Lack of Playoff Competitiveness is Concerning

May 12th, 2010 No comments

Commissioner David Stern shocked us all last month when he revealed that the league’s projection for the 2010/11 salary cap had changed to $56.1 million – a substantial increase from its earlier projections of as low as $50.4 million.

In the past few days, the good news has continued to pour in for the Heat.

Early indications that Riley’s strategy to rebuild in the 2010 offseason are promising. Chris Bosh is clearly up for grabs, after being shut out of the playoffs. Joe Johnson has expressed a desire to play in South Florida, and his sub-par playoff performance would have you believe he can no longer command a maximum contract. Raja Bell has been even more direct in his praise, suggesting that Riley need only to call him and make an offer. Carlos Boozers’ ousting from the playoffs was so abrupt one would have to think he will be considering his alternatives, as he rests comfortably in his Miami-area summer home. Several teams reportedly have varying forms of interest in the underachieving Michael Beasley, which could be useful when the time comes. And, best of all, LeBron James is about to bow out early from the playoffs, which could prompt free agency’s biggest-ever prize to take a closer look at The Big Apple (Here’s a funny pitch from New York Magazine) or The Big Party (as Shaq would have you believe).

Hidden beneath the surface, however, is a bit of bad news.

The playoffs have been shockingly uncompetitive.

The NBA now appears to be the league where sweeps happen. The Magic, Lakers and Suns all swiftly dispatched their second-round opponents, leaving only the Cavaliers and Celtics as entertainment value.

Regardless of whether LeBron is able to pull his team out from the doldrums and force a decisive Game 7 in Cleveland, the first two rounds of the playoffs will have the fewest number of games played since the NBA expanded to a best-of-seven first round format. The first two rounds of the playoffs will be either 62 or 63 games long, down from the seven-season average of 67.7 from 2003 to 2009. The previous low was 64 during the 2007 playoffs.

Even if the Cavs/Celtics series goes to seven games, along with each Conference Finals series and the NBA Finals, the 2010 NBA playoffs will fall short of average for total games in all rounds of the playoffs (84.7). In fact, the all-time low of 79 games — also set during the 2007 playoffs — is in serious jeopardy.

That’s bad news for Heat fans. Revenues generated by NBA playoff games, in all their various forms, directly affect the NBA’s Basketball-Related Income (or “BRI”) for the 2009/10 NBA season. This BRI, in turn, directly affects next season’s salary cap.

Depending on how Riley deals with his upcoming roster decisions, the Miami Heat could require a salary cap as low as $55,825,160 (and certainly no higher than $57,932,930) in order to be able to offer three maximum contracts.

The announcement of a $56.1 million projection was very encouraging. However, given that the projection was made prior to the start of the playoffs, it is safe to assume the record-setting pace of the playoffs was not incorporated.

In a postseason where every dollar generated counts, the dollars just aren’t flowing.

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Has LeBron James played his last home game in Cleveland?

May 11th, 2010 No comments

Hell yeah, baby!

The exceedingly long odds that are LeBron James being lured to South Beach just got a major shot in the arm when the Boston Celtics dismantled the Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was the worst home playoff loss in team history.

Kiss him goodbye, Cleveland?

Not just yet. LeBron and his soldiers have already taken a game off the Celtics at TD Garden. He’s still the best player on the planet – certainly capable of willing his team to two straight victories.

I’m quite interested to see what the Vegas odds will be for Game 6 on Thursday night. Let’s assume the Celtics hold serve on their home floor and dispatch the Cavs earlier on in the playoffs than anyone could possibly have projected.

You’ve got to figure LeBron James will leave. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has unlocked the vault and at least tried to surround LeBron James with the talent to earn the king a ring. But the team has had trouble winning any game that he did not dominate. There doesn’t appear to be much of a core in place for the future either.

The February trade for Antawn Jamison was billed as the last piece to a title contender. Now it looks like the questionable acquisition of a 33-year old forward who is still owed a whopping $24.8 million over the next two seasons on the downside of his career. Shaquille O’Neal certainly isn’t getting any younger, and is clearly not much of a difference maker anyway. And the team is out of money with which to improve.

The Cavaliers are reportedly projected to post a financial loss between $10 million and $15 million this season. The club lost nearly $20 million per season over the previous two seasons.

