Addressing the Issue of Tampering

July 12th, 2010 2 comments
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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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LeBron’s National Ire Continues Unabated

July 11th, 2010 6 comments
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I continue to read stories from across the nation vilifying LeBron James for his decision. While I tend to try to remain largely objective in my writing, I will offer my own retort.

James has certainly fallen from the greatness upon which he was once bestowed, reduced to the ranks of the most condemned among professional athletes. The events of Thursday will undoubtedly leave him forever mired with infamy.

The method in which he chose to communicate his “Decision” was shockingly cold-blooded and cruel – live and before a televised audience, without so much as a reasonable period of notice, and without a sense of true recognition for what he was doing.In deciding to leave, he had already driven the knife through the collective heart of the city of Cleveland. There was simply no need to twist it from within.

In that respect, Dan Gilbert had it right. This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his “decision” unlike anything ever “witnessed” in the history of sports, and probably the history of entertainment.

But don’t confuse Gilbert’s anger. His anger is not one of narcissism and self-promotion. James surely did not become a narcissistic self-promoter on Thursday night. It was an attribute that has been ingrained within Gilbert’s former star since an early age. Greatness often breeds arrogance. Read more…

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Heat vision beginning to take shape

July 11th, 2010 11 comments
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The vision is beginning to take shape.

Pat Riley and Micky Arison met with Derek Fisher for three hours at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in downtown Miami on Saturday and apparently made Fisher a “compelling” offer.

Given the contract situations of Udonis and Mike, the compelling nature of the offer was more likely a vision of Fisher as the starting point guard on a team that also features among the most talented trio the game has ever produced than it was of monetary reward.

At the same time, the coup from Cleveland appears it may continue. Free agent center Zydrunas Ilgauskas is contemplating the option of rejoining LeBron James, his close friend, in Miami. It will certainly be interesting to see if the fanatics of northeastern Ohio deem the 12-year veteran center a Benedict-Arnold-like traitor, or if that title is devoted exclusively to far more talented but far less tenured former members of the organization.

More interesting are the implications the two additions could have on the Heat organization. Riley’s vision appears to change by the day, as new and unexpected possibilities avail themselves. As of now, it seems to follow along the lines of:

Starting Rotation: Derek Fisher, Dywane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Second Unit: Mario Chalmers, Raja Bell, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony.

The concept of the two units, however, is likely to be fluid. There may never actually be a moment when Dwyane, LeBron and Chris are all resting comfortably together. Perhaps the best part of having three legitimate superstars that can each dominate a basketball game in his own right is that each can take long, rejuvenating rest stops, in rotating fashion, throughout the course of a game. The concept of tearing down a body by playing forty-plus minutes per game may be a thing of the past for each of the three, vastly decreasing the potential for injury and prolonging the career.

When you consider the bench that Pat seems to be putting together, such a rotation system may even be a preferred alternative. The natural concern about such a Big Three trio is the perhaps less than complementary nature of their games. On the other hand, Bell, Miller and Haslem are all knock-down shooters that would complement the games of a superstar wonderfully – with the range of Bell and Miller stretching all the way behind the arc and that of Haslem to the top of the key extended.

The lesson we can take from the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns of yesteryear is that when you surround a playmaker or two with a gaggle of shooters, it makes it exceedingly difficult to defend and nearly impossible to double-team. It creates wide open driving lanes which, if closed, will leave Mike Miller wide open for a three point field goal attempt (where he shot 48% last season) and, if not, will produce a series of thunder-dunk highlight reels the likes of which the NBA has yet to ever see from a single team.

A fully-rested Big Three on the court together in the final minutes of any game that happens to be tight has to be a scary proposition.

The Heat figures not to be just an offensive powerhouse, but a severe match-up problem for just about every team in the league. Consider the flexibility afforded by having a Second Team All Defensive shooting guard, a First Team All Defensive small forward who has the quickness to cover opposing point and shooting guards and the frame to cover opposing power forwards, and a lanky 6’11” power forward who, despite the lack of hardware, is among the game’s best statistical rebounders, as well as a strong pick-and-roll defender who moves his feet and alters shots with his length and leaping ability. Read more…

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Dorell Wright signs 3-year, $11 million contract to join the Warriors

July 10th, 2010 3 comments
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Dorell Wright’s six-year stay in South Florida has come to an end. Wright signed a three-year contract worth just shy of $11 million to join the Golden State Warriors.

