The Wait is Over!

July 1st, 2010 3 comments
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This is the moment we’ve been so desperately awaiting for three long and painful years.

July 1. The official start to the 2010-11 NBA season.

And so begins the most highly anticipated free agency period in league history. With it comes the potential to reshape the NBA’s power structure for the next half decade.

The free agent class of 2010 is now official. It includes names such as: Amare Stoudemire, Brendan Haywood, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, David Lee, Dirk Nowitzski, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rudy Gay, and – for old times sake – Shaquille O’Neal.

Five teams enter the off-season with the necessary cap space to acquire a maximum contract free agent. All five of them have LeBron James at the top of their wish list and will meet with him in or near his home in Ohio, starting this morning.

Two teams figure to have enough for two maximum contract free agents. But only one – the Miami Heat – has a legitimate opportunity to clear the required cap space for three.

Speculation has run rampant. Stepehen A. Smith got our hearts racing on Tuesday when he oh so casually mentioned that Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh would each be signing free agent contracts to play in what is now Miami-Wade County. Dan Lebetard raised the bar yesterday when he suggested a deal to acquire Chris Bosh had already been structured. All of it sounds so intoxicating. Who doesn’t understand how the mere prospect of the Heat landing the trifecta should overtake the sports world?

Most of the speculation has been categorically denied by players and coaches alike. And for good reason. Teams were unable to officially talk to free agents, other than their own, until this moment.

But for those of you who have been waiting up until the stroke of midnight in the hopes of acquiring some life-altering news, go back to bed. Deals can now be struck, but nothing can be signed – and therefore nothing is official – until July 8. In fact, teams won’t even know exactly how much room they have to work with until the salary cap figure for the coming year is officially released on or about July 7.

So don’t expect the veil of secrecy to be lifted just yet. The last thing a general manager wants to do is broadcast a game plan and then, for whatever reason, have it blow up in his face. Nothing good can come of it. It enrages fans. It alienates potential second options. And it makes them look foolish.

Plan for another agonizing seven days. And hope for fewer.

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Heat declines option on Kenny Hasbrouck

June 30th, 2010 No comments
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The Heat has declined to pick up its team option on combo guard Kenny Hasbrouck.

The move, or more specifically the lack of a move, was hardly surprising. Hasbrouck signed two ten-day contracts with the Heat this past season, followed by a rest-of-season contract with an attached team option for 2010-11 at the minimum salary, but he never played. Not once.

Hasbrouck went undrafted out of Siena a year ago. He averaged 14.9 points in 129 games at Siena, helping the Saints of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference win first-round NCAA tournament games in 2008 and 2009.

He was with the Heat for several weeks last summer, then got hurt shortly before training camp — which essentially cost him a chance to be with Miami during the 2009 preseason. Before signing with the Heat, he appeared in 10 games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League, averaging 16.9 points, 2.9 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 32.3 minutes, leading the team to a 7-3 record, while shooting .504 percent from the field, .381 percent on 3-pointer and .806 from the foul line. He was considered to be a quality scorer with uncertain NBA potential.

Waiving Hasbrouck removes his $762,195 salary off the books and, once he is officially renounced, replaces it with the temporary $473,604 roster charge for teams carrying fewer than 12 players on their rosters (either under contract, subject to a qualifying offer, or with a cap hold and associated Bird rights). That’s a net savings of $288,591.

Don’t be surprised to Hasbrouck back in a Heat uniform at the end of the offseason, facing long odds to make the team’s regular season roster. After the Heat utilizes all of its cap space, it will need to sign several minimum contract players to round out its squad. The Heat likes Hasbrouck. He could get a training camp invite – essentially a fully unguaranteed, make-good contract.

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Bosh to Miami a done deal?

June 30th, 2010 17 comments
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Pat Riley & Co. appear to be quietly building a potential dynasty

The first step of Pat Riley’s mater rebuilding plan might be near completion, if Miami Herald radio host and ESPN contributor Dan LeBatard is to be believed.

According to LeBatard, a sign-and-trade of Toronto forward Chris Bosh has been agreed to in principal. The Heat would acquire Bosh in exchange for Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony. The Raptors would also get a trade exception in the deal, the value of which would depend upon the agreed-to contract of Anthony.

