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Amare Stoudemire: Let the Games Begin

February 7th, 2010 No comments

After the latest round of discussions with Amar’e Stoudemire didn’t appear destined to produce a contract extension, the Phoenix Suns have reportedly intensified their efforts to trade the All-Star power forward.

Sources say the Suns have become more active in talks over the past few days, and believe the franchise will take the best offer for Stoudemire before the February 18 trade deadline. With Stoudemire able to opt out of the final $17.7 million season of his contract at the end of the season, the Suns don’t want to risk losing him for nothing in free agency this summer.

The Miami Heat, as well as the Chicago Bulls, New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and a host of others, reportedly have a strong interest.

With Stoudemire having undergone serious knee and eye surgeries in recent years, there are differing perspectives on his market value. Stoudemire has expressed a belief that he is a maximum-contract player. That’s not what the Suns have been willing to offer. But some team that is otherwise facing the prospect of striking out this summer surely will give it to him.

Stoudemire insists that he is 100% healthy, although many have questioned whether he is as explosive. Nevertheless, he has made a strong comeback from eye surgery this season – averaging 20.9 points and 8.6 rebounds.

As they did when they shopped him last season, the Suns want a combination of young talent, salary-cap relief and draft picks for him. Some teams are hesitant to trade for Stoudemire for fear he won’t want to re-sign with them this summer.

The Heat have the means with which to make one of the more compelling offers.

Should they? Should they risk putting together a compelling offer on a player who could choose to opt out of his contract just five months later? Should they risk having him opt into the final season of his contract (which is more than $1 million higher than Dwyane Wade’s maximum salary would be), even if doing so puts increasing pressure on the team’s ability sign a third maximum contract free agent?

The Heat is playing a dangerous game. While Miami is considered a potential destination for LeBron James and Chris Bosh this summer, two more coveted free agents than Stoudemire, the danger with doing nothing now is that Wade might walk if the team fails to get James, Bosh or another top player or two. Stoudemire could short-circuit the rebuilding process and serve as an impetus for Wade to both stay and recruit others. How much should that factor into the decision?  Read more…

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2010 Free Agency: Teams on the Brink

February 5th, 2010 No comments

The 2010 free agent class is poised to be among the best in N.B.A. history. Nearly one-third of all the teams are attempting to position themselves to maximize cap space in order to make a run at one or more of them. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are the headliners.

There are currently just four teams competing with the Heat to produce the necessary cap space to make a serious run at them: the New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, and Los Angeles Clippers. With the February 18 trade deadline now less than three weeks away, each will be looking to further improve their financial flexibility.

Here’s a look at how each are currently positioned (assuming a $54 million cap):

The Nets currently have a guaranteed payroll of $22.7 million from five players (Devin Harris, Yi Jianlian, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez, Terrence Williams, and Courtney Lee) for next season. As of now, they stand to have about $28.4 million in cap room.

While they seem poised to break the all-time N.B.A. record for futility this season, five months from now they could offer an intriguing array of talent. The Nets will have a 25% chance of getting the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. If the balls bounce favorably, they will select Kentucky point guard John Wall. Paired up with center Brook Lopez, this would figure to be a solid core. The move to Brooklyn and the promise of free-flowing cash from new owner and Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Prokhorov, might make such a proposition difficult to resist for premier free agents.

Nets at the Trade Deadline: The only long-term contract they have belongs to Harris, who has occasionally come up in trade discussions because he’s regressed so badly this season. The Nets seem a bit fed up with him, but they likely won’t look to move him until they get assurances on Wall in June. If they do, their cap space would jump to $33.1 million even with Wall. That would leave them comfortably in range for two maximum contract free agents.

The Knicks currently have a guaranteed payroll of $27.3 million from six players (Eddy Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas, Jared Jeffries, and Jordan Hill) for next season. As of now, they stand to have about $23.8 million in cap room.

They want more. As much as they’d like to lure LeBron James, they’d love to pair him with a second maximum contract free agent. General Manager Donnie Walsh has tried all season to find a taker for Eddy Curry and his bloated $11.3 million salary, but he hasn’t been easy to move. In fact, he has one of the least desirable contracts in the league.

Knicks at the Trade Deadline: They’ll be looking to clear Jared Jefferies’ $6.9 million salary. If they do, their cap space will jump to $31.2 million. That would leave them just about $1.5 million short of their target goal. But they’d be able to bridge that gap by giving away some of their desirable youngsters. One problem for the Knicks is that even if they do get them, they’d have nobody of significance with which to pair their two new additions.

