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.

Nets GM says he’s unsure if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving would return for playoffs (don’t bet on it)

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The idle hands of time forced by the NBA’s coronavirus hiatus has lead to everything from conspiracy theories to outright fantasies about the future of the NBA when play returns.

One of the favorites: the delay allows Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to return when the NBA playoffs start, and the Brooklyn Nets become the most dangerous seven seed ever and a potential contender.

When asked about that idea Wednesday in a conference call, Brooklyn GM Sean Marks took the diplomatic “there’s no way we can know” approach.

If you’re reading this, seeing the odds of the Nets as 66-1 as NBA champions and thinking “that’s not a bad bet” let me help you out:

Save your money. Spend it on a takeout dinner from a struggling local restaurant, that will help far more people than giving away your money to a casino. Marks saying it’s too early to tell is the GM being diplomatic and deferential to his stars. They are not returning this year, something NBC Sports has heard from sources, plus it just makes sense. Let’s get into why.

The second part of that Tweet, the idea that rehab has been slowed a little because of facilities being closed, is one reason not to expect KD and Irving.

That ties into the bigger issue: Injuries often occur when players find the load on them and their activity level spiked. Sports science has shown leaps in stress levels on muscles leads to fatigue and more injuries, that returns need to be ramped up slowly (why you see minutes limits on guys when they first come back). Durant and Irving are the faces of the Nets franchise and they need both of them to be contenders. So are the Nets going to take those guys, who have missed extended time due to injuries, and throw them straight into an NBA playoff game with that intensity? Let’s politely say that kind of return has not worked well for Durant in the past. Two weeks or so of a condensed training camp will not be enough to have them ready for playoff basketball.

On another note, Marks said the suspension of the league also has brought to a stop the Nets search for their next head coach after Kenny Atkinson was let go.

The front office will pick the next coach, but if that “blue chip, veteran” coach does not get a thumbs up from Durant and Irving, the interview is over.

Regional TV challenges with moving NBA season to a mid-December start

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NBA to think about playing games deep into the summer, that idea was already on the table. At the Sloan Sports Analytic Conference hosted by MIT, Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin proposed moving the NBA to a mid-December start. Essentially, Koonin wants to move the entire NBA schedule back by two months. Currently the NBA regular season starts in mid-October.

Koonin’s idea is to move away from the NFL season as much as possible. He said at the time “Relevance equals revenue. We’ve got to create the most relevance, and the revenue will fix itself.”

Under Koonin’s proposal, the NBA schedule would tip-off in mid-December and the NBA Finals would wrap up in August. Koonin’s hope is that with less competition from the NFL, the NBA ratings would go up. He said “A big piece is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enhance ratings. Sometimes, moving away from competition is a great way to grow ratings.”

This is far from the first time a proposal has been floated to move the start of the NBA season. Many suggest that casual fans don’t really care about the NBA until Christmas anyway. That’s when the NFL season is winding down and the NCAA football season is just about wrapped up. Currently, the NBA season overlaps with the NFL season, including the NFL playoffs, by three-and-a-half months from mid-October through January.

The NBA, and the NHL, have the winter months of February and March mostly to themselves. In mid-March, the NCAA gets the shine for the NCAA Tournament, but that’s only for a few days a week.

Starting in late-March/early-April, the NBA shares the sports calendar with MLB. Baseball’s Opening Day usually comes two-to-three weeks ahead of the NBA Playoffs.

By getting clear of the NFL, the NBA avoids a ratings monster that now dominates Sundays, Monday nights and Thursday nights. In addition, the NBA would avoid college football’s foothold on Saturdays. Overlapping more with the less-popular MLB could give the NBA a ratings boost.

Yet, it’s with MLB that a seemingly overlooked challenge lies for pushing back the NBA schedule.

While the focus generally lies on the NBA’s nationally televised games on ABC, ESPN and TNT, the vast majority of games are broadcast on regional sports networks or RSN’s. The national TV contracts pull in billions of dollars to be sure, but the RSN deals make up a big portion of the television pie as well.

When you remove games broadcast on NBATV, which usually pick up an RSN feed, the best NBA teams generally play between 20 and 30 games on national TV. That leaves over 50 games to be broadcast by the RSN. And those RSN’s pay tens of millions of dollars to do so.