Any conversations held between Bosh and any member of Heat management prior to July 1 would certainly be considered tampering. The league takes tampering very seriously and may impose stiff penalties if it is discovered, though it traditionally does not investigate unless another team files tampering charges.

However, the rules regarding communications between fellow players (and friends) are much more slippery. It appears as if Wade has been acting as the unofficial spokesman for the Heat, and perhaps deserves the GM of the Year award for his efforts. Read more…

Moving Closer to Free Agency as Clock Ticks Toward Thursday

June 30th, 2010 12 comments
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With a spectacular convergence of talent and salary-cap space finally set to take place Thursday at 12:00 a.m., the mood across the various NBA cities varies as widely as do the options of their star free agents.

In Cleveland, things have turned bitter.

It now seems all but certain LeBron James will leave Cleveland in favor of the Miami Heat.

It has widely been expected that if James were to decide to leave the Cavaliers, a sign-and-trade would be the likely avenue. Doing so provides obvious mutual benefits between team and player. It would allow James to sign a six-year, $125.5 million contract instead of a five-year, $96.1 million deal. It would allow the Cavaliers to get something of value in return for the game’s best player, rather than losing him for nothing.

However, owner Dan Gilbert apparently has no intention of assisting its star player in leaving the state of Ohio. If James decides to leave, Cleveland management will simply let him walk – leaving that extra cash on the table and putting further strain on a potential rebuilding plan.

The Cavs appear surprisingly dead-set on making an alternate life as difficult as possible for LeBron, even at the expense of the health of the franchise. The team figures to have as much as $10.9 million of cap room if LeBron decides to leave. If the team were to instead work with James to construct a sign-and-trade, it could gain a trade exception of up to $16.6 million, access to a $5.7 million Mid-Level Exception, as well as a bevy of potential draft picks.

Why would they turn away the extra cap flexibility and draft picks? Out of spite? Because they are pouting? Apparently, Gilbert is more committed to his so-called principles than he is to the assets a sign-and-trade would create. Expect him to change his mind.  Read more…

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Heat Extends Qualifying Offer to Joel Anthony

June 29th, 2010 6 comments
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As expected, the Miami Heat has extended a qualifying offer to backup center Joel Anthony.

The move allows the Heat to match any outside offer for the restricted free agent, but also ties up an additional $1,060,120 against the Heat’s salary cap. The Heat will enter the off-season with salary obligations to four players (Beasley, Chalmers, Jones’ buyout and Anthony), in the amount of $8,376,749.

A qualifying offer is essentially a contract offer, which prevents the Heat from not offering Joel a contract and waiting to swoop in when he tries to sign elsewhere. It counts against the Heat’s salary cap as soon as it is offered. The Heat could withdraw its outstanding qualifying offer at any time, in which case Anthony would become an unrestricted free agent. The qualifying offer cannot be withdrawn after July 23 without the player’s consent.

Should the qualifying offer be withdrawn on or before July 23, the Heat would continue to hold Bird rights on the third year player, and he would continue to be charged against the cap at a reduced $854,389. Because Miami would retain his Bird rights, it would be able to utilize all of its cap room on other players and then come back to Joel. At that point, Miami would be able exceed the cap to offer Joel whatever salary he wants – all the way up to a maximum contract for a player with less than seven years of experience. If the Heat preferred to utilize the cap space elsewhere, Anthony would need to be renounced and his Bird rights lost.

If the qualifying offer were to be withdrawn after July 23, which would require mutual consent, Joel would be automatically renounced and the Heat would lose its Bird rights on the player.

While the qualifying offer remains outstanding, Joel has the right to accept it at any time in lieu of continuing to test the free agent market. Read more…

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Heat Buys-Out James Jones

June 29th, 2010 8 comments
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He didn’t have to, but James Jones helped out his hometown Heat in a big way

The Miami Heat took another step toward maximizing its salary cap space on Tuesday, when it agreed to buy out the contract of forward James Jones.

The Heat had a June 30 deadline before the three remaining seasons on Jones’ partially-guaranteed contract became fully guaranteed. The contract was set to pay him $4,650,000, $4,970,000 and $5,290,000 over the next three seasons, for a total of $14,910,000.

