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Where Do the Miami Heat Go From Here?

June 20th, 2014 No comments

The Miami Heat’s bid for a three-peat – to many, the ultimate basketball accomplishment, and a prerequisite for dynasty status – has fallen short. In the wake of this frustrating failure, we’re all left wondering what the future holds. We’re all left wondering if this is the end of something great, or maybe just a bump in the road at the start of something greater.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all eligible to become free agents this summer, but, following last Sunday’s crushing loss to the San Antonio Spurs, they deflected questions about their NBA futures. They each plan to take some time and talk with their families before eventually deciding how to move forward. The wait is infuriating. The uncertainty unnerving.

Of the 15 players currently under contract, 13 can or will become free agents at season’s end.

There are eight players with expiring contracts: Greg Oden, James Jones, Mario Chalmers, Michael Beasley, Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Toney Douglas. Battier will retire. Allen may retire. The status of the rest remains unclear.

There are five players with player options/ETOs: James, Wade and Bosh, as well as Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen. Haslem and Andersen are likely to be back with the Heat next season, though they may opt out of their contracts to help the Heat maneuver around salary cap issues. Andersen has reportedly already declared his intention to decline his option.

The final two current Heat players are under contract through next season as well: Norris Cole and Justin Hamilton. Hamilton’s salary is non-guaranteed.

The Heat also has its first round pick (No. 26 overall), its second round pick (No. 55 overall), and its 2013 second round pick James Ennis to consider.

Amid this cloud of uncertainty, the Heat did receive a bit of good news in April, when the NBA issued new projections for the 2014-15 salary cap and luxury tax thresholds. All 30 teams were informed via league memorandum that an increase in the cap from this season’s $58.6 million to $63.2 million next season is expected. A corresponding rise in the luxury tax threshold from $71.7 million to $77.0 million is also expected. These are the last non-binding forecasts that will be provided by the league until the official cap and tax thresholds for next season are announced in early July, following a league-wide audit.

With the gravity of these projected increases, many of us have been seduced into thinking that the Heat will have the necessary maneuverability with which to materially improve this summer. But does that line of thinking have any basis in reality? It all depends upon what you believe James, Wade and Bosh are willing to sacrifice.  Read more…

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Dwyane Wade’s Looming Free Agency Decision

June 18th, 2014 15 comments

With the 2013-14 NBA season now at its tragic end, it seems as though the biggest topic of conversation is whether LeBron James is going to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat, two years prior to its expiration, and explore his options as a free agent. As pundits weigh in and teams’ salary cap experts scramble to figure out how they might be able to get their hands on the greatest player of this basketball generation, Dwyane Wade’s potential free agency looms quietly in the background.

Wade just completed the fourth of a six-year $108 million contract he signed in the summer of 2010. He, like James, structured his contract to give himself the ability to opt out after both the fourth and fifth seasons. The first of those opt out decisions needs to be made by June 30.

We as fans can’t possibly overstate the importance of Wade to the Heat franchise, both on and off the court, but we also can’t ignore his advancing age or the health restrictions that cause him to miss so many games and render him ineffective in so many others. And so, we tell ourselves that the Heat brass needs to try to persuade him — for all of his undeniable status as a Heat legend, as well as the chief co-linchpin alongside Pat Riley who brought the Big Three together — to opt out and instead take a Tim Duncan-style pay cut for the good of Miami’s flexibility.

We tell ourselves that Wade should take a discount because he simply isn’t worth the $42 million he has coming to him over the next two years. We tell ourselves that Wade should take a discount because he is making tens of millions of dollars in endorsement money. We rationalize our convictions any which way we can. We ignore the reality: Wade is owed this money.  Read more…

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LeBron James and the Next Decision

June 17th, 2014 5 comments

The Miami Heat’s bid for basketball immortality – four straight NBA Finals appearances and three straight NBA titles, a feat which has only been accomplished once in league history – has fallen short. In the wake of this failure, we’re all left wondering whether this is the end. We’re all left wondering whether LeBron James is going to opt out of his contract with the Heat, and evaluate his options as an unrestricted free agent.

A betting man would still put his money on James staying. There are lots of reasons to think he will remain in Miami. The Heat have made it to the NBA Finals for four straight years, winning two. The conference in which the team plays is in shambles, installing them as early favorites to win future titles. He’s got the real Big Three in Heat owner Micky Arison, president Pat Riley, and coach Erik Spoelstra. He’s got a great market. He’s got the sun. He’s got the beach. He’s got the tax shelter. His two young sons enjoy South Florida and play middle school and AAU basketball, and his wife opened a juice bar in Miami last December. After four seasons in Miami, James’ ties run deep.

