Pre-draft considerations

May 17th, 2010 No comments
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Pre-draft workouts have begun for the Heat, and for several teams across the league.

The Heat has four picks in the upcoming draft – the 18th pick in the first round, and the 41st, 42nd and 48th picks in the second round.

Pat Riley already has it on record that he doesn’t believe in building through the draft. Of course, that’s because he’s had an abysmal track record with it. Since having Dwyane Wade fall into his lap in the first round of the 2003 draft, only four other players he’s selected have ever seen the NBA hardwood for the Heat – Dorell Wright, Wayne Simien, Michael Beasley (excluding five captivating minutes from the great Jerome Beasley; who?). The very next players taken in those drafts were Jameer Nelson, David Lee and O.J. Mayo.

The stakes are higher in this draft, particularly as it relates to the first round selection. First round draft picks are paid based upon a predetermined salary scale. The contracts run four years in length, with the first two years guaranteed and the following two at the option of the team.

Unsigned first round picks are included in team salary immediately upon their selection in the draft. For the 18th pick in the upcoming draft, the amount will be $1,237,500. Therefore, as soon as the Heat makes its selection, its cap space will be reduced by $1,237,500. That’s a big gamble, considering it eliminates the possibility of a Wade-James-Bosh trio.

Some of us may be under the misconception that once a first round draft pick is drafted, there is nothing a team can do (short of a trade) to shed his salary. That’s actually untrue. Unsigned first round draft picks can be renounced at any time, just like any other unsigned free agent, in order to recover the cap space.

The ramifications for the player, however, can be devastating. A first round draft pick has something sacred – a two-year, multi-million dollar guaranteed salary. If such a player were renounced, he would lose that security, as the salary scale would no longer apply to him. In these instances, the player typically ends up signing a contract similar to that of a second round draft pick – a one-year minimum contract with a second year at the team’s option. Consequently, it is rarely done. Since the institution of the salary scale for first round draft picks, I can only recall it happening once. In 1996, rather than give their first round pick Travis Knight (29th overall) a multi-year guaranteed deal, the Chicago Bulls renounced him, making him a free agent. Read more…

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Interesting Developments in Grizzlie-land

May 16th, 2010 No comments
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In what is perhaps some small measure of vindication for Heat president Pat Riley, Memphis has invited undersized 6’4″ shooting guard O.J. Mayo to participate in their summer league. The goal for Mayo would be to improve his point guard skills. Mayo’s shaky ball handling and poor decision-making have been major deficiencies throughout his first N.B.A. two seasons.

If you recall, Riley gave serious consideration to drafting Mayo with the second overall pick in the 2008 N.B.A. draft, before ultimately selecting Michael Beasley.

Draft analysts automatically assumed Beasley and Derrick Rose would go with the first and second picks in the draft. Many even considered Beasley to be the more talented. Mayo was therefore viewed as being a reach with the second overall pick at the time. Riley, however, had visions of turning Mayo into a point guard, in order to create a dynamic backcourt pairing with Dwyane Wade. The Heat needed (and continue to need) outside shooting, and using the second pick on Mayo could have added a ton of it. It was felt that Mayo could tee off from deep while Wade drove hard to the basket. Mayo also had the ability to create his own shot at will. Ultimately, Riley did not see enough to upend the more popular selection.

Mayo was then drafted with the third overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies.

While Riley’s assessment of Mayo’s point guard skills appears to have been proven correct thus far into his N.B.A. career, the unexpected gem at the position appears to have come in the fourth spot in the draft, where the Seattle Supersonics – the Oklahoma City Thunder predecessor – selected Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has yet to develop a reliable outside shot, but his contributions in all other phases of the game have him as a sure-fire perennial all-star. However, without the ability to space the floor, even Westbrook may not have produced a quality backcourt pairing for Wade. In fact, no other 2008 draftee has shown the backcourt skills that would cause one to second guess Riley’s decision to draft in the frontcourt. While the frontcourt selection can certainly be second guessed, namely due to the superb play of 7’0″ center Brook Lopez, Beasley was widely considered the wise choice at the time.

Now just two years later, questions abound as to whether the Heat should, or even could, abandon its attempts to further develop Beasley and trade him.

Ironically, the answer to Beasley’s fate could once again be tied to the Grizzlies. Read more…

Let the LeBron James Sweepstakes Begin!

May 14th, 2010 No comments
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The world has come to an end!

The Boston Celtics have just defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the biggest game in the history of professional basketball! Well, maybe not. Maybe it’s only the most important (or perhaps painful) game in Cleveland’s franchise history. But it will nonetheless hold far-reaching implications for players and franchises across the league.

The consensus has always been that it was highly unlikely that James would leave Cleveland this summer. But I, like most many others, have always felt that if the Cavaliers don’t win the NBA championship, LeBron was as good as gone. So naturally one can understand the magnitude of the moment.

The next 55 days will now be filled with the kind of rampant over-speculation fit only for a king.

In Cleveland, there is nothing but dread. Losing James will be nothing short of catastrophic for a team that no longer has the flexibility with which to rebuild and for a city whose sports curse is perhaps the heaviest of active burdens in the country.