Even if Gilbert is willing to shell out the big bucks in an effort to persuade LeBron that home is where his heart should be, the salary cap simply doesn’t allow him to. If James signs on, the Cavs would have a total payroll of $66.6 million going into next season. That puts the team way over the projected $56.1 million salary cap, and right up against the $68 million projected tax threshold. Having already used up their bi-annual exception (which is available every other year) to sign Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the Cavs would be left with nothing other than the mid-level exception (which I am projecting at approximately $6.0 million) and trades. Read more…

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Raja Bell announces preference for the Heat

May 11th, 2010 No comments

The Heat has received its first bit of good news this offseason.

Raja Bell said yesterday that he would welcome the opportunity to play for the Heat next season.

“I’ll tell you like this, Pat. If you can use my services give me a call, I’m right around the corner, 36th and Biscayne. Give me a call.”

Heat president Pat Riley should do just that.

The Heat will be required to fill its roster with several minimum contract players in the offseason, and Bell would be an ideal fit as a perimeter defender and knock-down three-point shooter.

Bell’s shooting skills are both relatively inexpensive and invaluable. Floor spacing in today’s N.B.A. is critical. Proper floor spacing, coupled with the players that can take advantage of it, makes it nearly impossible for a defense to properly defend. The two teams that are having the most success thus far in these playoffs – the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic – are perfect case studies built around that very philosophy.

Bell would be a role player on Miami, serving primarily as a quality backup to Dwyane Wade at shooting guard. He’s also 6’5″, so he can play small forward in a pinch. He likes to play off the ball and just launch catch-and-shoot 3s. He’s a low-mistake player whose greatest value is in helping to space the floor for his teammates. And that’s ok. He is a dangerous 3-point shooter who has shredded the nets to the tune of 41.1% for his career. Read more…

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Tony Parker trade prospects

May 10th, 2010 No comments

The NBA rumor mill is swirling.

After being thoroughly dominated by the surging Suns in a four-game second-round playoff sweep, the Spurs may be contemplating a change.

Father time seems to have caught up to the Spurs. The entire starting unit, save for soon to be 28-year old point guard Tony Parker, will be in their 30s to start next season. Every game is a grind for Tim Duncan at this point, dragging around an ailing right leg. Every part of Manu Ginobili’s body has failed him at some point. Richard Jefferson seems to have forgotten how to jump in his worst statistical season as a pro. The Spurs desperately need an injection of youth into its aging core.

San Antonio is apparently optimistic about its ability to convince forward Tiago Splitter to leave the European game to come to the NBA starting next season. The Spurs drafted Splitter in the first round of the 2007 NBA Daft, with the 28th draft pick overall. However, Splitter signed a two-year contract with TAU Cer¡mica one month prior to the draft that kept him in the Spanish League through the 2009-10 NBA season. The contract allowed the Brazilian to make 8 times more than the NBA rookie scale would have allowed him to make with the Spurs. The Euroleague All-Star could earn up to $1.0 million with the Spurs next season. Read more…

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Breaking Down Amare’s Impending Decision

May 10th, 2010 No comments
Amare Stoudemire's value increases with every playoff victory

Amare's value increases with every playoff victory

Leading up to the last two NBA trade deadlines, Amare Stoudemire seemed destined to leave Phoenix.

Suns executives intensely shopped him as his standing with his team and city soured, and at times appeared close to completing a trade. And though a deal never went through, most of us expected this to be Stoudemire’s final season in the Valley of the Sun.

Now, Suns general manager Steve Kerr seems determined to keep him.

It all makes perfect sense. The Suns finished off the season going 22-5 after the February 18 trade deadline, playing perhaps the best team basketball during the 27-year-old’s eight-year tenure.

It’s amazing how winning basketball games can completely change the outlook of a player driven to seek out a happier home. Having watched the Suns dismantle a Spurs team which came into the series looking poised and confident and limped out of it looking old and defeated, it is hard for me to believe Stoudemire actually wants to leave Phoenix.

He has a head coach in Alvin Gentry which he seems to mesh well with. Gentry has fostered the best relationship with Stoudemire of any coach Stoudemire has had. Gentry even learned how to text-message because it is said to be Stoudemire’s favorite form of off-court communication. It has served him well to get the best all-around effort out of his star. Amare is playing the best basketball of his career, and not just at the offensive end. He is, believe it or not, defending better than most ever thought possible. Just at the right time. Read more…

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The Sign-and-Trade Approach

May 9th, 2010 No comments

You may not realize that the Miami Heat will start the offseason with a team salary in excess of the new salary cap threshold. This is caused by intangible charges, called “cap holds,” created by the Heat’s own free agents.

The Heat can very easily get rid of these cap holds in order to create the huge cap space we’ve all been reading about, but does it want to?

While teams with cap space can only spend up to the amount of the salary cap, teams that are over the cap are virtually unlimited in what they can spend through trade.

