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.

WNBA veteran Chasity Melvin joins Hornets’ G-League team coaching staff

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Chasity Melvin has been hired by the Charlotte Hornets’ G League team, the Greensboro Swarm, as an assistant coach.

She becomes the first female coach in Hornets and Swarm history.

The former North Carolina State standout was the 11th overall selection in the 1999 WNBA draft. She played 12 seasons in the WNBA and was an All-Star in 2001.

Melvin was part of the NBA Assistant Coaches Program, which prepares current and former NBA, WNBA and G League players for coaching careers. Former program participants include James Posey (Cavaliers), Jerry Stackhouse (Grizzlies) and Vin Baker (Bucks).

Her hire comes one day after Kristy Toliver became the first active WNBA player to become an NBA assistant when she joined the Washington Wizards.

Other female assistants in the NBA include Becky Hammon with the Spurs and Dallas’ Jenny Boucek.

 

Timberwolves fans boo Jimmy Butler, Tom Thibodeau at home opener

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How is Tom Thibodeau doing in Minnesota tonight?

Friday night is the Timberwolves home opener — a big production where every player is introduced and the crowd is hyped. How hyped? Derrick Rose got a surprising amount of love from the fans.

However, the reception for Jimmy Butlerwho has demanded a trade out of Minnesota, thrown a tirade during practice, and generally been disruptive — and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau (blamed by many for creating and dragging out this situation) both heard it from fans.

Watching the broadcast you could hear some boos, but the pumped-up in-arena entertainment noise on that feed made it hard to hear anything clearly. In the arena were a few cheers mixed in there for Butler, although mostly he was booed. Loudly.

Thibodeau didn’t get even that much love.

Timberwolves fans were indiscriminate and were ready to boo anyone who ever pissed them off — enter Kevin Love.

The boos for Butler subsided as the game went on.

The coach and star player getting booed maybe motivate owner Glen Taylor to step in and force the situation, but probably not. At this point how much more embarrassing is it going to get? If the Timberwolves get off to a slow start this season because of the chemistry, that might be the tipping point.

Right now, Butler trade talks are dormant. This — and these boos — are the status quo.

But everything is fine.

Mike D’Antoni on Rockets’ defense: “I don’t see it like falling so far off. I don’t see it.”

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Last season the Houston Rockets’ defense allowed 105.7 points per 100 possessions, seventh best in the NBA. After the All-Star break they allowed just 103.8 per 100, fourth best during that stretch. By the end of the season, the Rockets switched every screen on- and off-ball (something they felt they needed to handle the Warriors in the playoffs) and leaned on defensive minded role players such as Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. It got them within a game — within a half, really, the Rockets led at half of Games 6 and 7 vs the Warriors — of reaching the NBA Finals and almost certainly bringing home a title.

This season, the conventional wisdom was the Rockets would take a big step back defensively. Ariza and Mbah a Moute left as free agents, replaced on some level by James Ennis (a quality defender), Carmelo Anthony (not so much) and Michael Carter-Williams. Defensive-focused assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik retired, adding to the losses.

That narrative was fed opening night when Anthony Davis did whatever he wanted on his way to 32 points, Elfird Payton (yes, Elfrid Payton) put up a triple-double, and the Pelicans scored at a 124.8 points per 100 pace in blowing the Rockets out.

Mike D’Antoni doesn’t see the season going that way. Speaking to  Sam Amick of The Athletic he defended the team’s defense this season.

I think we’re even deeper this year, so we can have fresher guys on the floor… Trevor and Mbah a Moute were big parts of (Houston’s switching defense), but it’ll be taken up by Michael Carter-Williams. He’s a very good defensive player. James Ennis, who has energy and can play defense, and has all kinds of energy, to Eric Gordon, who will play with Chris and James a little bit more. So I don’t see it like falling so far off. I don’t see it. ‘Melo and the guys are smart enough (to know that) by switching it helps them too. They don’t have to fight through screens and all that. We’re just switching everything to try to keep guys in front. We have a nice philosophy, I think, where players understand what we’re trying to do.

The only thing that’s really changed is that (assistant coach) Roy (Rogers) has the (defensive) voice, in film sessions, talking to them, and (former assistant) Jeff (Bzdelik) had the voice (last season, before unexpectedly leaving during the summer). We all sat down to figure out what we wanted to do defensively, what were the best matchups, talking to Chris and James and PJ about, ‘OK, who you guarding tonight, and what do you think?’ And they’ll figure it out. But at the end of the day, the information still flows exactly the same.”

While the system may be the same, the players executing it are not. Carter-Williams was just lost and a mess defensively in the opener. Anthony will be better than some think as a team defender during the regular season (not good, but not a complete dumpster fire), but he can be exploited in a playoff series (Utah hunted him out in the first round last season, and it worked). P.J. Tucker is a fantastic defender, as is Chris Paul, but both are a year older and not getting faster.

Opening night was an aberration — the Rockets are not that bad on either end of the floor. It’s just one game and every team will have a few clunkers over the course of 82. The Rockets will play better against the Lakers in LeBron James‘ home opener Saturday night (that will not be an easy game for Houston by any measure).

Right now it feels like the Rockets are headed for a step back defensively this season, and with that their margins against the Warriors get even smaller. We’ll see over time if D’Antoni knows best.

Russell Westbrook out vs. Clippers Friday night, second game he’s missed

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The Thunder offense struggled on opening night, scoring less than a point per possession (96.2 per 100 possessions, to be specific). While the Thunder got out and ran a decent amount, 18.6 percent of their possessions started in transition, they scored just 0.88 points per possession on those chances (stats via Cleaning the Glass). On spot-up jump shots, they shot scored just 0.67 points per possession (via Synergy Sports) and they shot 27.8 percent from three in the part of the game that mattered.

How much of that was the Thunder offense missing their engine in Russell Westbrook, and how much of that was going against the solid defense and length of the Golden State Warriors?

We may find out Friday night because Westbrook is out again, still recovering from arthroscopic surgery on right knee back on Sept. 12. Royce Young of ESPN broke the news.

That means again most of the offense will flow through Paul George, which worked reasonably well but he needs more help from other players. The Clippers’ defense was fairly good opening night, and they played Denver close, but couldn’t score enough and lost a lead down the stretch, dropping their season opener.

What really matters is this gives us another chance to watch Westbrook try to sneak-snack on the bench.