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The Death of The Free Agency Rebuilding Plan?

December 21st, 2016 2 comments
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The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced last week that they have reached agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. If the deal is ratified by both sides, which is a formality, the league will be assured of labor peace for at least the next six years.

At the highest of levels, not much would change in the new deal.

The split of league-wide revenues will remain the same – the players will be virtually assured to receive a 51 percent share (as they are in the current agreement). The salary cap will be calculated the exact same way. The luxury tax will be calculated the exact same way, and teams will be penalized just as severely for crossing it.

Rather than pushing for sweeping changes, the NBA was clearly focused on one thing — stopping superstar players from leaving their teams in free agency. Since 2010, several top-tier players have left as free agents, including LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2010), Dwight Howard (2013), and Kevin Durant (2016). Carmelo Anthony (2011), Chris Paul (2011) and Kevin Love (2014) also forced trades under the threat of leaving their teams with nothing in free agency.

To stop the flow, the league created new rules that provide huge financial incentives for a select group of top-tier players to stay with their existing teams – rules with which the players (the union for whom was led by the players who would benefit the most) were more than happy to oblige.   Read more…

Can the Heat Sign Kevin Durant AND LeBron James?

May 25th, 2016 No comments
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“LeBron James promised the city of Cleveland, ‘I’m coming back to bring you that elusive title that has escaped this city since 1964.’ He never said anything about staying once he does accomplish that… I’m hearing about a return to Miami if this man wins. He ain’t going nowhere if he loses. But, if he wins, his options are open. LA, but especially Miami, a return to South Beach.”

That was Stephen A. Smith two days ago, talking about the prospect of LeBron James returning to the Miami Heat, just weeks after he said this about Kevin Durant:

“I believe the team that hasn’t been mentioned that much may be the dark horse in [the chase for impending free agent Kevin Durant this summer], which are the Miami Heat. Consider who the Heat are. You’re led by Pat Riley. You’ve got an exceptional young coach in Erik Spoelstra. You’ve got LeBron and D-Wade having captured two championships together there… Then you take into account the young guys — the Josh Richardsons, the Justise Winslows, the Hassan Whitesides… You add Kevin Durant to that equation and bring back Dwyane Wade, you’re talking instant title contention. Automatically.”

Unlikely as it may be, either James or Durant would be a game-changing free-agent acquisition for the Heat. But why either one? As long as we’re dreaming, why not both?

Why not a scenario whereby the Heat sign both James and Durant, while also also re-signing Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside, and retaining Chris Bosh?

Is it a reasonable possibility? Of course not.

But is it possible? Let’s have some fun and find out.

The concept, ludicrous as it may be, would presumably go something like this:

Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder somehow blow their current 3-1 series lead over the Golden State Warriors after two straight blowout victories, leading Durant to become so frustrated over his inability return to the NBA Finals as to consider his alternatives.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers push past the Toronto Raptors and somehow go on to beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals, whereupon James decides that he has fulfilled his obligation to his hometown team and is willing to risk again enraging his local fan base for a return trip to Miami.

A summit is held between James, Durant, Wade, Bosh and Whiteside. They contemplate a possible joining of forces. The Heat organization has nothing do to with it, of course.

They use the following assumptions to coordinate a plan of attack to bring to Pat Riley on July 1st:

What is that plan of attack? Here it is, in 13 easy steps:  Read more…

Miami Heat’s Great Hope Is … Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger?

July 8th, 2014 No comments
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The Big Three era Miami Heat were always the ideal test case for a new collective bargaining agreement designed primarily as a cash grab for owners, but also with a secondary goal of engineering greater competitive balance around the league.

The new CBA went about achieving its secondary goal in large part by implementing a far more punitive luxury tax(1). Spend a lot on players, and you’re going to face a crippling “incremental” tax penalty that gets more severe as you add payroll. Keep spending year after year and eventually you’ll tack onto it the dreaded “repeater” tax.

It’s working. Just five NBA teams paid the tax this past year; that’s tied for the fewest ever in a tax-triggered season. Competitive balance is more prevalent today than at any point in recent history. Team salaries around the league have leveled out dramatically. The spending habits on the high end are down significantly, with particular emphasis for those in smaller markets which can’t support the weight of such enormous tax bills.