The 6’9″ small forward seemed to be turning a corner last season, averaging 7.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in his 21 minutes per game. It was the best overall season of his career, a season during which he began to show the promise that warranted his No. 19 selection in the 2004 NBA Draft.

But the Heat didn’t have the cap room to offer Dorell anything more than a minimum salary contract.

Here’s wishing all the best to Dorell Wright.

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Miami Heat Meet With Derek Fisher

July 10th, 2010 1 comment
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Heat President Pat Riley and team owner Micky Arison met Saturday with Los Angeles Lakers championship point guard Derek Fisher for three hours at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in downtown Miami. The Heat reportedly told Fisher they envision him as their starting point guard and will hold off on offers to other players while he made his decision.

Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh have also all reached out to Fisher to help persuade him to leave the two-time defending champion Lakers, his team for the past three seasons.

But while the Heat are doing their best to court Fisher, there is a strong expectation that he will wind up back with the Lakers after this well-publicized dalliance, which likely will wind up as nothing more than a bid to drive up his value.

The Lakers’ current hard line with Fisher has them asking him to take a pay cut from the $5 million he earned last season, in the wake of the team recently signing Los Angeles Clippers free-agent point guard Steve Blake. The Lakers’ initial offer to Fisher was for one year, at $2.5 million.

While the Lakers continue to express optimism that a deal with Fisher will get done, interest from the Heat could force the Lakers to increase that offer. The Heat can potentially offer more.

The Heat currently has a team salary of $50.0 million – with Wade, James, Bosh and Chalmers under contract for a combined $44.1 million, a $1.1 million qualifying offer to Joel Anthony outstanding, a $1.5 million cap charge associated with James Jones’ buyout, and $3.3 million in roster charges – leaving $8.0 million of room below the $58.044 million salary cap. Approximately $5 million of that has already been committed Mike Miller, which (after subtracting one roster charge) leaves the Heat with about $3.5 million of available cap space. While the Heat is hoping to retain Udonis Haslem as well, it may not require cap space to do so. The Heat are therefore in position to offer Fisher a contract with a starting salary as high as $3.5 million.  Read more…

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Getting Creative With Udonis Haslem

July 10th, 2010 No comments
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You may know that on Wednesday, the league announced the salary cap for the 2010-11 NBA season was set at $58.044 million.

What you may not know is that the Miami Heat entered the summer with a team salary of $89.7 million.

That’s because, according to league rules, all of a team’s free agents continue to count against the salary cap, at predetermined levels called “free agent amounts.”

Free agent amounts are designed to address a salary cap loophole whereby a team utilizes all of its cap space to sign outside free agents and then circles back to its own free agents utilizing their Bird rights, which allow teams to exceed the cap to re-sign their own players.

The rules use a player’s current status (type of free agent, whether coming off a rookie contract, and previous salary) as a rough guideline to predict the amount the player is likely to receive in his next contract, and sets that amount aside in the form of a cap hold. The cap holds for players on minimum salary contracts are equal to the minimum salary for the upcoming season, but for all other players are between 120% and 300% of their previous salary (though they can never be greater than a player’s maximum salary).

Free agents continue to be included in team salary until one of the following three things happens:

  • The player signs a new contract with the same team. When this happens, the team salary reflects the player’s new salary rather than his cap hold.
  • The player signs with a different team. As soon as this happens, the player becomes his new team’s problem, and his salary no longer counts against his old team.
  • The team renounces the player. A renounced player no longer counts toward team salary, so teams use renouncement to gain additional cap room. But it comes at a cost. By renouncing a player, a team gives up its right to use the Bird exception to re-sign that player. Teams are still permitted to re-sign renounced players, but only with cap room or an exception other than Bird rights.

To create the cap space necessary to acquire the contracts of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, each with a starting salary at $14.5 million, the Heat had to reduce its team salary from $89.7 million all the way down to at least $29.0 million below the $58.044 million cap. Anticipating that need, the Heat on Wednesday renounced most every free agent on the roster.  Read more…

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Heat’s Forgone Draft Picks Could Prove Costly

July 10th, 2010 6 comments
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Pat Riley turned 65 in March, the age of retirement for many but apparently the age of reinvention for him. Just when he seemed to be on the verge of fading into professional irrelevance, he executed an unprecedented triple play: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh. All playing together. All here in South Florida for the Miami Heat.

