Updated (11/11/15): When Pat Riley requested a meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge last summer, we were all trying to figure out his intentions. It did not feel believable that Riley would trade Chris Bosh for Aldridge in a player-for-player swap, but nothing else even seemed remotely plausible. So what was Riley thinking?
According to various media reports, Riley’s intention was to try to convince Aldridge to accept a one-year deal with the Heat at the $3.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception (a whopping $16.3 million discount from his maximum salary for which he ultimately signed), after which the Heat would utilize its bountiful cap space in the summer of 2016 to provide a long-term contract that would make him whole (which, given the projected rise in the salary cap and his would-be status as a 10-year NBA veteran, both of which would significantly increase his maximum potential salary in the summer of 2016, was imminently possible).
The reports are intriguing in that, if true, Riley’s approach could have constituted (at least in my humble opinion) a rather severe violation of salary cap rules, but even more-so intriguing because the Heat at the time already had what appeared to be its center of the future in Hassan Whiteside. Was Riley contemplating scenarios that didn’t include Whiteside?
Had Aldridge acquiesced, the Heat would not have had enough cap space in the summer of 2016 to re-sign both Aldridge and Whiteside at the max, if that is what each ultimately would have demanded. And with a promise made to Aldridge (presumably one Riley would keep), it would appear Whiteside’s long-term future in Miami would have been placed at severe risk.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best. Aldridge chose to sign a long-term contract with the Spurs. The Heat now has more than enough cap space to re-sign Whiteside as an unrestricted free agent next summer, solidifying what could become the best frontcourt in all of basketball.
No sooner than did the Miami Heat’s major free agency dealings seemingly come to a conclusion did the organization decide to take another swing for the fences. Heat president Pat Riley is flying to Los Angeles to have dinner with Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Wait. What? How is that even possible?
The heavily lifting portion of the Heat’s summer was seemingly predicated on the contract decisions of three men: Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade. Wade seemingly completed the picture when he agreed to a one-year, $20 million contract. Deng had previously exercised his $10.2 million player option, while Dragic accepted a five-year, $86 million deal.
These actions leave the Heat with an estimated team salary of $94.3 million for the 2015-16 season, well in excess of the $67.1 million projected salary cap level and $12.8 million above the $81.6 million luxury tax threshold.
Unlike other suitors, such as the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns and, the Heat do not have the necessary salary cap space to sign Aldridge outright. Therefore, should the it wish to acquire Aldridge, the Heat would need to execute a sign-and-trade transaction with the Trail Blazers. And with it will come some severe restrictions.
The latest CBA contains a new feature: the implementation of an “apron” that is slotted $4 million above the tax line. That would put the apron at $85.6 million. Teams are prohibited from exceeding the apron, even by a single penny, if they engage in certain transactions. On that list: using the $5.5 million midlevel exception, using the $2.1 million bi-annual exception, and acquiring another team’s free agent by means of a sign-and-trade.
The apron is a brick wall on spending, one that cannot be crossed for any reason. A team cannot exceed it even for a moment, and even if it were to subsequently drop back down below it. Merely approach it, and it becomes harder to make trades that bring in more salary than they send out, or even sign minimum-salary players when injuries strike. It is a menace constantly floating in the distance.
The Heat has a team salary which is currently well beyond the apron, which means that if it were to pursue a sign-and-trade, it would need to shed salary either prior to or as part of it. But before the Heat pursues any salary-dumping options, it first needs to know how much it will be required to purge. That, in turn, would depend upon the first year salary Aldridge would command in the contract the Heat would acquire.
As a nine-year NBA veteran, Aldridge would be eligible to receive a maximum starting salary of $19 million. The figure will be finalized when the salary cap is set on July 8th.
Sign-and-trade contracts must be for at least three seasons (not including any option year) and no longer than four seasons. With such a long commitment, it seems unlikely Aldridge would take any discount to that amount, particularly when considering two things: (i) maximum salaries are projected to spike 33 percent next season and (ii) maximum salaries increase 17 percent for 10-year veterans. Both are increases of which Aldridge would not be able to take advantage. Which means that by locking himself into a three-year deal this summer, his first year salary will be 36 percent lower than that which a player of his tenure could secure next summer. Read more…