The Bulls currently have a guaranteed payroll of $37.7 million from seven players (Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, James Johnson, Taj Gibson, and John Salmons) for next season. As of now, they stand to have about $14.0 million in cap room.

Chicago has the best array of existing talent on minimal contracts in All Star point guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah, and could therefore be a major player in free agency. While they don’t currently have enough cap room for even one maximum contract player, their situation is a bit of an illusion. Deng would figure to be a possible trade target for several teams, and would clear $11.3 million off the books. But, as one of the better defensive small forwards in the league when healthy, don’t expect such a trade until a more definitive replacement is identified in the summer.

Bulls at the Trade Deadline: They’ll be looking clear either Kirk Hinrich’s $9.0 million salary or John Salmons’ $5.8 million salary. If they do, their cap space would jump to at least $19.3 million which, when paired with a potential Deng trade later in the summer, could free up at least $30.2 million. That would leave them around $2.5 million shy of the room required for not one but two maximum contract free agents. If it’s one, they’ll target Wade. If it’s two, it could be James and Wade or Bosh. The Bulls figure to be a significant and dangerous player this summer.

The Clippers currently have a guaranteed payroll of $39.0 million from six players (Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, and Sebastian Telfair). As of now, they stand to have about $13.0 million in cap room.

The Clippers, to this point, have not been seriously mentioned as a viable threat to lure James away from Cleveland in free agency. That’s despite the fact that they can offer him a promising group of potential sidekicks — led by All-Star center Chris Kaman, forward Blake Griffin and guards Eric Gordon and Baron Davis — as well as proximity to the many off-court business opportunities that only Hollywood can provide. But the reason the Clippers have not been mentioned as a serious suitor is no mystery. Owner Donald Sterling has a reputation as one of the league’s worst owners to play for, caring more about generating a profit than he does about spending what it takes to build a contender.

Clippers at the Trade Deadline: The Clippers feel they have a title-caliber starter at every position but small forward. They’ll hope to attract LeBron James. To get there, they’ll first be looking to clear the $2.8 million and $2.7 million expiring contracts of Al Thornton and Sebastian Telfair. If they do, their cap space will jump to $17.5 million. That’s more than enough for James.

***

Note: The Cleveland Cavaliers do not have any cap space for the summer of 2010 but they can offer LeBron James a full maximum contract by utilizing his Bird rights. They also have the assets with which to complete a sign-and-trade for a second maximum contract free agent. Thus, they cannot be discounted from any discussions revolving around the possibility of acquiring two such players. It does, however, seem unlikely because Cleveland is not widely considered a desirable free agent destination. 

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Is Dorell Wright On The Move?

February 3rd, 2010 No comments

The always dapper Dorell Wright

As the NBA trade deadline fast approaches, questions are naturally beginning to surface in South Florida as to what activity we are likely to see from the Miami Heat.

The answer, quite simply, is nothing too exciting.

Pat Riley has a plan now nearly three years in the making. The plan, however tenuous it may appear in the current salary cap environment, is to sign three max contract free agents to long-term contracts next summer. The plan has always been to sacrifice the present for the benefit of the future.

At this point, nothing will – and nothing should – deter him from that goal.

Trading away the only continuing contracts – those of Daequan Cook and James Jones – would be ideal, but the market for each is exceedingly thin.

And so all that remains are financial considerations.

Miami’s payroll currently stands at $72.7 million, $2.8 million over the luxury tax threshold. Unfortunately for Dorell Wright, he happens to be making a tidy $2.9 million. That puts him directly in the line of fire.

Should Dorell Wright be traded? Read more…

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Review of Miami Heat’s Future Draft Picks

February 1st, 2010 No comments

If the Miami Heat’s free agent dreams are to come true, they’re going to need their draft picks.

It could be that Heat president Pat Riley will need some of them to complete a trade or two or three or four. It could be that the Heat uses every dollar under the salary cap to sign three maximum contract free agents this summer and needs some surround them with promising youngsters in the years to come, to ensure that the future stays bright. The good news is that the Heat has a lot of them, and they could be getting more.

To start the summer, the Heat will have six first round draft picks over the next five years – including a protected first round pick acquired from the Toronto Raptors in Shawn Marion-Jermaine O’Neal swap on February 13, 2009.

According to the details of the 2009 deal, the Toronto pick is a lottery-protected 2010 first round pick. Essentially, that means the Heat will get the pick if the Raptors make the playoffs.