A skeptical man might say he’d be a fool to stay. The Heat’s reign at the top of the basketball world appears to be closing. Dwyane Wade’s skills are in decline, and his injuries are starting to mount. Chris Bosh isn’t quite the player he was envisioned to be. Shane Battier is done. Ray Allen may also be done. The “Birdman” is old. As is the entire team. The oldest in the NBA, in fact. There’s no youth. No promise for the future. And the rest of the league has caught up to the Heat of the present. If the Heat had a margin of error before — some cushion between themselves and everyone else — it’s gone.

James doesn’t need to make up his mind this summer. His contract runs for two more seasons, with an opt-out prior to each. He could decide to make another run next season and re-evaluate in 2015, or even play two more seasons and make a decision in 2016.  Read more…

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The Anatomy of a Spectacular Miami Heat Failure

June 15th, 2014 4 comments

The Miami Heat’s bid for basketball immortality – four straight NBA Finals appearances and three straight NBA titles, a feat which has only been accomplished once in league history – has fallen spectacularly short. In the wake of this colossal failure, we’re all left wondering how it all went so wrong so quickly – how our team ended up looking so old, so slow, so flawed, so unable to adapt, so unable to defend.

Is it an organizational philosophy that failed us?

“I don’t think you win championships with young, athletic players that don’t have experience. I think we’ve learned over the years that building with young players is very frustrating.”

That was Pat Riley in June 2011, describing his aversion to developing youthful talent.

It is a philosophy that he has expressed many different times in many different ways over the years. It is a philosophy that has permeated his every decision in preparation for and during the Big Three era. It is a philosophy upon which the Stepien-like decisions to surrender a whopping six future first round draft picks in a period of less than five months from February to July 2010 were predicated. It is a philosophy upon which the decision to constantly fill the roster with post-dated bench-warming veterans was predicated.

It was a philosophy which, initially, didn’t bother us. We were all so captivated by the moment. Riley had a plan. He executed upon it with deadly precision. He got the big things so right that it didn’t matter how he handled the little things. In Riley we trusted.

The winning that followed only validated that ideology.

But, quietly, things weren’t as wonderful as they appeared. In the wake of the signings of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the summer of the 2010, the front office lost sight of its need to build for the future. Everything was always only about the moment.

Some of us couldn’t help but wonder. If your mission is to win as many titles as possible while the Big Three are still in their primes, then wouldn’t you like to have some upside around? Some players who will be getting better with time? Some players who can keep the energy level high when the stars need to rest?

Riley has always had a clear affinity for the seasoned veteran versus the inexperienced rookie. He’d rather have the sure thing than the potential next big thing. But as much as these veterans are low risks to make stupid, rookie-type decisions, none will break free off the dribble in crunch time or make that key defensive stop and then sprint up the floor for a breakaway jam – they’re zero risks to become more athletic, to develop new parts of their games, or to be usable as trade bait should the need arise.  Read more…

Could the Miami Heat afford Carmelo Anthony, Big Four?

June 12th, 2014 3 comments

Now that the New York Knicks have both a president and a head coach with championship pedigrees, one would think there should be no problem luring championship caliber players to a city that’s been starving for a title since 1973. But any visions of grandeur in the Big Apple, at least in the near future, are predicated on the upcoming decision of their star, Carmelo Anthony.

There has been widespread speculation about a lack of desire for the 30-year-old to remain in what would surely be a rebuilding process in New York under the new regime headed by Phil Jackson, with neophyte coach Derek Fisher this week added to the mix. Anthony has the right to become a free agent this summer, or he could remain with the Knicks for another season before his contract expires.

Numerous reports have linked Anthony to the possibility of joining LeBron James in Miami, with the Heat’s James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all in position to terminate their contracts by the end of the month as well. That flexibility could position the Heat to potentially create salary-cap space to add Anthony to the mix.

The success of the Heat’s 2010 free-agent bonanza has established them as one of the NBA’s destination franchises, with owner Micky Arison empowering big-thinking team president Pat Riley to attempt to pull off another coup despite the limitations of the new and more restrictive collective bargaining agreement.