No one team has felt the burden of the new tax structure more than the Miami Heat. Some would say that was always the plan – a plan brought about by the demands of envious fellow owners in the wake of the Big Three formation. The Heat have had to make several painful and wildly unpopular cost-cutting (e.g., waiving Mike Miller via the amnesty provision) and cost-controlling (e.g., not utilizing the mid-level exception this past season) moves since the lockout, as a direct consequence to the harsh realities of the new CBA.

It wasn’t all that difficult to forecast. People have been predicting the inevitable demise of the Heat, as presently constructed, for three solid years. Whether owner Micky Arison could afford to keep his team together was never in question; he’s a six-billion-dollar man. But the limitations of his market – the Heat’s designated market area is good for just 17th overall, among the league’s 30 teams; smaller than, for example, that of the Minnesota Timberwolves – have made it virtually impossible to maintain some semblance of profitability while spending deep into the tax (at least in the near-term).  Read more…

Miami Heat Create NBA-Record $55 Million in Potential Cap Space

June 29th, 2014 5 comments
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Many years from now, Saturday, June 28, 2014, could be remembered as a critical day in Miami Heat history. It marks the day when guard Dwyane Wade and forwards Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem declared their intentions to join LeBron James and Chris Andersen in opting out of their contracts. It could ultimately mark the day in which the destruction of the Big Three era was initiated in earnest, or the day in which the remodeling of Pat Riley’s two-time championship-winning creation received a major boost.

Agent Henry Thomas, who represents all three players, has reportedly informed Heat president Pat Riley of their choices. Wade will exercise his Early Termination Option for the remaining two years and $41.8 million on his contract, Bosh will do the same for the two years and $42.7 million remaining on his contract, and Haslem will not exercise his player option for the lone season remaining on his $4.6 million contract.

Technically, there is no mechanism to notify the league that an option or ETO will not be exercised. Since the contracts of Wade and Bosh contain ETOs for this summer, they are required to inform the league of their intentions. Since Haslem’s contract contains a player option, he need do nothing but wait.

These actions, particularly in the wake of James, Wade and Bosh meeting last week on Miami Beach, make it rather clear that the Heat’s stars, as well as its supporting players, have decided to work together to provide the Heat the salary-cap flexibility with which to add additional components to a roster that earlier this month lost in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, cutting spectacularly short the Heat’s bid for basketball immortality – four straight NBA Finals appearances and three straight NBA titles, a feat which has only been accomplished once in league history.

Without the opt-out decisions, the Heat would have gone into the offseason far in excess of what is projected to be a $63.2 million salary cap for the 2014-15 season, and without much ability to materially improve. Instead, the moves enable the Heat to create as much as an all-time NBA-record $55 million in cap space with which to reconfigure the roster(1).  Read more…

Would the Big Three Take Less to Help the Miami Heat?

June 21st, 2014 5 comments
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Update (6/28): I wrote the following article several weeks ago, and posted it exactly one week ago. Since that time, several things have changed (e.g., the Heat traded up in the draft to select Shabazz Napier, several Heat players opted out of their contracts, the Heat have been rumored to be seeking a trade partner for Norris Cole, etc.), which slightly alter the figures presented in this post. This table provides an updated depiction of the hypothetical situation described below.

The day LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh agreed to join together with the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010, they laid out a plan. They would each play four years together, then re-evaluate. They each signed nine-figure, six-year deals containing opt out rights prior to the final two. They were expecting titles. We all were.

Through the first three of those years, all was as projected to be. Three straight NBA Finals appearances, two straight titles. But that was before this past year turned into a disaster, before they got throttled by the San Antonio Spurs.

James, Wade and Bosh are all on vacation now, a sort of rejuvenation for a trio who have played more basketball over a four year stretch than any other in league history. They will each take some time to consider their futures, to consider whether or not they wish to terminate their contracts.

The wait is unnerving. It is a reminder that the Heat and James, in particular, have a very uncertain future together, that his potential free agency, which could arrive in just days, looms over this city with as much significance as did Wade’s four years ago. It’s caused us to lose our equilibrium. It’s caused us to lose our perspective. We need to “get a grip” on reality. The Miami Heat, as presently constructed, can still be a championship-caliber team.

Sure, the team has it flaws. Lots of them. And they need to be addressed. But we, as fans, are hoping for much more than that. Cutting corners in the repair of a leaky dam will eventually cause it to burst. Like it did in 2006-07. Which caused 2007-08. Nothing short of a complete overhaul, then, will appease us.