If instead the Raptors miss the playoffs, two things will happen: (i) the Heat will get a 2010 second round pick from the Raptors (which, by virtue of the fact that they would’ve missed the playoffs, would be in the top half of the round) and (ii) the Heat will get a future first round pick from the Raptors. It will be lottery-protected through 2014 and unprotected in 2015. That means the Heat will receive Toronto’s first round pick in the first year from 2011 through 2014 that Toronto makes the playoffs. If they don’t make the playoffs by 2014, the Heat will receive Toronto’s 2015 first round pick unconditionally. Given Toronto’s history and current struggles, that pick could wind up being quite valuable. It could become the first overall pick in 2015 N.B.A draft.   Read more…

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Mechanics Behind the Miami Heat Vision

January 29th, 2010 No comments

Fans are frequently tripped up by the idea of cap room. The premise is pretty straightforward – there’s a salary cap, and if the team’s payroll is at or above this amount, they don’t have any money to spend on free agents. But if they’re below it, they do. In practice it’s not so simple. Teams below the cap typically have less cap room than it might appear, and can actually be considered to be over the cap. Let’s take a look at how all this works.

First the basics: the NBA has a “soft” cap, which means teams can be over it and still function – albeit with restrictions. In fact, a team being over the cap (especially during the season) is far more common than being under it. There are mechanisms called exceptions which allow teams to sign players or make trades while they are over the cap. For example, the Mid-Level exception allows teams over the cap to sign a player or players for up to five years starting at the league average salary. Another well known exception is Bird rights, which allow teams to re-sign their own players while they are above the cap.

The system is designed so that teams may have either cap room or exceptions, but never both at the same time. In order to accomplish this, the league applies the following rules:

  • When a team is below the cap, they add additional amounts to their team salary. This includes the value of any unused exceptions, the scale amount for any unsigned first round draft pick, a cap hold for any free agent to which the team has Bird rights, and a charge equal to the rookie minimum salary for any roster spots fewer than twelve otherwise unaccounted for. This keeps the team from using its cap room on other teams’ free agents, spending right up to the salary cap, and then using their exceptions to spend above the cap. A team really has cap room only when their payroll and all these extra charges add up to a value that is below the cap.
  • An exception is a mechanism that lets a team function while they’re over the cap – a concept that doesn’t apply when the team is below the cap. So if the team is ever far enough under the cap that their payroll plus all these added charges are still under the cap, then they don’t get their exceptions. If they start out above the cap per these rules and they later drop below the cap, then they lose any unused exceptions.
  • A team can renounce its exceptions or free agents at any time. By renouncing an exception a team gives up its right to use that exception, but potentially gains an equivalent amount of cap room (if the team is under the cap without the exception). When a free agent is renounced the team clears the player’s cap hold off their books, but gives up its right to sign the player using the Bird exception.

Let’s look at how these cap rules will apply to the Miami Heat this summer, assuming the cap comes in at the current $56.1 million estimate.  Read more…

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Three Max Contract Players A Possibility?

January 27th, 2010 No comments

What will it take for the Heat to be able to offer three maximum contracts? What does the salary cap need to be?

That depends.

Here’s what we know:

Michael Beasley would need to be traded; that should be easy to do.

Daequan Cook would need to be traded; given that Cook will have an expiring contract with a $2.2 million salary next season, and that the Heat can offer up to $3.0 million in trade, that should also be easy to do.

James Jones has a unique contract that, unless the Heat is very creative and very lucky, will be impossible to trade. He will surely be waived by the Heat prior to June 30, and his contract will use up $1.856 million of cap space.

Here are the variables:

Joel Anthony has a $885,120 player option. That’s the minimum salary for a three-year veteran. He may want to test the market to see if he’s worth more. But he’s not worth more. He’s probably not even worth that. If he declines his option, he could find himself out of a job entirely. Or, if the Heat are creative, they could retain his Bird rights, at a cap hold as low as $854,389, and give him a substantial raise after all of its cap space used up. Better still, they could renounce his Bird rights, free up additional cap space, and still give him a minimum salary contract after the team’s cap space is all used up.

Mario Chalmers has a team option for $854,389. That’s the minimum salary for a two-year veteran. That’s a small price to pay for a point guard, particularly when considering that there aren’t so many great free agent options at the position.

The Heat has a first round draft pick. Assuming the Heat locks in a draft pick in the range of 15 through 20, it’s like to carry a cap hold of between $1.1 million and $1.4 million if the Heat utilizes the pick. The Heat could instead choose to trade it.

The Heat will need to deal with roster charges. When a team carries fewer than 12 players on the roster (including players under contract, free agents included in team salary, and first round draft picks) at any time during the offseason, a roster charge is automatically added. The amount of the charge is equal to the rookie minimum salary ($473,604 for next season) for each player fewer than 12. Such charges will restrict the Heat’s ability to utilize its available cap room.

