to sacrifice dollars for the benefit of his team. But never has such an attitude fostered a culture that has permeated throughout an entire organization.

What has resulted should be a model for everyone to follow – on generosity, on the desire for team success, and – most importantly – on the value of friendship.

Free agency obviously depends on a number of factors. One, clearly, is money. For some, priorities two, three, four and five are also money. That will not be the case for any of the next fifteen players to wear a Miami Heat jersey. Read more…

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A fresh look at the roster…

July 13th, 2010 8 comments

The Miami Heat’s roster is beginning to round into shape.

Head coach Pat Riley has secured commitments from, or is in advanced discussions with, the following 9 players:

PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James, Mike Miller, James Jones
PF: Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Juwan Howard
C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Also of interest, or rumored to be so, are the following 11 players:

PG: Carlos Arroyo and Patrick Beverley
SG: Raja Bell, Eddie House and Kenny Hasbrouck
SF: Da’Sean Butler and Matt Barnes
PF: Jarvis Varnado and Shavlik Randolph
C: Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman, Jamaal Magloire, Brad Miller and Kwame Brown

A roster can consist of no more than 15 names during the regular season.

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Big Z joins the party

July 13th, 2010 No comments

Zydrunas Ilgauskas will join fellow Cavalier teammate and close personal friend, LeBron James, on the Miami Heat next season.

He will accept a two-year contract at the veteran minimum salary. The first season will pay him $1,352,181. The second will be a player option at $1,399,507.

The Cavs offered Ilgauskas a guaranteed contract, but he elected to go to Miami, where his wife Jennifer has family. He was a beloved member of the Cavaliers franchise for the past 14 years.

Ilgauskas, who will officially execute his Heat contract after Mike Miller, is a nice complement to the Heat’s star-studded lineup. Big Z is a solid mid-range shooter, stretching out to between 15 feet and 20 feet. He is also an effective offensive rebounder, often using strong hands around the basket to tip in missed shots. He figures to round out a starting rotation that also features Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, though the rotations figure to be something of a fluid concept.

However, Ilgauskua, 35, is an aging center whose defensive capabilities are oftentimes not on par with the expectations of a Riley-run organization. He often struggles against more athletic opponents, particularly in pick-and-roll situations.

The more athletic but less coordinated and “big” big man, Joel Anthony, figures to spell the 7’3″ center for large portions of the game, including key stretches during close ball games. But he is by no means a definitive answer. Joel has certainly come a long way over the past two seasons, but he is still not somebody you would trust to catch a basketball, let alone take in and place it in the basket. And while his shot-blocking prowess is absurdly good (third in the league last season in blocks per 48 minutes, at 3.96), his rebounding prowess is not (9.0 per 48 minutes, good for 71st in the league).

The Heat still hasn’t found itself an ideal starting center. Given the limitations at the position, the Heat might be better served shifting Chris Bosh to center, James to power forward, and Miller to small forward. With Chalmers and Wade in the backcourt, the starting rotation would become an offensive juggernaut built around ideal floor spacing.

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Haslem’s signing sheds light on Miller’s contract

July 13th, 2010 4 comments

Udonis Haslem has now officially signed a 5-year contract estimated at just over $20 million, suggesting that my previously rounded figures may actually be exact. His first year salary, around $3.5 million, would be less than half of his $7.1 million last season total.

One major factor aiding in his decision was swingman Mike Miller’s decision to join the Heat – something the team still has not announced. Miller and Haslem have been close friends since their days at the University of Florida.

Assuming the Heat chooses to retain its rights to Joel Anthony, Haslem’s contract leaves the team with an estimated $5.0 million to devote to Mike Miller. That would equate to a five-year contract of roughly $29 million.

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Miami’s future draft selections

July 13th, 2010 6 comments

The Michael Beasley transaction was completed yesterday with a bit of an unexpected turn. Instead of a swap right of future first round positions, Miami will acquire Minnesota’s 2011 and 2014 second-round picks.

The rest of the off-season figures to be low key from a draft pick trading standpoint.

Here’s an overview of the Miami Heat’s future draft pick scenario:

2011: No first round picks; one second round pick (Minnesota)
2012
: One first round pick (swap right to Cleveland); one second round pick (Memphis; top-55 protected)
2013
: No first round pick; one second round pick
2014
: One first round pick; two second round picks (Minnesota)
2015
: No first round pick; one second round pick

Here is a detailed review of the pick flow: Read more…

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More on Udonis Haslem’s Contract

July 12th, 2010 11 comments

Per Ira Winderman of the South-Florida Sun Sentinel:

Udonis Haslem will be back with the Miami Heat next season.

The veteran power forward confirmed his return Monday afternoon to the Sun Sentinel in a text message that read: “Turned down full mid level from Dallas and Denver. See u next season.”

Instead of packages from other teams that could have reached $34 million over five seasons, Haslem, 30, is expected to sign off on a four-year Heat package at about a third of that total, although details still are being sorted out.

With the Michael Beasley trade official, it would now appear that the contracts of both Udonis and college roommate Mike Miller can be finalized.

Of note is the final quoted paragraph above, in which it is suggested that Haslem is expected to accept a package worth approximately one-third that of a full Mid-Level Exception deal. I would be shocked if this were true.

A full mid-level deal would pay Haslem exactly $33,437,000 over five seasons. One-third of that value is just $11,145,667. Spread over four years, that implies a starting salary of $2,487,872. I have previously suggested an alternative which could pay UD around $20 million over five seasons (60% of such an MLE deal), which seems much more palatable to all parties involved. Time will tell.

In any case, Miller and Haslem will split 8.5 million 2010-11 dollars. Each would be eligible to receive 8.0% annual, non-compounding raises for up to five total seasons.

This is not the first time Udonis has provided a hometown discount. Only days into the July 2005 negotiation period with the Heat, Udonis agreed to a five-year, $30.25 million mid-level contract. After completing the negotiations, Jason Levien, Haslem’s agent at the time, estimated that he left around $10 million on the table in order to meet Haslem’s hometown wishes.

These are rare and altruistic acts for a player in the me-first world of professional sport.

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Addressing the Issue of Tampering

July 12th, 2010 2 comments

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh officially became Miami Heat teammates last week, turning a Pat Riley vision nearly three years in the making into glorious reality and simultaneously unleashing a torrent of suspicion: Was it planned all along? If so, was it tampering? Illegal?

The answer, as far as N.B.A. officials are concerned, is an emphatic no.

Tampering is when a player or team, directly or indirectly entices, induces or persuades anybody (player, general manager, etc.) who is under contract to another team to negotiate for their services.

Although each player was set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of last season, each was technically still under contract to his existing team through June 30.

Since James’ announcement on July 8, which followed those of Wade and Bosh the day before, rival teams and frustrated fans have wondered whether the outcome was predetermined. The three players had spoken openly of convening a “free-agent summit” to discuss their plans, well before free agency formally opened. They reportedly conferred with each other throughout the process.

Suspicions became more concrete on Saturday, when The Cleveland Plain Dealer published a detailed narrative that traced the alliance back to 2006, when James, Wade and Bosh became teammates for USA Basketball. The article, based mostly on anonymous sources, referred to “a complex master plan that was the trio’s desire for much of the past four years.”

The issue of tampering was discussed at the N.B.A. owners meeting in Las Vegas on Monday.

“What we told the owners was that the three players are totally, as our system has evolved, within their rights to talk to each other,” Commissioner David Stern said after the meeting.

Players on different teams who discuss the idea of someday playing together “is not tampering or collusion that is prohibited,” Stern said.  Read more…

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