A tear down and restructure requires sacrifice. It requires James, Wade and Bosh to each opt out of his contract and take less. Much less. It’s the only way. But is it possible?  Read more…

LeBron James and the Next Decision

June 17th, 2014 5 comments
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The Miami Heat’s bid for basketball immortality – four straight NBA Finals appearances and three straight NBA titles, a feat which has only been accomplished once in league history – has fallen short. In the wake of this failure, we’re all left wondering whether this is the end. We’re all left wondering whether LeBron James is going to opt out of his contract with the Heat, and evaluate his options as an unrestricted free agent.

There are lots of reasons to think James will remain in Miami. The Heat have made it to the NBA Finals for four straight years, winning two. The conference in which the team plays is in shambles, installing them as early favorites to win future titles. He’s got a great market. He’s got the sun. He’s got the beach. He’s got the tax shelter. His two young sons enjoy South Florida and play middle school and AAU basketball, and his wife opened a juice bar in Miami last December. After four seasons in Miami, James’ ties run deep.

A skeptical man might say he’d be a fool to stay. The Heat’s reign at the top of the basketball world appears to be closing. Dwyane Wade’s skills are in decline, and his injuries are starting to mount. Chris Bosh isn’t quite the player he was envisioned to be. Shane Battier is done. Ray Allen may also be done. The “Birdman” is old. As is the entire team. The oldest in the NBA, in fact. There’s no youth. No promise for the future. And the rest of the league has caught up to the Heat of the present. If the Heat had a margin of error before — some cushion between themselves and everyone else — it’s gone.

James doesn’t need to make up his mind this summer. His contract runs for two more seasons, with an opt-out prior to each. He could decide to make another run next season and re-evaluate in 2015, or even play two more seasons and make a decision in 2016.  Read more…

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The Anatomy of a Spectacular Miami Heat Failure

June 15th, 2014 4 comments
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The Miami Heat’s bid for basketball immortality – four straight NBA Finals appearances and three straight NBA titles, a feat which has only been accomplished once in league history – has fallen spectacularly short. In the wake of this colossal failure, we’re all left wondering how it all went so wrong so quickly – how our team ended up looking so old, so slow, so flawed, so unable to adapt, so unable to defend.

Is it an organizational philosophy that failed us?

“I don’t think you win championships with young, athletic players that don’t have experience. I think we’ve learned over the years that building with young players is very frustrating.”

That was Pat Riley in June 2011, describing his aversion to developing youthful talent.

It is a philosophy that he has expressed many different times in many different ways over the years. It is a philosophy that has permeated his every decision in preparation for and during the Big Three era. It is a philosophy upon which the Stepien-like decisions to surrender a whopping six future first round draft picks in a period of less than five months from February to July 2010 were predicated. It is a philosophy upon which the decision to constantly fill the roster with post-dated bench-warming veterans was predicated.

It was a philosophy which, initially, didn’t bother us. We were all so captivated by the moment. Riley had a plan. He executed upon it with deadly precision. He got the big things so right that it didn’t matter how he handled the little things. In Riley we trusted.

The winning that followed only validated that ideology.

But, quietly, things weren’t as wonderful as they appeared. In the wake of the signings of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the summer of the 2010, the front office lost sight of its need to build for the future. Everything was always only about the moment.

Some of us couldn’t help but wonder. If your mission is to win as many titles as possible while the Big Three are still in their primes, then wouldn’t you like to have some upside around? Some players who will be getting better with time? Some players who can keep the energy level high when the stars need to rest?

Riley has always had a clear affinity for the seasoned veteran versus the inexperienced rookie. He’d rather have the sure thing than the potential next big thing. But as much as these veterans are low risks to make stupid, rookie-type decisions, none will break free off the dribble in crunch time or make that key defensive stop and then sprint up the floor for a breakaway jam – they’re zero risks to become more athletic, to develop new parts of their games, or to be usable as trade bait should the need arise.  Read more…

The Cost of All Those Traded Draft Picks Becoming Clearer for Miami Heat

April 20th, 2014 4 comments
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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…

LeBron James Completes Historic NBA Shooting Season

April 17th, 2014 No comments
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The kingly play of LeBron James has been one of the most compelling aspects of the NBA since his entrance into the league eleven years ago. Lately, however, the experience of watching the world’s greatest basketball player ply his trade has taken on an entirely new significance. Outrageously efficient shooting is producing historic implications.