Discussions have reportedly begun within the Heat organization about trying to grow their so-called Big Three into a Big Four. Heat officials have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding the Knicks’ scoring machine this summer in free agency.

Can Pat Riley pull this off again? Is it even possible?  Read more…

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The Changing Landscape of the NBA

May 11th, 2014 6 comments

The NBA is thriving!

Just three years removed from a time when we were all seduced by claims of poverty from owners facing supposed losses that were mounting so quickly and so heavily that they forced a nasty lockout that nearly cost us the entire 2011-12 NBA season, we’ve entered into a period of unprecedented success for a league which has never been stronger.

Profits are soaring.

Just about every team in the NBA that wants to be profitable can now be profitable, and without taking drastic Jeffrey-Loria-like actions that adversely affect their fan bases in doing so (here’s to you, Miguel Cabrera!).(1) Teams aren’t just profitable; they’re wildly profitable. The league as a whole projects to generate roughly $300 million in basketball profit this year. More than half of the league’s teams should produce eight-figure profits. One or two could touch $100 million!

Rising profitability means rising team valuations.

Just last year, the Maloof family sold a 65% stake in the Sacramento Kings along with Sleep Train Arena to a group led by tech entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive at an all-time record valuation of $534 million, despite the team playing in one of the league’s smallest markets. And that was after owners blocked the Maloofs’ agreement with investor Chris Hansen to buy and relocate the Kings to Seattle at a total franchise valuation of $625 million.

That all-time record valuation was eclipsed earlier this month, when Herb Kohl sold the Milwaukee Bucks, widely considering the least valuable team in the league, to hedge-fund billionaires Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for $550 million (without an accompanying arena), a price which would likely have been significantly higher had Kohl, who paid just $18 million for the team in 1985, not required as a condition to the sale that the team remain in the city and with the fans of Milwaukee. It was a stunning amount for the Bucks, who are universally regarded as having the worst financial situation of any NBA team. And yet, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban called the purchase price a bargain, suggesting that even the least valuable NBA franchises are truly worth more than $1 billion.

That newly-minted all-time record valuation is about to get shattered. The impending forced sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, who play in the second largest market in the NBA, is about to multiply the current record times four! Former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer has agreed to buy the team for a whopping $2 billion! That’s the second highest price ever paid for any professional sports franchise. The Dodgers baseball team, also of Los Angeles, were sold to the Guggenheim Group for $2.15 billion in 2012, but that price included land, parking lots and TV deals. The only real estate involved in the Clippers deal is for their training facility in Playa Vista. So, not a bad return on a $12.5 million investment by Donald Sterling in 1981. The deal has been submitted to the league for final approval.

Why the massive change?  Read more…

The Cost of All Those Traded Draft Picks Becoming Clearer for Miami Heat

April 20th, 2014 4 comments

In the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat changed the course of team and league history. As a result of two trade calls held with the NBA league office in less than an hour on July 10, the Heat completed sign-and-trade transactions with both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, acquiring LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the process.

James and Bosh were to be paired with Heat incumbent free agent Dwyane Wade as the launching point for what would ultimately become the Big Three era. In the three subsequent seasons, the Heat have gone on to reach the NBA Finals all three times, winning the NBA championship twice. Their pursuit of a third consecutive title begins tonight.

Amidst the jubilation of the day, some questioned the manner in which Heat president Pat Riley chose to acquire his two new players. The Heat had the necessary cap room at the time to sign them outright. Why, then, pursue the trade?

Both players were eligible for maximum salaries of $16.6 million in the first year of any new contract signed, whether it was with their prior teams, with the Heat, or with anyone else. But while the starting salary was to be the same no matter where they signed, the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement gives the home team a financial advantage when it comes to re-signing its own players. Both players’ home teams were eligible to offer their respective player one more year (six instead of five) and bigger annual raises (10.5% instead of 8%). That translated to a maximum potential offer of $125.5 million over six years, versus the $96.1 million over five years that the Heat could offer.

James and Bosh utilized the structure not to make the increased money, but rather to mitigate the impact of taking less. They leveraged the sign-and-trade structure to take a reduced starting salary of $14.5 million – $2.1 million less than the maximum – in order to accommodate the contracts of Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. (Wade, too, did the same).

Each structured the longer six year deal with the higher 10.5% maximum raises, but with the lower starting salary. The contracts paid out $109.8 million over the six years, roughly $15.5 million less than they otherwise could have made had they accepted full max deals.