But the Heat only has two players, Michael Beasley and Daequan Cook, under contract. It doesn’t really have anybody to trade.

Enter the concept of the sign-and-trade.

You may have heard local beat writers discussing the possibility of sign-and-trade agreements as a means for the Heat to increase the total amount of dollars it can spend. They’re right. And they’re wrong. Let me explain. Read more…

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Restricted Tag To Narrow Riley’s Focus

May 8th, 2010 No comments

Rudy Gay is this offseason's best, and most expensive, free agent small forward money can buy. But he's restricted.

Rudy Gay.

By all accounts, he’s far and away the best true small forward available in free agency. He will command a starting salary of $10 million or more.

It may surprise you (but if you read my CapRoom tab it shouldn’t) to know the Heat can actually sign a max contract power forward and still have the leftover shekels to give it to him. Awesome, right?

But he’s restricted.

That means the Grizzlies would have seven days to match any potential Heat offer and steal him away.

Whatever proposal the Miami makes Memphis has the right to match. Don’t believe they will? Don’t believe they can afford it?

Who cares! That’s not the point! The point is that those $10 million are now tied up and unavailable for seven whole days. An offer to a restricted free agent cannot be rescinded. So Pat Riley will need to sit on his hands for an entire week while the Grizzlies decide on the fate of Rudy Gay… and the Miami Heat.

Pat can’t go shopping for alternatives just in case. Which top tier free agent is going to be willing to sit idly by and wait for the Heat to discover whether it can – or cannot – even make him an offer? Free agency spans a long, long time – many months in fact from its start on July 8 to the start to the regular season in late October. But it could be over in less time than it takes for you to utter the words, what the heck just happened. The best free agents could be gone in days… minutes…

If you were Pat Riley, would you be willing to gamble your organization’s entire future by making an offer to a restricted free agent, giving his existing team the unbridled incentive to shop around for alternatives for the better part of a week? Read more…

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

May 3rd, 2010 1 comment

What might have been if Riley’s acquisition of Juwan Howard was not voided by the league?

Do you remember the last time the Heat had substantial cap space?

It was the summer of 1996.

Owner Micky Arison had hired basketball’s most celebrated coach the year prior with one goal in mind: to build a championship-caliber roster. This was Pat Riley’s chance.

Without hesitation, Riley traded away Glen Rice, Khalid Reeves, Matt Geiger, Kevin Willis, Bimbo Coles, Billy Owens and Kevin Gamble in moves designed to create more salary cap room for the summer’s free-agent shopping spree, giving him maximum maneuverability in what was considered at the time to be the NBA’s biggest free-agent market ever.

The Heat began the offseason with just $3.8 million in salary commitments to three players (Sasha Danilovic, Kurt Thomas and Keith Askins), leaving $20.6 million of available room below the $24.4 million salary cap.

Free agent guard Tim Hardaway and center Alonzo Mourning were the cornerstones of the team’s vision. The rest was to be filled on the open market.

One minute after the new labor agreement was finalized at 4:59 p.m. on July 11, the NBA’s free agent marketplace officially opened.

Riley kicked off the summer by turning his sights to budding young superstar Juwan Howard, in what was soon to become one of the most heated and controversial battles in league history.

Boosted by gaudy per game averages of 22.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists, Howard had opted-out of his existing contract with the Washington Bullets in favor of the big payday. Pairing Mourning with the 23-year-old first-time All-Star forward was expected to instantaneously boost Miami into the league’s upper echelon.

The Bullets opened up the bidding with an initial seven-year, $78.4 million offer. Although publicly stating his desire to stay with the Bullets, Howard was not impressed. Howard felt that his market value was far greater than that.

The Heat countered at seven years and $91.0 million, plus $3.5 million in bonuses. The Bullets then pushed their offer to an $84.0 million take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum that left Howard in tears about the prospect of leaving Washington. The Heat upped the ante to seven years and $95.2 million offer, plus an additional $5.6 million in bonuses and perks that included luxury hotel suites and limousine service during road trips. It was all but inevitable.

At around 1 a.m. on July 13, Riley’s phone rang. Howard was on the other end. “Coach,” he told Riley. “I’m coming to Miami.”

When the moratorium ended on July 17, the Heat officially signed Howard to a seven-year, $100.8 million contract, making him the NBA’s first ever nine-figure player. Howard was slated to earn more than the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.

Riley made another big splash the next day, signing forward P.J. Brown to an incentive-laden seven-year deal with a $19.0 million base, but worth as much as $35.8 million based upon the achievement of certain individual and team milestones.