Unfortunately for the NBA, many of those RSN’s pay tens of millions to also broadcast games for the region’s MLB team as well.

As of the 2020, here are the markets that share an RSN for both NBA and MLB games:

  • Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Braves – Fox Sports South/Fox Sports Southeast
  • Brooklyn Nets and New York Yankees – YES Network
  • Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Braves – Fox Sports Southeast
  • Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox – NBC Sports Chicago
  • Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds – Fox Sports Ohio
  • Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers – Fox Sports Southwest
  • Detroit Pistons and Detroit Tigers – Fox Sports Detroit
  • Golden State Warriors and San Francisco Giants – NBC Sports Bay Area
  • Houston Rockets and Houston Astros – AT&T SportsNet Southwest
  • Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Angels – Fox Sports Prime Ticket/Fox Sports West
  • Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers – Spectrum SportsNet
  • Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Braves – Fox Sports Southeast
  • Miami Heat and Tampa Rays – Fox Sports Sun
  • Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers – Fox Sports Wisconsin
  • Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Twins – Fox Sports North
  • Orlando Magic and Miami Marlins – Fox Sports Florida
  • Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Phillies – NBC Sports Philadelphia
  • Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks – Fox Sports Arizona
  • Sacramento Kings and Oakland A’s – NBC Sports California
  • San Antonio Spurs and Texas Rangers – Fox Sports Southwest
  • Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays – Sportsnet
  • Utah Jazz and Colorado Rockies – AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain

All told, only eight NBA franchises don’t share an RSN with an MLB team.

It’s not a challenge for RSN to move a handful of games to an alternate channel for a handful of weeks in late-March/early-April. In addition, the early part of the baseball season regularly features day games that wrap hours in advance of the NBA game that evening.

When you start talking about RSN’s choosing how to handle months of overlap, months that baseball has had to themselves for years, things get messy. Not every television provider offers the alternate channels. Some contracts have specific language on when, if and how often their games can be bumped.

Moving the NBA calendar to run December-August vs October-June has a lot of pitfalls. It will involve negotiation between the NBA and NBPA as well. Some prominent players, like Damian Lillard, don’t like the idea of giving up the warm summer months to play basketball. You also have the challenge of attendance in arenas during the nicest parts of the year weather-wise. Some fans may not want to be inside on beautiful spring and summer evenings.

However, this will ultimately come down to TV and their money. And the RSN’s will have just as large a say in that process as the major networks.

Mark Cuban backs off belief NBA season could resume in mid-May

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has backed off his belief that the NBA season could resume in mid-May. In appearance on ESPN’s Get Up, Cuban said, “I have no idea” when the NBA could resume the 2019-20 season.

Last month Cuban said he thought a return to play could happen as soon as mid-May. That timeline likely included the NBA Finals being played in late-July, after the two-month suspension of play.

Cuban’s Mavericks were on the verge of making the NBA playoffs. That would have been the Mavs first postseason appearance after a three-year absence. Dallas hasn’t advanced out of the first round since winning the NBA championship in 2011.

Cuban also added about returning to play: “I mean, I haven’t had any conversations where anybody discusses an actual date.”

The NBA season has been suspended since Wednesday, March 11. That night games in Oklahoma City and Sacramento were postponed after players and officials were tested for coronavirus. The league was already prepared to play games without fans present, but suspended operations after positive COVID-19 tests.

Four Nets players who tested positive for COVID-19 showing no symptoms

Kevin Durant
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On a conference call with the media Wednesday morning, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks shared some good news. The four Nets players who had tested positive for coronavirus are no longer showing symptoms.

Kevin Durant was one of the four Nets to come forward and say he had tested positive for COVID-19. Durant said at the time that he was feeling fine, but this report clarifies that he’s now clear of symptoms. Durant has been out for the entirety of the 2019-20 season as he rehabs from the torn Achilles’ he suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals.

Over a dozen NBA players tested positive for coronavirus since mid-March. About half of those players have been identified. Multiple reports have surfaced over the last two weeks of players being cleared of symptoms.

Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics was recently cleared of COVID-19 after a positive test. Reports are that he plans to donate his blood plasma to National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project for research on the blood of those recovered from coronavirus.