How the Heat hurt themselves and Hassan Whiteside with his contract

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Hassan Whiteside has made an incredible journey – from being heralded as a potential lottery pick to playing in Lebanon to producing like a star in the NBA.

Unfortunately for him, he can’t immediately capitalize on his success. Unfortunately for the Heat, they might not be positioned to keep him once he can.

The key issue: the absence of a team option in Whiteside’s contract.

The Heat – who were over the cap and had available only the minimum-salary exception, which can be for one or two seasons – signed Whiteside to a two-year minimum-salary contract in November. The second season is partially guaranteed. Whiteside’s 2015-16 salary becomes $122,669 guaranteed July 1, $245,337 guaranteed Aug. 1 and fully guaranteed when training camp begins.

That’s a perfectly reasonable contract outline for a player like Whiteside.

He hadn’t played in the NBA in two years, so any contract – even a minimum deal – would have appealed to him. Therefore, Miami, holding leverage, fairly sought a cheap second season with no money automatically guaranteed. That way, the Heat would be rewarded for taking a chance on Whiteside if he exceeded minimum-salary production. And if he didn’t, it wouldn’t cost them anything.

After the second season of the contract, Whiteside will become an unrestricted free agent. That’s because there are only a couple conditions where a team can make a player a restricted free agent by extending a qualifying offer:

1. First-round picks coming off the fourth season of their rookie-scale contract

2. All players with three or fewer seasons of experience

Whiteside, a former second rounder who played for the Kings in 2010-11 and 2011-12, will have four seasons of experience after his current contract expires.

The only way the Heat could have made Whiteside a restricted free agent is making him a free agent after this season. There are two ways a team can make a player under contract a free agent – waiving him and declining his team option.

Unguaranteed seasons and team options are (too) often described interchangeably, but there are differences – and one is very relevant here.

If the Heat want to make Whiteside a free agent this summer, they must waive him. Of course, that would never happen – nor work. Every team would jump at the chance to claim Whiteside and inherit the final season of his minimum contract before he ever hit the open market.

But if Whiteside had a team option, Miami could have declined it and make him a free agent without going on waivers. With just three years of experience at that point, he’d be a restricted free agent.

Partial or unguaranteed seasons are not mutually exclusive with team options. The Heat could have kept the escalating guarantees in Whiteside’s contract and added a team option to give themselves another way of making him a free agent in case he blew up (which he has).

This is what the Rockets did with Chandler Parsons. Parsons began his career on a four-year contract with a final season that was both unguaranteed and contained a team option. The Rockets declined the team option to make Parsons a restricted free agent last summer. (That they declined to use their matching rights and let Parsons leave for the Mavericks is another story.)

There’s a key difference between Parsons and Whiteside, though. The Rockets, because they had him for three years, held Parson’s full Bird Rights. If Whiteside had a team option, the Heat would have only his Non-Bird Rights if they declined it and made him a free agent this summer.

Full-Bird Rights allow a team to exceed the cap to re-sign a player to a deal that begins up to his max salary, contains raises up to 7.5% raises and is up to five years long. That’s more than any outside team can offer, so it was impossible for Parsons to sign an offer sheet the Rockets couldn’t match. That they didn’t match Dallas’ was their choice.

Non-Bird Rights, technically a form of Bird Rights, allow a team to re-sign a player for 120% his previous salary or his minimum salary. Since Whiteside is making so little now, the Heat would have been able to offer him a starting salary of only $1,177,618 next summer (with up to 4.5% raises on a contract up to four years). Anything more would have required cap space.

Another team could sign Whiteside to an offer sheet worth up to the max salary. The Gilbert Arenas Provision applies for only players with one or two years experience, so that’s not a factor here, meaning neither are back-loaded contracts like Houston gave Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. If an offer sheet exceed  what they could pay with their Non-Bird Rights – which it surely would – the Heat would not have had an opportunity to match unless they’d already cleared the requisite cap space.

The Heat don’t project to have space, though, let alone enough to match a big deal for Whiteside. They already have $69,632,912 committed to Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade (player option), Luol Deng (player option), Chris Andersen, Josh McRoberts, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Danny Granger (player option) and Shabazz Napier. Those nine players alone take Miami above the projected salary cap of $66.5 million.

So, it’s quite possible the Heat wouldn’t have declined Whiteside’s team option even if they had given themselves the opportunity.

But by letting his two-year contract run out, Miami still must probably be cap-conscious to re-sign him.

After next season, the Heat hold Whiteside’s Early Bird Rights. Those allow the Miami to re-sign Whiteside on a two-to-four year contract that – using estimated figures until the NBA determines the average salary in 2015-16 – starts up to $5,885,440 and is worth up to$26,190,208 over four years. Anything more would require cap space.

If Whiteside keeps playing like this, he’ll definitely get bigger offers.