He then turned his sights back inward.

On July 23, Hardaway was re-signed to a four-year, $10.4 million deal, but worth as much as $20.8 million.

The final move in the master plan was to sign Mourning to a seven-year, $105.1 million contract, utilizing his Bird rights to legally exceed the salary cap by $1.5 million. This opportunity was made possible because Mourning’s $6.8 million cap hold was $2.5 million less than his $9.4 million first-year salary to be.

The vision was complete. The maneuvering was done. The Heat were set to become a perennial powerhouse.

But then, on July 31, with Howard parading around Miami as a member of the Heat, the NBA shocked the NBA world by voided Howard’s contract — a full two weeks after it was executed. Read more…

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The Heat’s Playoff Wishes

May 2nd, 2010 No comments

Now that the Heat has been eliminated from contention, it is a bittersweet feeling to continue watching the playoffs. But there is still plenty to root for.

Next season’s salary cap is based on revenues generated by the league this season. That includes playoff ticket sales, concessions and parking. The longer each playoff series goes, the higher the upcoming cap will be. While the Heat didn’t do anything to help itself – bowing out in just five games – playoff attendance is actually up year-over-year. That could be a good sign.

Last month, Commissioner David Stern said the league is projecting the salary cap to come in around $56.1 million, good news for a Heat team looking to sign top stars during this summer’s expected free agency bonanza. While that figure would still be lower than this season’s $57.7 million cap and only the third time it’s ever fallen, it’s far better than estimates from last summer, when the league sent a memo to teams warning them of a potential sharp drop to between $50.4 million to $53.6 million.

But if the playoffs prove to be more profitable than projected in April, it would certainly be possible for the cap to rise even further. That’s quite meaningful for the Heat. Every dollar rise in the cap is another dollar that can be given to that potential third elite player, after offering max contracts to both Wade and a sidekick.

There are also subplots that should be considered. Each of the Heat’s potential primary targets, with the exception of Chris Bosh, has led his team into the second round of the playoffs. Any such successes can only provide more impetus for teams to offer up more money to retain their stars, and provide more incentive for these players to consider the status quo.

The message is this. Root for the Celtics, Magic, Lakers and Spurs to win their second round match-ups… in seven games.

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Dirk Nowitzki on the Heat’s Radar?

May 1st, 2010 No comments

Now that Heat fans have discovered that Dirk Nowitzki has an early termination option in his contract that could make him a free agent this offseason, many are asking about a potential tandem with Dwyane Wade in South Florida.

It had been widely assumed throughout the season that Nowitzki will remain with the Mavericks. Dirk even indicated as much prior to the playoffs. But Dallas’ first round ousting, its third such exit in the past four years, left him shocked, his comments unconvincing and people wondering.

I nevertheless continue to believe Nowitzki won’t leave the Mavericks.

Dirk wants to win a championship. That would be the impetus for any potential jump, because otherwise life is exceedingly good in Dallas – the facilities, the staff, and the treatment of players are all first class.

There is simply no compelling alternative in the west. Oklahoma City, which has the most free cap space of all potential western conference contenders, is the only even remotely viable scenario. Dirk would seem to be a perfect fit, and perhaps the missing link to a legitimate title run. The two stadiums are also just 200 miles apart. But the $16.5 million the Thunder could offer is more than $5 million less than he is set to make by remaining in Dallas.

All potential scenarios in the east involve rebuilding projects with questionable pasts and unproven futures. There’s simply too much uncertainty for him to take such a huge risk.

Remaining in Dallas seems logical. Owner Mark Cuban is eager to extend Dirk’s contract, which would have him making $21.5 million next season. And the Mavericks, despite its recent early round playoff exits, continue to be a significant title threat.

Cuban is committed to that end like no other owner in the league.

He spends whatever it takes. His is the only team in the N.B.A. that has both exceeded the tax threshold in every season since 2005/06 — before which there was no tax — and has guaranteed contracts for next season which exceed next season’s projected threshold.

He does whatever it takes. He is reportedly preparing to make a pitch to pair Dirk with prized free agent LeBron James, though I don’t see how in the world such an acquisition would ever come to pass.

Dirk isn’t leaving Dallas.

As far as the Heat is concerned, it’s not such a big loss. Dirk is an elite player. But he also turns 32 next month, commands a salary far too high for the team’s liking (Wade, by comparison, is set to make $5 million less), and he’s not the tough, banger-type that could shift over to the center position in a pinch.

Dirk in Miami? It’s a nice thought, but it’s not going to happen.

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