Every trip down the floor serves as a reminder that James simply cannot be stopped. His every touch of the basketball brings its own terrifying potential. He goes wherever he wants to go. He does whatever he wants to do. He scores seemingly at will, from anywhere on the court, with mid-boggling efficiency. Without much concern at all for defenses, physical limitations, or the confluence of factors that invariably guide the performances of all of his fellow humanoids. He is perhaps the most dominant player in NBA history.

When one reaches such a level of on-court brilliance, said person invariably develops an arrogance about his play — a me-first attitude that negates the potential contributions of others. Not James. Despite being perhaps the most dominant player in NBA history, and despite being constantly vilified for his deference in spite of that dominance, James continues to be among the most selfless superstars in NBA history as well.

What makes LeBron James such a unique basketball talent? Perhaps it’s his never before duplicated combination of dominance and selflessness. In the history of the NBA, the list of players to average at least 25 points per game, while shooting at least 54% from the field and averaging at least 6 assists per game in a season is as follows:

LeBron James.

No other playmaker has ever had a scoring season as potent, and no premier scorer has ever had a season with such productive passing as James. And James hasn’t just done it once. He’s done it twice. In a row. And he didn’t just eclipse those numbers. He shattered them!  Read more…

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Living in a dream world… if only for a moment

June 22nd, 2011 2 comments
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Pat Riley had a plan. He executed upon it with deadly precision. He got the big things so right that it almost didn’t matter how he handled the little things.

But not all of those little things went perfectly.

What if he did better with those little things? With the 2011 NBA draft now bearing down on us, would it have made any difference?

Navigating the uncertain waters of the draft has always been a special kind of hell for Riley. Riley’s draft record with the Heat reads more like a comedy of errors than it does a serious attempt at identifying talent.

In 2003, Riley nearly drafted Chris Kaman with the fifth overall pick before being talked into selecting Dwyane Wade by his staff. Whew!

Since that time, only three players he’s selected have ever played more than eleven big-league minutes for the Heat – Dorell Wright, Wayne Simien, and Michael Beasley. The very next players taken in those drafts were Jameer Nelson, David Lee, and, two picks down, Russell Westbrook.

Perhaps it is something of a blessing that he now has just eight picks, just two first rounders, to deal with over the next five years.

Was it a combination of strong basketball decisions or his strong aversion to the type of scrutiny that comes with the draft that led Riley and the Miami Heat to this position?

Riley again yesterday openly described his aversion.

“I don’t think you win championships with young, athletic players that don’t have experience. I think we’ve learned over the years that building with young players is very frustrating.”

But what if things were different?

What if the Heat had made some different decisions along the way?

There was Dorell Wright.

In a season to that point mired in frustration, and seemingly defined by the anticipation of things to come, keeping Wright at the trade deadline was perhaps the single most popular decision the Heat brass made. Riley and crew decided that Wright’s presence was more of a priority than the estimated $7.7 million addition to owner Micky Arison’s already fat wallet.

Wright responded in kind, offering some of the best work of his career.

But not all of us were so thrilled. A select few among us realized that if the Heat were to be successful in its bid for three max contract free agents, the team would need to soak up every possible opportunity to create depth around them.

The Grizzlies were offering a lottery-protected first round pick in return for his services. This select few realized that, despite Wright’s overwhelming popularity and still very much untapped potential, 26 final games from a free-agent-to-be in a season going nowhere was simply not worth $7.7 million and a future first round draft pick. That pick ended up being No. 20 overall in tomorrow’s draft.

There was Daequan Cook.

We all understood the rationale behind surrendering the No. 18 overall pick in last year’s draft in order to be free of all obligations to Cook. With such high stakes, Miami could hardly afford to gamble on the $2.2 million devoted to Cook.

But not all of us agreed on the approach. Some of us felt that the $2.2 million could rather easily be shed simply by offering a potential suitor up to the $3.0 million cash limit the CBA allows as well as a selection of second round picks, if necessary. How many unprofitable smaller-market teams could realistically pass up the opportunity to add backcourt depth in the form of a young and developing Three-Point Shootout champion not only free of charge, but at an $830k profit?