The sign-and-trade structure, however, came at a cost for Miami.  Read more…

Salary Cap and Luxury Tax Projections for 2014-15 Keep Rising

April 19th, 2014 2 comments

The NBA has issued new projections for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 salary cap and luxury tax thresholds. All 30 teams were informed this week via league memorandum that the 2014-15 cap and tax threshold are now projected to be $63.2 million and $77.0 million, respectively. The numbers for 2015-16 are now projected to be $66.5 million and $81.0 million, respectively.

It should be noted that these are non-binding forecasts that have been circulated more than months before the official salary cap and luxury-tax threshold for the 2014-15 season are announced in early July, following a league-wide audit (that’s what July Moratorium is for). As part of the audit, accountants jointly appointed by the NBA and the player’s association finalize the total revenue haul during the past season and, on that basis, project the revenues for the upcoming year.

They then take 44.74% of that projected amount, subtract projected benefits, and divide by 30 (the number of teams in the league) to get the salary cap for the season ahead. Adjustments are then made to the cap if players received way too much (or way too little) in salaries and benefits for the then prior season relative to the finalized revenue figure; this serves as a mechanism to maintain the integrity of the agreed-to revenue spit between owners and players. The luxury tax uses a similar formula, but is based on 53.51% of projected revenues.

The salary cap and luxury tax values for the current season are $58.679 million and $71.748 million, respectively, which means the new cap projection for next season represents a 7.75% increase over this season. This is a pretty big jump — the league’s baseline assumption for year-to-year increases is 4.5%.  Read more…

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Miami Heat Sets New Team Record for Player Payroll

April 18th, 2014 No comments

If the Miami Heat haven’t exactly lived up to expectations thus far this season, it isn’t because of their spending.

Despite making some unpopular moves last summer – utilizing the amnesty provision to waive Mike Miller, declining to utilize the mid-level exception – the Heat spent more on player payroll this season than in any other season in team history.

The Heat ended the regular season with a team salary of $80.6 million – which, perhaps surprisingly, amounts to $2.8 million less than last season’s record total.

But team salary isn’t an accurate depiction of a team’s actual spending on player payroll and related costs. There are several adjustments that need to be taken into account.

First, team salary doesn’t factor in mid-season trades. For example, if a team trades a player midway through the season, his salary comes off team salary entirely, even though salary payments will have already been made. Joel Anthony and Roger Mason, Jr. were each traded during the season. Prior to their trades, they had received a combined $2.4 million in salary payments from the Heat. Conversely, the Heat received Toney Douglas in trade midway through the season. Though his $1.6 million salary appears on the Heat’s team salary, the Heat itself was only responsible for $856K of that total. Adjusting appropriately for these trades, then, takes the team’s payroll to $82.2 million.  Read more…

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LeBron James Completes Historic NBA Shooting Season

April 17th, 2014 No comments

The kingly play of LeBron James has been one of the most compelling aspects of the NBA since his entrance into the league eleven years ago. Lately, however, the experience of watching the world’s greatest basketball player ply his trade has taken on an entirely new significance. Outrageously efficient shooting is producing historic implications.

Every trip down the floor serves as a reminder that James simply cannot be stopped. His every touch of the basketball brings its own terrifying potential. He goes wherever he wants to go. He does whatever he wants to do. He scores seemingly at will, and with mid-boggling efficiency. Without much concern at all for defenses, physical limitations, or the confluence of factors that invariably guide the performances of all of his fellow competitors. He is perhaps the most dominant player in NBA history.

When one reaches such a level of on-court brilliance, said person invariably develops an arrogance about his play — a me-first attitude that negates the potential contributions of others. It’s only natural. Not James. Despite being perhaps the most dominant player in NBA history, and despite being constantly vilified for his deference in spite of that dominance, James continues to be among the most selfless superstars in NBA history as well.

What makes LeBron James such a unique basketball talent? Perhaps it’s his never before duplicated combination of dominance and selflessness. In the history of the NBA, the list of players to average at least 25 points per game, while shooting at least 54% from the field and averaging at least 6 assists per game in a season is as follows:

LeBron James.

No other playmaker has ever had a scoring season as potent, and no premier scorer has ever had a season with such productive passing as James. And James hasn’t just done it once. He’s done it twice. In a row. And he didn’t just eclipse those numbers. He shattered them!  Read more…

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