In the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat changed the course of team and league history. As a result of two trade calls held with the NBA league office in less than an hour on July 10, the Heat completed sign-and-trade transactions with both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, acquiring LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the process.
James and Bosh were to be paired with Heat incumbent free agent Dwyane Wade as the launching point for what would ultimately become the Big Three era. In the three subsequent seasons, the Heat have gone on to reach the NBA Finals all three times, winning the NBA championship twice. Their pursuit of a third consecutive title begins tonight.
Amidst the jubilation of the day, some questioned the manner in which Heat president Pat Riley chose to acquire his two new players. The Heat had the necessary cap room at the time to sign them outright. Why, then, pursue the trade?
Both players were eligible for maximum salaries of $16.6 million in the first year of any new contract signed, whether it was with their prior teams, with the Heat, or with anyone else. But while the starting salary was to be the same no matter where they signed, the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement gives the home team a financial advantage when it comes to re-signing its own players. Both players’ home teams were eligible to offer their respective player one more year (six instead of five) and bigger annual raises (10.5% instead of 8%). That translated to a maximum potential offer of $125.5 million over six years, versus the $96.1 million over five years that the Heat could offer.
James and Bosh utilized the structure not to make the increased money, but rather to mitigate the impact of taking less. They leveraged the sign-and-trade structure to take a reduced starting salary of $14.5 million – $2.1 million less than the maximum – in order to accommodate the contracts of Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. (Wade, too, did the same).
Each structured the longer six year deal with the higher 10.5% maximum raises, but with the lower starting salary. The contracts paid out $109.8 million over the six years, roughly $15.5 million less than they otherwise could have made had they accepted full max deals.
The sign-and-trade structure, however, came at a cost for Miami. Read more…