Heat diminish golden opportunity with Bam Adebayo contract extension

Heat star Bam Adebayo and Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo
Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Heat Culture never felt stronger.

The Heat prioritized the present, won the Eastern Conference in historically dominant fashion for a low seed and appeared positioned for even more success. Even as LeBron James led the Lakers over Miami in the NBA Finals, that served as an implicit endorsement of Heat Culture: Come to Miami and learn how to win. The Heat were so structurally sound, they could withstand lose a superstar like LeBron and emerge just fine.

This builds on years of Miami leveraging its advantages – playing in a dazzling warm-weather city in an income-tax-free state, a reputation for winning – to maximize its roster. It has almost become a privilege to be associated with this organization.

The Heat convinced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller to take discounts in formation of a super team. The Heat convinced Shane Battier and Ray Allen to take discounts to join on. The Heat even convinced Beno Udrih to inexplicably (within the rules, at least) accept a buyout.

But the Heat didn’t convince Bam Adebayo to delay his practically inevitable max deal, signing him to an extension now rather than a new contract next offseason.

That costs Miami a projected $13 million of 2021 cap space – more if Adebayo wins MVP, makes All-NBA first team or wins Defensive Player of the Year. And Adebayo won’t gain a cent, at least if the Heat would’ve offered him a max contract in restricted free agency next offseason, which seemed beyond highly likely. Adebayo gets only the security of guaranteeing his payday against completely unexpected catastrophe.

The Heat have a reputation for taking care of their players. Buy into the program, and you’ll develop, win and get paid. Even after leaving in a contract dispute, Wade returned to Miami and proudly calls himself a #HeatLifer.

But how helpful is that reputation if it didn’t convince Adebayo to wait?

Adebayo will still have a $5,115,492 salary this season. But now he’ll open next offseason counting against the cap at his 2021-22 salary, which projects to be and will be at least $28 million. If he hadn’t extended, the Heat could have held Adebayo with a $15,346,476 cap hold, used their cap space then exceeded the cap to re-sign Adebayo to a contract that carries the exact same terms as this extension.

Now, Miami would project to have just about $27 million in cap space if trimming the roster to Jimmy Butler, Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson‘s cap hold.

Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s projected max salary: $34 million.

Maybe the Heat know something about Antetokounmpo’s intent to sign his super-max extension with the Bucks. Or maybe Miami truly believes extending Adebayo was the best way to impress Antetokounmpo.

But even if not luring Antetokounmpo specifically, more cap room would have been helpful in upgrading the roster. If Antetokounmpo is interested in the Heat, they would have been better served protecting assets to build around him. Following through on an implicit pledge to do right by Adebayo next offseason probably would have sat just fine with Antetokounmpo.

If Adebayo really wanted the extension, Miami was right to give it to him. He has earned the money. It’s not worth alienating a 23-year-old star with exemplary work ethic and attitude. The Spurs pulling the delaying gambit with Kawhi Leonard reportedly annoyed some members of Leonard’s camp, and Leonard pushed for a trade a few years later.

But it still hurts the Heat’s position that they couldn’t convince Adebayo to wait.

The rest of Miami’s free agents got on board with the 2021 plan or were cast aside.

Goran Dragic drew an $18 million salary with an attached team option for the following season. At 34, he’ll probably decline from last season, especially the zip he showed in the bubble. But he should remain productive and is integral to the Heat continuing their winning.

Meyers Leonard got the same contract structure with a $9 million starting salary. That’s way too much money for a center who fell from the playoff rotation. Presumably, Miami knows that and paid Leonard more so his contract could be more useful in a trade.

And of course, Udonis Haslem re-signed on his usual one-year minimum contract. He is the embodiment of Heat Culture.

Not every incumbent Miami player was willing to accept only a one-year guarantee. Jae Crowder signed with the Suns (three years) and Derrick Jones Jr. signed with the Trail Blazers (two years) for multiple guaranteed years of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception.

That left the Heat to use their non-taxpayer mid-level exception on Avery Bradley and Maurice Harkless. The veterans are fine fallbacks, but they’re downgrades from Crowder and Jones. There are reasons Bradley and Harkless came cheaper.

Miami also drafted Precious Achiuwa No. 21. Though I was down on Achiuwa – who’s already 21 years old and too often bites off more than he can chew offensively – the Heat picking him instantly made me regret ranking him so low. His tenacity, athleticism and defensive versatility should fit beautifully in this system. Miami also has a track record of helping players develop their skills.

But the Heat landing another star next summer could mean shedding players like Achiuwa. Because of Adebayo’s extension, Miami is more likely to need a sign-and-trade or to clear additional cap room by unloading positive-value players.

This grade would be a notch lower if I didn’t trust the Heat’s front office to figure out whatever salary-cap gymnastics are necessary to add the players they want. But that solution is now more likely to include depleting assets further.

Keep in mind: These are NBA first-world problems. Most teams would kill to have a young star like Adebayo, however he wants his contract structured. Miami has Butler, Herro and Robinson, too. And we’re talking about how to add another star.

Still, losing about $13 million of 2021 cap space is a significant, unexpected impediment.

Offseason grade: C-