Miami had been trying for weeks to trade him so that they could owe him nothing at all, but there were no takers.

Had the Heat invoked its right to terminate the contract, Jones would have received payments of $1,856,000, $1,984,000 and $2,112,000 over the next three seasons, for a total of $5,952,000.

Instead, the Heat did one better.

Rather than paying Jones his guaranteed $5,952,000, they have reportedly instead bought him out for only $4,952,000.

In a spectacular display of selflessness for the greater good, Jones agreed to give up a million dollars of what he was owed to a team that was simultaneously releasing him. He did it for reasons unknown, but perhaps including a genuine love for the Heat and the city of Miami and because the Heat agreed to pay his buyout in one lump sum. Rather than receive bi-monthly checks for the next three years, Jones will get all of his buyout money up front. Getting paid up front is still not worth sacrificing a million dollars, but it is something.

While a formal promise of a future contract is a violation of cap rules, Jones may have also received a hint from the Heat organization of its intention to offer a minimum salary contract to partially offset the losses after all of the team’s cap space is used up. The future contract promise is just speculation, but it seems to make a whole lot of sense.

While Jones will get paid his money up front, in accordance with cap rules, the Heat will get to spread the salary cap hit associated with Jones’ buyout over the remaining life of his now terminated contract, in proportion to the salaries he was guaranteed in each of those seasons. Jones’ cap hits become $1,544,172, $1,650,667 and $1,757,161 respectively, thereby opening up an additional $311,828 in cap room for this season for Miami.

This amount may seem rather small, but it is important.

Michael Beasley is all but certain to get moved, perhaps to the Raptors as part of a Bosh sign-and-trade but more likely to the Minnesota Timberwolves, in a trade that would clear his $4,962,240 salary off the books. However, even if the Heat were to also move Mario Chalmers, it would still have fallen $198,764 shy of being able to offer each member of a potential Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh trio a full, maximum contract. The $311,828 cap savings from Jones makes it officially possible. A potential Wade, James, Bosh trio – assuming the Heat can find a taker for Chalmers – would leave the Heat just shy of the projected $56.1 million cap, with only $113,064 to spare.

In accordance with buyout procedures, Jones will now be placed on waivers. “Waivers” is a temporary status for players who are released by their teams. During the waiver period, which lasts seven days, any other team may claim him. If a player on waivers is claimed, the new team acquires his existing contract in full and pays the remainder of his salary. In the case of Jones, however, this is highly unlikely.

If no team claims him, he is said to have “cleared waivers.” At this point, Jones would become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign a new contract with the team of his choice, including Miami. The Heat would then be responsible to pay the negotiated buyout amount.

The move adds further credence to the notion that Wade, James and Bosh may have an agreement in place to join the Heat in the off-season. While Pat Riley is restricted from speaking to either James or Bosh until free agency officially begins at 12:00 am on Thursday morning, no such restriction exists for Wade. The three reportedly held a small summit over the weekend, which was subsequently denied.

Jones originally signed a 3-year, $23.25 million contract with the Heat on July 9, 2008. He appeared in 76 regular season games, including seven starts, during his two years, averaging 4.1 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.5 assists in 14.9 minutes, while shooting .366 from the floor, .376 on 3-pointers and .831 from the foul line.

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Stephen A reporting LeBron, Bosh and Wade all to Miami

June 29th, 2010 15 comments
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The greatest words in the history of professional sport (from Stephen A. Smith):

I got a call last night from a source and I double-checked it with another and they told me essentially that LeBron James and Chris Bosh are going to tag team and go together and join Dwyane Wade in Miami.

Around 10 o’clock last night or so I heard the news and stayed up for a few more hours and made a few phone calls and I felt comfortable enough to go with what I reported.

I believe it’s highly likely, I wouldn’t say anything is a done deal with LeBron James until it’s signed.

Last night I heard emphatically that this is the direction that LeBron James has leaned toward and Dwyane Wade has done a very, very good job of convincing them (James and Bosh) not just about Pat Riley, not just about the fact there are no state (income) taxes in the state of Florida but at the same time he’s there in a tandem and that’s what it’s going to take. Either that or a three-headed monster to win multiple championships and that LeBron James is all in.