Bosh ($25,289,390 guaranteed) and McRoberts ($6,021,175  player option) are Miami’s only commitments in 2016-17. With the salary cap set to spike under the new national-TV contracts, the Heat should have plenty of flexibility to keep Whiteside.

But, if he continues to play like a star, Miami won’t have an will have only a limited advantage in re-signing him. A 27-year-old center who protects the rim and cleans the glass with his eye-popping length and athleticism and adds an efficient scoring touch could fetch max offers. Again, anything more than $5,885,440 would require the Heat to use cap space to re-sign Whiteside, meaning they can offer the exact same contract as all the other teams using cap space to pursue Whiteside.

 

Update: As Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders pointed out, the Heat can offer 7.5 percent annual raises, even if they use cap space to re-sign Whiteside. Other teams are limited to 4.5 percent. Like other teams, though, the Heat can still offer just four years. Miami also can’t pay Whiteside a starting salary of more than the projected $5,885,440 without using cap space.

 

Might it have been easier to clear salary before this July and make Whiteside a restricted free agent? Even if Miami doesn’t want to dump Andersen, Chalmers, McRoberts and/or even Deng, the cost doesn’t seem so high if it would have meant keeping a young and productive big man like Whiteside.

Instead, the Heat literally never gave themselves that option, and Whiteside will have to wait another season to get paid. Now, it’s more likely to be by another team.

Suns update: Ayton blames Sarver for contract, Crowder conflict, Johnson to start

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Phoenix went to the NBA Finals two seasons ago and had the most wins in the NBA last season, yet dark clouds seem to be blocking out the Suns heading into this NBA season.

Here’s the latest on three situations with the Suns: Deandre Ayton‘s contract frustration, why Jae Crowder is asking out, and who starts at the four now.

• Ayton ended up signing a four-year, $132.9 max contract and will be back with the Suns to start this season, but the road to get there was rocky. The Suns would not offer Ayton a max five-year contract extension, his name kept coming up in Kevin Durant trade rumors, so Ayton went out and got a four-year max offer from the Pacers — which the Suns instantly matched. Phoenix saved $40 million and a guaranteed year, but the process left Ayton a little bitter.

Ayton blames outgoing owner Robert Sarver — a notorious penny pincher as an owner (among other, much worse things) — Marc Spears and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN discussed on NBA Today (hat tip Real GM).

“That is certainly something that caused the ire of him,” said Marc J. Spears. “I was told that it was Robert Sarver who didn’t want to give him that fifth year, who wanted to save the money.”

“My understanding from talking to people close to Deandre is that he thinks this was Robert Sarver’s decision as well. And Robert Sarver’s not going to be the owner anymore. So there is some healing that can happen there. But I know there were some hurt feelings over that contract and how that played out.

“If they were going to instantly match an offer sheet that he signed, why not just give him the max contract? Yes, it saved them a year and $40 million but as somebody close to Deandre told me ‘There’s a karma to this. Why do that to your No. 1 overall pick?'”

Shelburne hit the nail on the head — the NBA is a business, but it’s a business of relationships. Not only did the Suns sour theirs with Ayton, but you can also be sure every other agent around the league noticed how that was handled. It doesn’t help when recruiting players. The eventual new owner, whoever it ends up being, has a lot of work to change the franchise’s perception.

• Jae Crowder remains away from the Suns during training camp awaiting a trade (which reportedly will not be to Dallas). Crowder started 109 games for the Suns during the past two seasons and was a key part of their run to the NBA Finals, so how did things deteriorate so quickly? Marc Stein lays it out in his latest Substack newsletter.

Entering the final season of his current contract at $10.2 million, Jae Crowder let the Suns know that he was seeking a contract extension. League sources say that the Suns’ messaging, in response, was to let Crowder know that, at 32, he was no longer assured of starting or finishing games ahead of Cam Johnson. That gulf between the parties led Crowder to seek an exit from the desert that has landed him on indefinite mutual leave from the team until Phoenix can find a trade for him.

While Miami gets mentioned as a suitor a lot, it’s next to impossible to put together a trade that works for both sides right now (at the trade deadline, maybe, but Crowder isn’t going to be with the Suns that long). Cleveland is currently the hot name in league circles when talking Crowder trades, and Stein also mentions the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been looking for a P.J. Tucker-like replacement for P.J Tucker. But, do any of these teams want to extend Crowder at age 32?

• Suns coach Monty Williams confirmed what Crowder heard — Cameron Johnson will start at the four for the Suns this season.

Johnson brings better shooting to the table — 42.5% last season on 3-pointers — and is more athletic at this point, but Crowder brings better defense, toughness, and veteran savvy that can be trusted in the playoffs. The Suns may miss that when it matters, but Johnson will get the chance to prove us all wrong.

Blake Griffin agrees to join Boston Celtics on one-year deal

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Blake Griffin has agreed to join the Boston Celtics on a one-year contract which will be fully guaranteed.

