Salary-cap gymnastics behind the Heat’s pursuit of Carmelo Anthony

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The NBA just ratified a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that, among other things, limits a team’s ability to acquire multiple highly paid stars.

Yet, the Heat might chase Carmelo Anthony to join LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

How can that happen?

There infinite ways the Heat could make room for Melo, but let’s examine a few baseline scenarios. Let’s begin with Miami’s starting position.

Heat’s current 2014-15 situation

Miami has seven players who might be under contract for next season: LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and Justin Hamilton.

LeBron ($20,590,000), Bosh ($20,590,000) and Wade ($20,164,000) have early termination options, which are functionally similar to player options. Haslem ($4,620,000) and Andersen ($1,448,490) have player options. Cole’s salary ($2,038,206) is fully guaranteed, and Hamilton’s ($816,482) is fully unguaranteed. The Heat also have two draft picks – Nos. 26 and No. 55.

Hamilton is good as gone. Miami could easily dump Cole and its first-round pick, which comes with a guaranteed salary, without taking back salary. If Andersen and Haslem opt in, I believe the Heat could also trade them without returning salary – perhaps attaching the first-round pick to Haslem as a sweetener if necessary.

Free agents continue to count against the cap, but other than LeBron, Bosh and Wade – who would terminate their contracts in almost any plan –  Miami could easily renounce everyone else.

Essentially, if required to sign Melo, I believe the Heat could fairly easily pare their roster to just LeBron, Wade and Bosh.

There might be some emotional attachment to casting off Haslem and even Andersen and Cole. But remember, Pat Riley practically gave away Michael Beasley in 2010, just two years removed from Miami drafting Beasley No. 2 overall and one year from him making the All-Rookie team, in order to pursue LeBron and Bosh. I think Riley would overcome any internal dilemma based on nostalgia if it meant getting Melo.

So, the rest of this post will suppose the Heat clear their roster to just LeBron, Wade and Bosh.  It also uses the latest projected salary cap, $63.2 million with a $77 million luxury tax, for 2014-15 and predicts the cap will continuously rise by the same amount it’s projected to increase this year.

How much money would everyone sacrifice?

Once Miami’s roster is down to just LeBron, Wade and Bosh – all of whom terminated their contracts in this scenario – cap holds will leave the Heat over the cap. LeBron, Wade and Bosh would each count at 150 percent of their previous salary, and Miami would have nine roster charges (equal to the rookie minimum salary) to reach the minimum roster of 12.

Once LeBron, Wade and Bosh re-sign, though, their 2014-15 salaries would replace their free agent amounts. Then Miami could use its remaining cap room to sign Melo.

Under that scenario – if everyone wants to get paid the same amount, which we’ll call the equality plan – each of the now-big four would make $14,658,494 in 2014-15.

If LeBron, Wade and Bosh re-sign first, they could get higher raises (7.5 percent vs. 4.5 percent) and longer contracts (five years vs. four years) than Melo, so maybe Miami’s original big three would take lower starting salaries and arrange to be on par with Melo over the long run. But for now, we’ll focus on matching salaries only next season.

Of course, $14,658,494 is much less than any of the four could make next season.

Here’s:

  • Max for Melo – both if he stayed with the Knicks or left – and his salary in the equality plan (gold)
  • Max for each  LeBron, Wade and Bosh – they have the same possible max – and their salary in the equality plan (red)

image

Melo 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Total
Max if re-signs $22,458,402 $24,142,782 $25,827,162 $27,511,542 $29,195,922 $129,135,810
Max if signs elsewhere $22,458,402 $23,469,030 $24,479,658 $25,490,286   $95,897,375
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $16,637,391   $62,591,769

 

LeBron, Wade, Bosh 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 Total
Max if
re-sign
$20,659,633 $22,209,105 $23,758,578 $25,308,050 $26,857,523   $98,133,256
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,757,881 $16,857,268 $17,956,655 $19,056,042   $69,627,847

Melo would be forgoing about $67 million over his max with the Knicks or $33 million over his max elsewhere. LeBron, Wade and Bosh would each be surrendering about $29 million.

For the Heat, this would be a huge bargain. The salary cap would restrict their ability to sign all four players – and there’s nothing Micky Arison could do about it. Essentially, the rules prevent him from spending, so if LeBron, Wade and Bosh want to pursue this plan, they would have no standing to even negotiate for higher collective salaries.