This is obviously a best case scenario for the Heat.

It’s difficult to believe that both LeBron and Chris are unequivocally ready to sign on the dotted line right now and join Dwyane in his quest for basketball immortality. But what if they are? Then what? Would the next half decade not be the best years of your lives?  Read more…

The Taxing Impact of State Taxes

June 28th, 2010 14 comments
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It’s one of life’s certainties: Athletes need to pay taxes on income earned on the road.

For each of his first seven NBA seasons, Dwyane Wade has worked in Florida, where there’s no state income tax.

Yet, each April, he undoubtedly pays a small army of accountants to file hundreds of pages of tax returns and sends out checks all over the country covering taxes on income he earned on the road.

April 15 — tax day — is quite possibly the most stressful day for professional athletes, now that 20 of the 22 states(1) with NBA franchises, and several cities and other municipalities(2) within those states, have laws that require visiting athletes to pay state income tax for each game they play there.

This so called “jock tax” is an income tax levied against visitors to a city or state who earn money in that jurisdiction. Since the state cannot typically afford to track the thousands of individuals who do business on an itinerant basis, the ones targeted are typically the very wealthy and the very high profile, namely professional athletes. Not only are the working schedules of professional athletes public, so are their salaries. The state can compute and collect the amount with very little investment of time and effort.

The states take the total salary paid to the visiting professional athlete, allocate a portion of it to the time spent within its state, and then send a tax bill for a prorated portion of the athlete’s total annual salary.  Read more…

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A Look at the Competition

June 28th, 2010 5 comments
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Note: From 8:00 am on 6/28 to 8:00 pm on 6/28, the Vegas lines in regards to landing LeBron James have changed dramatically. The Heat’s odds have increased to 2/1 from 5/1. At the same time, the Bulls’ odds have reversed to 1/3 from 1/5. This is the first time the Heat has been in the second place in the race for the King!

Three days until free agency begins.

Nine days until the salary cap, luxury tax and mid-level exception numbers are released.

Ten days until players can be signed.

The Miami Heat is poised to make a big free agent splash, but several cap space teams have equally high hopes. Here’s a look at the key competition: Read more…

Adding to the Darren Collison Intrigue

June 27th, 2010 3 comments
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With free agency set to begin next week, the New Orleans Hornets’ ownership transfer delay could hamper the team’s ability to improve its roster, even though George Shinn has continued to reassure fans of his commitment toward winning.

What else is he going to say? The cash strapped owner needs to sell season tickets.

But the situation in the Big Easy has led to widespread speculation that more than half of the league’s general managers have taken great interest in. The Hornets remain a league-wide curiosity because, even after last season’s virtual giveaways of Rasual Butler and Devin Brown to avoid paying luxury tax, New Orleans is back in tax territory with a projected payroll of more than $73 million in 2010/11.

What do you do when your loss-making team’s two best players play the same position?

One answer, and the easiest, is to trade one of them this summer. There are only 48 minutes available to a point guard, and the Hornets have more pressing needs at hand. Both Chris Paul and Darren Collison would demand a major return on the trade market. The Hornets could move Paul in return for a bevy of solid, young talent and draft picks that could shore up several positions of need. They could also move Collison with a bigger contract to pad his outgoing salary. The Hornets unfortunately have multiple overpaid declining parts still locked up for at least another season.

Rival executives continue to try to convince the Hornets to make Paul available in trades, pointing to the fact that new head coach Monty Williams can simply slide the promising Collison and his modest $1.4 million salary into that spot. When those teams get shot down, they come right back and suggest the Hornets’ make Collison available, conditioned upon a willingness to take back the cap-clogging contracts of Emeka Okafor, James Posey or Peja Stojakovic.

It has always been assumed that the Hornets will trade away one of their two star point guards to get under the tax threshold. Recent history suggests that smaller market teams will do just about anything – even the decidedly stupid – to drop below that magic line. Last season, the salary-dumping Utah Jazz jettisoned the promising rookie point guard Eric Maynor to Sam Presti, perhaps the best young general manager in the league today, and his Oklahoma City Thunder, in a package deal that included the retiring Matt Harpring. Read more…