These same people felt that treating the No. 18 overall pick with such apathy was imprudent, that it could be better utilized to draft a potential future starter, if available, and in a trade for a similar such pick in a future draft if notThey realized that while drafting a player would eat into the team’s valuable cap space, the very situation the Heat were trying to rid themselves of with Cook, in this case we’d only be talking about an incremental $760K, or roughly equivalent to the cap space the Heat was willing to eat up to retain the Bird rights of Joel Anthony. They realized that sacrificing one for the other was a good gamble.

There was the Big Three.

When Chris Bosh and LeBron James made their decisions, there was elation. When they were signed, there was controversy.

Surrendering four first round picks and two second round picks, in addition to two large trade exceptions, seemed a bit excessive to some of us for a couple of players who were otherwise already committed to the Miami Heat. It seemed a bit excessive in return for nothing more than a sixth season tacked on to an already huge five-year contract – a sixth year that both are likely to opt out of anyway.

The question has been asked. What if things were different?

Let’s try to answer it.

Mario Chalmers and Eric Bledsoe would be battling it out for starters minutes at the point.

Dwyane Wade would still be playing under a six year contract, earning $6 million more than he is today. Eddie House would be battling it out with Danny Green for reserve two-guard minutes.

LeBron James would be playing under a near maximum contract, sacrificing that sixth year guarantee in exchange for an added $3 million over the first five. Mike Miller would be battling it out with James Jones for reserve small forward minutes.

Chris Bosh would be playing under a near maximum contract, sacrificing his sixth year guarantee in exchange for an added $3 million over the first five. Udonis Haslem would, unfortunately, be playing under a five-year contract elsewhere, earning $13 million more under a full mid-level exception contract than he is today.

The disastrous contingent of Heat centers would remain unaltered. But, at least, Anthony would be playing under a much more palatable minimum salary contract.

And the Miami Heat would have five – yes, five! – more first round draft picks and two more second round draft picks over the next five years, including a potential unprotected first round pick from the Raptors in 2015 that could very easily turn into the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in the season immediately after the contracts of James and Bosh would expire.

In short, the Heat would have produced the very same roster, save for adding Eric Bledsoe and Danny Green and subtracting Udonis Haslem, and would have stockpiled a whopping seven first round picks and eight second round picks over the next five years.

That’s 15 picks in just five years! No other team in the league has anywhere near that total.

(For those who are counting, the first round picks would have been: Miami’s own 2011-15, Memphis’ 2011, and Toronto’s potentially unprotected 2015. The second round picks would have been: Miami’s own 2013-2015, Oklahoma City’s 2011, Minnesota’s 2011 and 2014, New Orleans’ 2012, and Memphis’ top-55 protected 2012.)

One has to wonder.

What would two first round picks (Nos. 20, 28) and a high second round pick (No. 31) get you? A top ten pick in this year’s draft?

What would two first round picks (Nos. 20, 28), a second round pick (No. 31), and what figures to be a fully unprotected Raptors first round pick in 2015 get you? The No. 2 overall pick from a Minnesota Timberwolves team actively looking to trade it?

The possibilities with that grouping of picks would have, in this fictional reality, been endless.

If Riley’s aversion to the draft was ever present, think of the potential trade possibilities. By way of example, rumor would have you believe that the Phoenix Suns were shopping Marcin Gortat and their No. 13 pick for the No. 2 pick. Imagine if the Heat had acquired that No. 2 pick, and then pulled the trigger on this trade (involving, perhaps, Haslem, the unguaranteed contract of Pittman, and any one of the minimum contractors who picks up his second year option to make the math work).

How would Gortat look in a Heat uniform? He’s huge, he’s athletic, he’s among the best pick-and-roll operators around, he’s got a soft touch around the rim, he’s got good range, he’s a solid post defender, and he’s a beast on the boards. Is there a more perfect fit for this Miami Heat team, outside of Dwight Howard, in the whole of the NBA? Can you imagine how dominant such a Big Four would be?

With the Heat second team backcourt flush with youthful talent, how would frontcourt options such as SF Kawhi Leonard, PF Markieff Morris, or C Nikola Vucevic look with that No. 13 pick?

How would it feel to have secured both Gortat and one of the above selections, and still have four first round and seven second round picks to play with over the next five years?

It’s not as if an entirely unrealistic scenario is being painted here. Many of us were questioning each one of these little decisions made by Riley and his crew as they were happening. Of course, they are now important only for those among us who choose to live in the past.

The lesson, however, remains the same: Ignore the NBA draft at your own peril.