Miami would then have the room mid-level exception ($2,732,000) and minimum contracts to fill its roster. By design, it’s difficult for teams to add salary quickly once they’ve gone under the salary cap.

The luxury tax would be no concern at all.

For a year.

LeBron, Wade and Bosh can get paid again soon

If LeBron, Wade and Bosh re-sign, Miami would retain their bird rights. A key facet of bird rights: A team can go over the cap to re-sign players with the.

However, because free agents continue to count against the cap until signing, teams have a very limited ability to sign outside free agents and then exceed the cap to re-sign their own free agents. Hence, LeBron, Wade and Bosh would have to cut their salaries to make room for Melo this offseason.

But they wouldn’t need to make room for Melo next offseason.

LeBron, Wade and/or Bosh could sign a one-year deal – rather than a five-year deal – with the same starting salary as the equality plan. Then, next offseason, they could re-sign for max contracts – and significant raises.

Realistically, they would sign a two-year contract with a player option. That way, they could still become free agents in 2015 but would have an extra year of salary protection in case they determine their stock had fallen. (Options can only occur in the final year of a contract, so any deal longer than two years would delay getting a new max contract.)

The Heat would not hold Melo’s bird rights for three years, so he couldn’t take advantage of this plan until 2017. He’d likely receive a four-year contract with a player option regardless.

Here’s:

  • Annual salaries for each LeBron, Wade and Bosh in the equality plan and if they opt out as quickly as possible to re-sign for the max (red)
  • Annual salaries for Melo in the equality plan and if he opts out as quickly as possible to re-sign for the max (gold)

image

Melo 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 Total
Max if re-signs $22,458,402 $24,142,782 $25,827,162 $27,511,542 $29,195,922 $129,135,810
Max if signs elsewhere $22,458,402 $23,469,030 $24,479,658 $25,490,286   $95,897,375
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $16,637,391   $62,591,769
Equality plan with early opt out $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $25,093,282 $71,047,660

 

LeBron, Wade, Bosh 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 Total
Max if
re-sign
$20,659,633 $22,209,105 $23,758,578 $25,308,050 $26,857,523   $98,133,256
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,757,881 $16,857,268 $17,956,655 $19,056,042   $69,627,847
Equality plan with early opt out $14,658,494 $22,137,516 $23,797,830 $25,458,143 $27,118,457 $28,778,771 $127,290,716

New contract from one signed in 2014 is italicized

Projecting the 2017-18 salary cap – and therefore Melo’s max as a free agent in 2018 – is so difficult this far ahead, I didn’t even bother with how a multi-year max contract signed then would play out over its duration.

In the same vein, though far less turbulent of an estimate, LeBron, Wade and Bosh would be relying on the salary cap making another large jump 2015-16. I think that’s quite possible, but there is risk.

There’s also risk in accepting a one-year or even two-year deal with a player option. If a player gets hurt or struggles for other reasons, he might make less than had he just accepted a five-year guaranteed contract. Remember, I’m examining max salaries under these scenarios. Players aren’t guaranteed the max.

But if this worked, LeBron, Wade and Bosh could sacrifice about $6 million each in 2014-15 and then make similar salaries in coming years to the max possible had they signed this offseason.

Melo would sacrifice about $24 million over the next four seasons. So, if they plan to opt out in a year, it would make even more sense for LeBron, Wade and Bosh to accept lower starting salaries than Melo.

If LeBron, Wade and/or Bosh opt out next summer to seek bigger contracts, that could make this pursuit much more expensive for Arison. Would he go for it?

What about a plan that gets expensive for the Heat owner immediately?

Signing-and-trading for Melo

Miami could also acquire Melo in a sign-and-trade. That would make the apron – $4 million above the luxury-tax line – rather than the salary cap the key threshold. With a project cap of $63.2 million and luxury tax of $77 million, that’s a lot of extra wiggle room – and money to pay a big four.

In a sign-and-trade route, if they each want the same starting salary, LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Melo could each make $18,190,703 in 2014-15. That’s a significant jump from the $14,658,494 they could each make by signing Melo through cap space (especially because raises in future seasons are based on initial salary).