The Celtics were desperate for frontcourt depth following injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams, as Luke Kornet was even getting some run with the starting group at training camp.

You do have to wonder just how much the 33-year-old Griffin has left in the tank though. Last season with the Brooklyn Nets, Griffin only managed to play 17.1 minutes per game and his 3-point percentage dropped like a stone to 26%. He was also a major liability on defense, and the Celtics surely know that after Jaylen Brown drove by him with ease time and time again during the postseason.

Griffin was still an effective playmaker and that may make him a good fit with the second unit alongside the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Grant Williams with all of these capable of handling the ball. Injuries and Father Time have zapped Griffin’s athleticism, but if anyone can squeeze the last bit of value out of him, I’d bet on Brad Stevens and the Celtics.

Highlights from Japan Game: Hachimura and Wiseman put on show, plus Suga and Curry

Golden State Warriors v Washington Wizards - NBA Japan Games
Jun Sato/WireImage
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The NBA preseason is officially here — and it started in Japan. The Golden State Warriors faced the Washington Wizards in front of a sold-out crowd at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. In case you didn’t wake up at 6 am Eastern to watch a meaningless preseason NBA game (and if you did, we’re worried about you), here are a few highlights and notes from the night.

• The Wizards were there because they have the biggest Japanese star in the NBA, Rui Hachimura, and he was given a chance to shine. The crowd erupted when he did anything.

• The leading scorer on the night was the Warriors James Wiseman with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus nine boards.

• Dunk of the game goes to Kyle Kuzma.

Stephen Curry was doing Stephen Curry things.

• Stephen Curry also met Suga of BTS and gave him some game-worn kicks. This will win Twitter for the day.

• Oh, by the way, the Warriors won 96-87. As for the level of basketball, it looked like the first preseason game after a flight halfway around the world. The teams combined to shoot 11-of-47 in the first quarter (23.4%) and both were under 40% for the game.

Klay Thompson is sitting out both Warriors games in Japan.

TRIVIA TIME: Can you name the other two players currently in the NBA born in Japan?

Cam Thomas (Yokosuka) and Yuta Watanabe (Yokohama), both of the Brooklyn Nets (Watanabe is on a training camp deal and is not expected to make the roster). Both were raised much of their lives and went to high school and college in the United States.

Thunder rookie Holmgren trying to focus on learning NBA during rehab

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren is experiencing the rehab process for the first time.

The No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA draft suffered a right foot injury during a pro-am game in August while defending as LeBron James drove to the basket on a fast break. He had surgery, and the Thunder declared him out for the season.

“I’ve never had a serious injury in my life, so I didn’t really know, I had nothing to base it off of and compare to,” Holmgren said Thursday. “So when it happened, I had to get it looked at and see how serious it was. I didn’t imagine anything like this.”

Holmgren, a versatile 7-footer who had great moments during summer league, is dealing with being sidelined as the Thunder start training camp this week.

“Definitely something that I really had to put my mind to and spend some time to think on,” he said. “And kind of come to some conclusions on things and really settle my mind so I could kind of stop focusing on what happened and focus in on what’s going to happen, what I’ve got to do to get where I need to be.”

Even without practicing, he has already left an impression on his teammates.

“He’s a great guy,” guard Lu Dort said. “I can already feel a connection with me and the rest of the team. He’s a pretty vocal guy, too. He talks a lot, and that’s good for the team.”

Holmgren said his only workout limitation is that he can’t put weight on the injured foot. So, that forces him to focus on other aspects of the game. Coach Mark Daigneault said Holmgren has been working hard on film study.

“It just comes down to putting my mental energy towards it, learning how to really be a professional in areas off the court,” Holmgren said. “I’ve dedicated so much time to really hustling at my craft on the court. Now, this event is making me step back and kind of rework how how I do things. And one of those ways is to become professional with watching film and speaking with coaches, trying to learn, watching what’s happening and really being engaged, in trying to get better with different avenues.”

Holmgren has spoken with Joel Embiid about his injury. Embiid, the reigning NBA scoring champion, was the No. 3 pick in 2014 before missing his first two seasons with foot issues.

Holmgren hopes he can recover as well as Embiid.

“What I’m trying to do right now is just kind of soak up all the knowledge of how things are done around here, how they’re going to be done going forward,” Holmgren said. “So when I’m ready to get get back in there, I can just kind of seamlessly plug myself in.”

Holmgren is expected to be ready for the start of next season. He said he’s trying to keep his thoughts positive.

“It all comes down to keeping a level head because there’s so many ups and downs,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is a down. But I’ve got to keep my head level and focus on getting better. And no matter what the circumstances are, that’s the goal.”

Daigneault believes Holmgren’s mindset will net positive results.

“We’d like him to be out here,” Daigneault said. “But since he’s not, we’re certainly going to make a lot of investments, and the thing that makes me the most optimistic about that is the approach that he takes.”