So – even if you assume that both Beasley and Cook are traded and that Jones is waived, all of which are likely to occur – there are multiple answers. The answer you like will depend on the assumptions you are making:

  • $56,298,764: Anthony and Chalmers options declined; no first round pick
  • $56,679,549: Chalmers option exercised; Anthony option declined; no first round pick
  • $56,710,280: Anthony option exercised; Chalmers option declined; no first round pick
  • $57,091,065: Anthony and Chalmers options exercised; no first round pick
  • $57,906,361: Anthony, Chalmers options exercised; first round pick utilized (at midpoint)

There are countless permutations based upon the decisions Heat management and players make at the end of June. The finalized salary cap figure for the 2010-11 season won’t be announced until the fist week of July.

But, generally speaking, if the cap reaches $57 million, the Heat’s dreams of attracting three maximum contract free agents will be very much alive.

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Demystifying the James Jones Contract

January 25th, 2010 No comments

James Jones has a fascinating contract.

He is making $4.32 million in base salary this season, plus another $10,000 in bonuses, for a total of $4.33 million. He has three additional seasons remaining on his contract which will pay him base salaries of $4.64 million (2010-11), $4.96 million (2011-12) and $5.28 million (2012-13), as well as an additional $10,000 in bonus money for each season he remains on the Heat roster. The final season is subject to an early termination option in the unlikely event that Jones were to want to opt out early.

The final three seasons of his contract are currently only 40% guaranteed, for $1.856 million (2010-11), $1.984 million (2011-12) and $2.112 million (2012-13). However, each season becomes fully guaranteed if he is not waived on or before June 30, 2010.

The Heat want desperately to trade him so that they can move his entire salary off the books. But they can’t afford to take the risk of being stuck with his full salary obligations if they are unsuccessful in finding a trade partner. Therefore, any trade scenario involving Jones needs to happen on or before June 30. If a trade is not executed by then, Jones will certainly be waived on June 30.

Jones’ contract is further complicated by the presence of a trade bonus. If he were to be traded, the contract calls for a up-front bonus equal to 15% of the remaining value of the contract (excluding bonuses) to be paid upon execution. Since Jones currently has $14.880 million remaining to be paid over the next three years (he has already been paid in full for this season), the trade bonus would equal $2.232 million.

Payment of the trade bonus isn’t a big deal. While the $2.232 million would technically be the responsibility of the team trading for him, the Heat could throw up to $3.0 million of cash into the trade to more than offset it.

The trade bonus does, however, increase Jones’ current salary for trade purposes. Trade bonuses get allocated to all remaining contract years, excluding years subject to an option, in proportion to the percentage of salary in each of those seasons that is guaranteed. Thus, for trade purposes, his current $4.33 million salary would increase to $5.57 million from the perspective of a team looking to acquire him. His additional three seasons would count $5.146 million (2010-11), $5.466 million (2011-12), and $5.290 million (2012-13) against the cap if he is then retained by the team that acquires him, and $2.352 million (2010-11), $2.480 million (2011-12), and $2.112 million (2012-13) if he is subsequently waived prior to the June 30 deadline.

Despite the Heat’s strong desire, a trade is going to be virtually impossible.

There is not a single team in the N.B.A. with enough cap space to swallow a $5.57 million current season salary. Thus, the only way he could be traded is by utilizing the traded player exception. And since taking on salary in exchange for Jones defeats the purposes of this exercise, the team that trades for him needs to have a large enough trade exception to accommodate his current salary.

The only teams in the N.B.A. with a trade exception large enough to accommodate Jones’ current salary are the Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards.

So… unless you feel that one of these three teams is going to want to take on Jones’ contract (presumably to capitalize on his buyout) in return for some combination of Heat draft picks and up to $3 million in cash, Jones isn’t going anywhere before year end. And unless Pat Riley wants to risk guaranteeing the three years and $14.910  million remaining on his contract, Jones isn’t going anywhere… period.

The inevitable truth is that Jones will be waived by the Heat on June 30.

Once he is waived, he will cost $1.856 million, $1.984 million and $2.112 million against the Heat’s cap over the next three seasons. The $1.856 million will eat into the Heat’s cap space for the highly-anticipated summer of 2010.

When Jones was signed in July 2008, the partial guarantee was dubbed as one which ensures that Miami could still have maximum spending capability during the free agent summer of 2010. Riley went on to call Jones “a perfect fit.” Less than two years later, it is plainly obvious to see that the contract was a mistake.