If the big four collectively maximizes its salary in a sign-and-trade scenario, there would be a host of complications. The Heat would have no room to sign anyone other than nine minimum-salary players and couldn’t add any salary in a trade for a year.

Of course, completing a sign-and-trade for Melo alone would be complicated. Miami, New York and several players would have to agree – making this a big longshot.

Essentially, the Heat would have to sign-and-trade their own free agents – other than LeBron, Wade and Bosh, of course – to the Knicks.

All players signed-and-trade must receive three-year contracts, but only the first year must be guaranteed. Fortunately for the Knicks if they want to go this route, they won’t have cap room this offseason anyway, even if they lose Melo. So, taking a guaranteed year of salary should be no problem. The Heat can structure all their outgoing contracts so they’re fully unguaranteed for 2015-16 and 2016-17, allowing New York to waive them and maximize its 2015 cap room.

But Miami can’t just re-sign one free agent to a salary equal to Melo’s and send him to New York. Anyone in a sign-and-trade whose salary increases by more than 20 percent brings up base-year-compensation issues and probably requires a third team to make the deal work.

However, the Heat might have enough free agents to complete a sign-and-trade on their own. (Even if renounced, a team can sign-and-trade its own free agents.) If Miami signs-and-trades Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Toney Douglas, James Jones, Michael Beasley and Greg Oden on contracts equal to 120 percent of their 2013-14 salaries, that would be enough to acquire Melo with a 2014-15 salary of $18,190,703 – his equality-plan number in a sign-and-trade scenario.

Of course, those six players must agree to leave Miami for New York. Why would they? The way Chalmers has struggled in the Finals, he might not make $4.8 million elsewhere any other way. Battier could participate and then retire, a way to leave an even stronger legacy in Miami. Douglas, Jones, Beasley and Oden are bit players who probably couldn’t get more money elsewhere. They’re just in the right place at the right time. (If Haslem opts in, the Heat could use him in place of Chalmers. Haslem would have no say in it.)

And why would the Knicks agree? For one, Melo would have to convince them he’s leaving regardless. The Heat would also have to send draft picks to make it worth their while. But remember, if everything else comes together, it’s easy to structure a dual sign-and-trade as not to interfere with New York’s 2015 cap space.

As before, Melo would be subject to a short contract and smaller raises than the Heat’s current big three, but all four players come out ahead of the cap-space model.

Here’s:

  • Annual salaries for each LeBron, Wade and Bosh in the equality plan and if Miami gets Melo in a sign-and-trade (red)
  • Annual salaries for Melo in the equality plan and if he joins the Heat in a sign-and-trade (gold)

image

Melo 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 Total
Max if re-signs $22,458,402 $24,142,782 $25,827,162 $27,511,542 $29,195,922 $129,135,810
Max if signs elsewhere $22,458,402 $23,469,030 $24,479,658 $25,490,286   $95,897,375
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $16,637,391   $62,591,769
Equality plan with early opt out $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $25,093,282 $71,047,660
Equality plan with S&T $18,190,703 $19,009,285 $19,827,867 $20,646,448   $77,674,303

 

LeBron, Wade, Bosh 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 Total
Max if
re-sign
$20,659,633 $22,209,105 $23,758,578 $25,308,050 $26,857,523   $98,133,256
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,757,881 $16,857,268 $17,956,655 $19,056,042   $69,627,847
Equality plan with early opt out $14,658,494 $22,137,516 $23,797,830 $25,458,143 $27,118,457 $28,778,771 $127,290,716
Equality plan with S&T $18,190,703 $19,555,006 $20,919,309 $22,283,611 $23,647,914   $86,405,840

New contract from one signed in 2014 is italicized

However, what’s a win for LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Melo is not a win for Arison, at least not directly. Acquiring Melo in a sign-and-trade and filling the team to the hard cap of the apron would give the Heat a 2014-15 payroll of $87 million, including luxury-tax payments. On the hook for so much guaranteed money, they’d likely face the tax annually – and the repeater penalty.

This sign-and-trade plan, though it offers substantially higher salaries than using cap space, can be combined with the opt-out plan to get even more money to LeBron, Wade and Bosh as soon as 2015 and Melo as soon as 2017.

But a sign-and-trade, with all the moving parts, is so unlikely, let’s just stop here.

A compromise

No matter what, LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Melo must collectively compromise to make this happen. That’s the new Collective Bargaining Agreement working.