Elsewhere, as many as a third of the league’s owners and general managers are quietly pumping their fists while pacing across their living room floors. The impossible task of landing the NBA’s greatest ever free agent prize just got one step – one large step – easier. Hopes and prayers, as ridiculous as they may be in certain cases, are still alive.

The anticipation will be nearly unbearable.

At the same time, LeBron’s performance will be carefully and painfully scrutinized. His seven-year career, one in which he has established himself as the game’s best, will continue to be called into question. The media will continue to suggest his legacy has been permanently tarnished. Conspiracy theorists will continue to suggest he threw one or more of the series’ games in order to make his impending exit that much more justified. It’s kind of a rough deal that a man who’s done so much for the game of basketball can’t hit a rough spot without suffering such ridiculous character assaults and total invalidation of sustained and unparalleled greatness.

In a season that started with such promise, there was certainly nothing magical about the Cavs’ seemingly uninspired exit. It wasn’t holding the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, as so many felt was the only acceptable end. It wasn’t fighting the Lakers in the NBA Finals for the rights to it. Rather, it was all the way back in the second round, against a team widely considered too old to compete – a team the Cavs were supposed to squash into irrelevancy. And the responsibility, whether justified or not, will be placed squarely on the shoulders of LeBron James.

And so it begins.

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Joel Anthony to Decline His Player Option

May 13th, 2010 2 comments
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Joel Anthony will reportedly decline his $885,120 player option, and test free agency.

This is good news for both the Heat and Joel.

The Heat now recovers up to $885,120 in additional spending money (or $411,516, net of the incremental $473,604 roster charge for having fewer than 12 players on the roster).

For Joel, it is a chance to get a bigger payday. Joel’s statistics don’t immediately jump off the page. In his sixteen minutes of action per game, he displayed limited – though improving – scoring touch. But he’s a scrappy kid who hustles after every ball and is a shot-blocking force on the block. He finished with the 15th most blocks in the league. His 3.96 blocks per 48 minutes is seventh-best among all players.

Teams looking to strengthen their interior defenses may take a look at the 6’9″, 245-pound Canadian-born, three-year veteran.

But Miami will have the clear inside track to retain him.


First, the Heat can choose to make him a restricted free agent, which would afford the right to match any outside offers. To do so, however, the Heat would be required to extend him a qualifying offer of $1,060,120. The 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. This amount would count against the Heat’s salary cap as soon as it is offered, and Joel could then accept it at any time in lieu of continuing to test the free agent market. And while it would be more than the original $885,120 salary Joel opted out of, the Heat would be able withdraw its outstanding qualifying offer at any time if it so chose, in which case the charge would be wiped away and Anthony would become an unrestricted free agent. The qualifying offer cannot be withdrawn after July 23 without the player’s consent.

If Miami chooses not to extend Joel a qualifying offer, his cap hold to start the off-season will be the minimum salary applicable to a three-year veteran less the amount that would be reimbursed by the league, or $854,389. Note that this figure is $30,731 less than the $885,120 salary he opted out of. So, Miami would get an instant cap savings, albeit tiny. The risk to this approach would be that Joel could simply sign a contract with any team he wants any time he wants, and Riley would be powerless to stop him.

Second, and more important, is that the Heat will hold Joel’s Bird rights (whether or not a qualifying offer is ultimately extended). Because Miami will retain his Bird rights, it will be able to utilize all of its cap room (less the $1,060,120 cap hold if a qualifying offer is extended or the $854,389 cap hold if it is not) on other players and then come back to Joel. At that point, Miami will 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.

Extending Joel a qualifying offer appears more likely at this point than either keeping him unrestricted or cutting ties with him outright. Why? Because there is absolutely no drawback to keeping his qualifying offer on the books right up until the second Riley would rather use the cap space elsewhere.

The most likely course of action will be as follows. The Heat will extend Joel a qualifying offer by June 30, which will count $1,060,120 against the salary cap. Prior to July 24, however, it will be rescinded. When it is, his cap hold will be reduced to $854,389, giving the Heat an additional $205,731 to spend on its outside free agents. At this point, the Heat will still retain his Bird rights (and he will be unrestricted). Once the team’s entire cap space is used up, the Heat will then utilize Joel’s Bird rights to replace his $854,389 cap hold with the significant raise he deserves, allowing the Heat to legally exceed the salary cap.

So, at least for now, Joel doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

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Placing Bets on LeBron’s Destination

May 12th, 2010 2 comments
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Sports betting website is now taking bets on where LeBron James will wind up for the 2010/11 season.

The Miami Heat is not a popular projection.

The current line is as follows:

Cleveland Cavaliers: 2/5
New York Knicks: 4/1
New Jersey Nets: 9/1
Chicago Bulls: 12/1
Any Other Team: 18/1
Dallas Mavericks: 30/1
Miami Heat: 35/1
Los Angeles Clippers: 40/1
Olympiakos S.F.P. (Euroleague): 125/1

It will be interesting to see how these lines change on Thursday at about 11:00 pm.

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Lack of Playoff Competitiveness is Concerning

May 12th, 2010 No comments
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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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