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NBA Ticket Sales Beating Forecasts, Could Impact 2010 Salary Cap

January 23rd, 2010 No comments

Attendance across all N.B.A. franchises has reportedly dropped far less dramatically than originally projected over the summer.

The league had initially expected a 6% to 7% drop in attendance but, according to the New York Times, there has only been a 1.7% drop to date. League-wide, arenas are filled to 89% of capacity on average. Attendance is flat or ahead of last season’s pace in the majority of N.B.A. arenas. The Nets and Pistons account for most of the small overall decline.

With attendance so far beating forecasts, the league’s salary cap projects to drop far less significantly less than first feared.

The salary cap is set by calculations based on projected amounts for revenue and benefits for the upcoming season. Barring any adjustments that are necessitated, they typically use the set amount for national broadcast rights (which is determined in advance), plus the revenues for the previous season (other than national broadcast rights), increased by 4.5%.

The cap calculation takes 51% of the league’s projected revenue, subtracts projected benefits, and divides by the difference by the number of teams in the league. Adjustments are then made if the previous season’s revenues were below initial projections.

Therefore, as gate receipts for this season increase, so too do salary cap projections for next season.

The N.B.A. sent a memo to teams last July warning of a potential decline in the salary cap to a figure between $50.4 million and $53.6 million for the 2010-11 season. But, given the unexpected over-performance in gate receipts thus far this season, league insiders are now projecting a cap between $53 million and $54 million.

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Dywane Wade Named All-Star Starter

January 21st, 2010 No comments

Dwyane Wade, All-Star starter for the 6th straight season

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade has been selected by fan vote to start in 2010 N.B.A. All-Star game.

Wade finished fourth overall in fan voting with 2,327,550 votes, behind Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Wade will start alongside guard Allen Iverson, forwards LeBron James and Kevin Garnett and center Dwight Howard for the Eastern Conference. West starters include guards Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, forwards Carmelo Anthony and Tim Duncan and center Amare Stoudemire.

That makes six times Wade has made the All-Star team in his seven year career. It also means he has surpassed Alonzo Mourning for most appearances by a Heat player. In his five previous appearances, Wade has averaged 15.2 points, 3.0 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals.

The game will be played on February 14 at Cowboys Stadium.

While the Heat’s success this season will have very limited impact on the summer ahead, one Heat president Pat Riley hopes will drastically reshape the franchise, Wade’s performance individually — including his performance at the All-Star game, during which all of the Heat’s free agent targets will be present — will be vital to the team’s recruitment efforts.

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Miami Heat’s True Cap Position for 2010-11

January 19th, 2010 2 comments

Miami Heat president Pat Riley has staked his reputation on the team’s, and more specifically his, ability to lure two premier free agents to South Florida to play alongside future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade. Riley will be gunning to create a championship caliber product through what will be one of the most talented free agent markets in league history.

Exactly how much cap space he will have to work with in pursuit of that goal has been the subject of much confusion. There have been many figures published, showing numbers anywhere from $12 million to more than twice that figure.

What’s the true number?

Well, that depends on what you want to include.

Should non-cash charges be included? If so, which ones? Cap holds? Roster charges?

Should Dwyane Wade be included? He has a player option he is sure to decline in favor of becoming a free agent himself.

Should James Jones be included? He has a large, cap-space-destroying $4.6 million salary which is only partially guaranteed. The Heat is certain to terminate the contract to capitalize on the guarantee.

Should Joel Anthony be included? He has a player option which the Heat cannot control. If he exercises it, the team’s cap space will be reduced accordingly.

The safest assumption would be to predicate any underlying assumptions on factors the Heat can, in its sole discretion, control with the understanding that others factors not in its control have affect the numbers accordingly.

With that in mind, below is a look at the Heat’s salary commitments for the 2010-11 season (with footnotes below):

Dwyane Wade: $0 (1)

Michael Beasley: $4,962,240

Daequan Cook: $2,169,857

James Jones: $1,856,000 (2)

Joel Anthony: $885,120 (3)

Mario Chalmers: $0 (4)

First Round Draft Picks: $0 (5)

Roster Charges (9 total): $4,262,436 (6)

Total Salary: $14,135,635

The above figure, $14,135,653, represents the truest figure for the Heat’s team salary, based on how things currently stand.

Subtract ­­­­$14,135,653 from whatever the finalized salary cap number turns out to be, and you’ll end up with the amount of cap space Pat Riley has to work with. To recalculate the team’s maximum cap space as each new player is added, you just need to add the new salary and then subtract $473,604 from the roster charge amount above (until, of course, it gets to zero).

Current projections call for salary cap in the $53-54 million range.

Read more…

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