The document just can’t completely prohibit players from sacrificing salary to build a team as they see fit.

So many variables remain, including what each of the four key players desires, where the cap is set and whether Miami moves its other players. There’s a lot to sort out.

But – scaled up or down depending on other influences – here’s what might work best if LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Melo are committed to making a big four:

  • No sign-and-trade. It’d be difficult, though not impossible, to get everyone else on board.
  • Haslem and Andersen opt out.
  • Miami trades Cole and its first-round draft pick for future picks.
  • Wade signs a four-year contract that starts higher than the equality-plan salary, because he gave up the most money in 2010. It’s the last major deal of his career.
  • Melo signs a four-year contract with a player option that starts higher than the equality-plan salary, because he has the most to gain by signing elsewhere and gets the smallest annual raises. After the third year, he opts out and re-signs to get a higher salary, potentially the max.
  • LeBron and Bosh each sign two-year deals starting below the equality-plan salary with player options. After next season, both opt out and re-sign for five-year max contracts.
  • The Heat re-sign Haslem to the room exception and Chris Andersen and Ray Allen to minimum contracts.

Will it happen? Who knows?

But it’s definitely workable.

Magic Johnson ready to welcome D’Angelo Russell back to Lakers

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In 2017, then-Lakers president Magic Johnson traded D'Angelo Russell to the Nets and delivered a biting sendoff: “What I needed was a leader.”

Russell wasn’t ready to run a team on the court. His work ethic and maturity off it left plenty to be desired. Most infamously, he alienated his teammates by recording and posting a video of Nick Young discussing sleeping with women other than his fiancé.

But Russell went to Brooklyn and became an All-Star.

So, with rumors swirling about Russell returning to Los Angeles in free agency, Johnson is changing his tune.

Johnson, via Bill Oram of The Athletic:

“Now he’s ready,” Johnson said. “He’s much more mature. I said the only thing, he was immature back then. He could always score, but the guys would never play with him because of what he did (with the Young video). But now all those guys are gone and he’s on another level now.”

This is peak Johnson – talking about players on other teams (no longer tampering), spinning the story to make himself look good and directing the Lakers’ roster without having to take responsibility for it.

There is truth to what Johnson is saying here. Russell is more mature now. It would have been difficult to keep him in a locker room with teammates who didn’t trust him.

But Johnson is also the one who moved Russell rather than betting on his talent. With the right nurturing, Russell could have become a star in Los Angeles in the first place. The Lakers wouldn’t have to use all their cap room to sign him now. They could have already had him.

It’s a little disingenuous for Johnson to present this as him being right all along.

Magic GM John Hammond: ‘We have no idea’ when Markelle Fultz will play

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Markelle Fultz has played just 33 games, the most recent one in November, since the 76ers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2017. Philadelphia traded him to the Magic in February, and he didn’t play at all for Orlando last season.

When will Fultz return?

Magic general manager John Hammond on 96.9 The Game:

He will not play in summer league with us. We didn’t think there was any way that he was going to do that. We didn’t plan on him doing that. So, probably not the place for him right now.

But overall, I can just say that he’s doing well.

He’s working extremely hard. He’s in good shape. His weight is good. His overall body-fat percentage is very good. So, if you look at him, you say, “Wow, he looks great.” So, it’s just a matter of him just continuing to get more comfortable, continuing for him to get himself in a position where he’s ready to step on the floor and help us.

And look, we have no idea when that’s going to be. We’re hoping much, much sooner than later. But once again, we’re trying to do this the best we can, and that’s have that word of patience.

We want to have patience with him and get him ready and put him on the court when he can be most productive.

Patience is probably the right approach, because I don’t know an alternative. But I’m also not sure where patience gets anyone.

Fultz’s issues run so deep. It doesn’t appear time is solving anything. Does Fultz have a long-term injury that’s actually healing? Does he have a mental block that’s actually being addressed? It’d be nice to see some signs of progress.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen in summer league. The next opportunity for Fultz to publicly display his ability will likely be training camp.

But the way this has gone, I have no expectations of Fultz being ready for that, either.

Bradley Beal: Wizards told me they won’t trade me

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The Wizards don’t have a long-term general manager.

They do have a plan for Bradley Beal.