Lost in the exultation of today, however, is an unpopular potential storyline: The Heat may well be destroying its tomorrow. It is doing it by massively undervaluing the import of the NBA draft. And it could have dire consequences in the years to come.

Riley makes no equivocation about his disdain for building through the draft: “I’ve said in the past, and I believe this, that the way I always want to build a team is through free agency and trades. Probably some of the best players we’ve gotten here were free agents and trades. Also, through the draft. But the only way you build through the draft is to lose and get three, four, five years of top 10 lottery picks. Since (losing to get those picks) has never been a philosophy of mine – we’ve only had three lottery picks in 15 years – I always use (draft picks) as an adjunct to help free agency and trades. As chips I would use maybe to acquire players through trade.”

His actions over the past several months validate that philosophy.  Read more…

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It’s Official!!!

July 10th, 2010 15 comments
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With 13,000 Miami Heat fans anxiously waiting in AmericanAirlines Arena to welcome its newest trio of superstars, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh were upstairs finalizing their contracts. Minutes later, they emerged from a cloud of smoke, along with some unexpected news: They all took discounts large enough to accommodate the potential signings of both Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem in the days ahead.

James and Bosh signed matching six-year contracts, which start at $14.5 million and pay out a total of $109.8 million. Wade took an even bigger discount to stay in Miami, signing a six year deal which starts at $14.2 million and pays out a total of $107.6 million. They could have received $125.5 million apiece if they had demanded the maximum value allowed under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.

Each was eligible for a maximum starting salary for next season of $16.6 million, whether it was with their prior teams or with anyone else. But while the starting salary was to be the same no matter where they signed, league rules give the home team a financial advantage when it comes to re-signing its own players. The home team is eligible to offer his player one more year (six instead of five) and bigger annual raises (10.5% of the first year salary instead of 8%).

Sign-and-trade transactions capitalize on this concept, in that they allow the to-be-traded player to be technically signed by his home team, and then be immediately traded to his new team. Heat president Pat Riley therefore structured sign-and-trade transactions with both the Raptors (for Bosh) and Cavaliers (for James). No maneuvering for Wade was necessary because the Heat is already his home team.  Read more…

Clearing Up Some Sign-and-Trade Confusion

July 9th, 2010 3 comments
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The following was reported today in the South Florida Sun Sentinel:

Should the Heat be able to pull off the maneuver, it would give Heat President Pat Riley unlimited resources to re-sign remaining current Heat free agents such as Udonis Haslem, Dorell Wright and Quentin Richardson — whichever are not included in such a sign-and-trade — without having to make those agreements work within the confines of the NBA’s “soft” salary cap.

In addition, such a maneuver would allow the Heat to retain its mid-level salary-cap exception for 2010-11, which it then could utilize to complete its planned signing of Washington Wizards free-agent swingman Mike Miller.

For the benefit of any dual readers who would certainly be confused and prematurely excited, allow me to clarify exactly why this scenario is impossible.

Read more…

No Rest For the Weary!

July 9th, 2010 10 comments
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LeBron James is joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the suddenly star-heavy Miami Heat roster. The trio dramatically alters the league’s power structure, with the Heat instantly vaulted into what figures to be the Eastern Conference’s perennial powerhouse for the next half decade, ahead of such teams as the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic.

But it’s difficult to project the team’s superiority as of now, partly because it’s not yet officially a team. The league requires all NBA teams to carry between thirteen and fifteen players on its roster during the regular season.

How do you build out a roster around three players who are arguably the league’s best at their positions?

The commitment of Wade, James and Bosh was a strong first step. It was so strong that each committed to the Heat without knowing exactly what he committed to. There were no assurances that any would receive their maximum allowable starting salary of $16.6 million for 2010-11. In fact, they won’t.

In an era where we complain that athletes never want to win and only care about money, three of the top players in the game have agreed to take less money to play together and to dominate the league for the foreseeable future, even at the risk of diminishing their own individual greatness. Ultimately, they cared more about winning and friendship than money and legacy. Remarkable. Read more…

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