Washington coach Scott Brooks, acting general manager Tommy Sheppard and owner Ted Leonsis have each conveyed it to the star guard.

Ben Golliver of The Washington Post:

Beal said that Leonsis, Sheppard and Coach Scott Brooks have each independently told him in recent weeks that he would not be moved.

“They’ve been very transparent and that’s been great,” Beal said. “They’re not keeping me in the dark about anything, even about the trade rumors. . . . It’s great having that peace of mind.”

Leonsis is the most important deliverer of that news. He’s the only one guaranteed to last into a new front-office regime.

But Leonsis also said last January the Wizards wouldn’t trade Otto Porter. They dealt him to the Bulls a week later.

These declarations are obviously non-binding, and Leonsis doesn’t have a great track record of sticking by his word. The owner might say John Wall aggravating his injury changed Washington’s outlook. But that’s the point. Situations change.

What happens if the Wizards are one of the NBA’s worst teams next season? That’s quite possible given their roster/cap outlook entering free agency. Would they keep Beal through a year of his prime even if playoff-bound teams are making lucrative trade offers?

And what if Beal reaches the final season of his contract? Would Washington keep him and just hope for the best in unrestricted free agency?

How long does this no-trade pledge last?

The Wizards reportedly plan to offer Beal the largest extension possible this summer. That’d be worth $111,786,897 over three years.

That’s also way less than he could get by playing out the final two years of his contract and hitting 2021 free agency. Especially if he makes an All-NBA team in 2020-21, which would make him super-max eligible. Or he could make an All-NBA team next season that would make him eligible for a super-max extension, which would be worth the same as a new super-max contract as a free agent.

Beal’s projected max contracts:

  • Extension in 2019: $111,786,897 over three years ($35,134,668 per year)
  • Super-max extension in 2020: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
  • Re-sign regular-max in 2021: $214 million over five years ($43 million per year)
  • Re-sign super-max in 2021: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
  • Leave in 2021: $159 million over four years ($40 million per year)

So, Beal will likely reject an extension this summer and wait until he makes an All-NBA team or his contract expires, whichever comes first. That’d at least be the financially prudent path.

In the meantime, he can know the Wizards say they won’t trade him – however far that assurance goes.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard meeting with Clippers set for July 2

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Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power this summer.

Whatever the Finals MVP decides with his free agency — stay with the Raptors, come to the Clippers, something else entirely — will change the landscape of the NBA. Wherever he goes that team will be an instant contender, with the Raptors and Clippers long having been the frontrunners and everyone else trying to get their foot in the door.

His decision likely will not drag out, but it’s not going to be LeBron James last summer “let’s do this so I can go on vacation” instant, either, if we believe this report from Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Of course, this report would be unofficial/off the record because teams cannot yet officially reach out to players or agents, and we know there is no tampering in the NBA. (Read that last sentence again in your best sarcastic voice to get the full impact.)

In Los Angeles, the Clipper hype has led to billboards.

If the Clipper meeting is July 2, in Los Angeles we presume, the question becomes when is the Toronto meeting? June 30/July 1 in Toronto, giving the Clippers the last shot? Or, are the first couple of days meetings with other teams that are longshots — Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, etc. — just to get them out of the way.

It has long been rumored to be a two-team race for Leonard’s services. On the one hand is the chance to return home and become the leader of a 48-win Clippers team poised to be a threat for years to come if they land a superstar. (The Lakers have never been a serious consideration for Leonard, according to sources, for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say he’s not a superteam kind of guy.)

On the other hand is a Raptors team where he was given room to recover and be himself, and where he just won a ring. A city where he was fully embraced by the fans.

Also remember Leonard is at eight seasons of NBA service, meaning the max of this next contract is for 30 percent of the cap (a starting salary around $33 million next season). After two more seasons, he will have 10 years of service and be eligible for 35 percent of the cap (a starting salary of $38 million right now, and with the cap expected to go up the next couple of years it will be higher than that in reality). Despite the injury history, is Leonard willing to bet on himself and sign a two-year contract to get to the larger max, then re-sign?

The leading theory floating around the league now is Leonard signs a short deal in Toronto, then re-enters the market in a year or two. But it’s just a theory. Nobody really knows because Leonard does not tip his hand. About the only thing we seem to know his he will meet with the Clippers on July 2.