Sports

Heat has avenues to improve but difficult questions ahead

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Heat president Pat Riley meet with the media at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday, June 19, 2014. after the team’s loss in the NBA Finals.

MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Watching the Heat during this playoff run leaves two conclusions: 1) Health provided (a big if with an aging roster), this core of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro – and a solid supporting cast – should be a top four or five seed in the East for the next three seasons.

2) Expecting an NBA championship with this group seems wishful thinking, with Butler 32, Kyle Lowry 36 and P.J. Tucker 37 – and the Celtics and Bucks’ stars in their prime.

So how does Miami improve? Some points to consider:

▪ Philadelphia center Joel Embiid raised eyebrows Wednesday night when he tweeted: “Miami needs another Star.”

Regrettably, it likely won’t be him; he’s under contract through 2026-27. Even if Embiid asked for a trade to the Heat – and there’s no indication he would – it would be fascinating to see whether the 76ers would acquiesce and take a package built around Adebayo and Herro.

For now, such talk is fantasy.

So if the Heat were to acquire a star, it likely would be a disgruntled one who asks to be moved. There has been speculation about the happiness levels of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Washington’s Bradley Beal, but none has asked for a trade and Beal seems happy.

Lillard – signed through 2024-25 – would be the most unrealistic of that group because of his exorbitant salary ($42.4 million next season) and age (31).

Beal, an impending free agent, said last week that he plans to re-sign with Washington.

“I enjoy being in D.C.; I enjoy being on this team,” Beal said.

In the wake of a first-round loss to Dallas, Utah is expected to explore moving Rudy Gobert and not Mitchell.

In his postgame press conference after the Jazz were eliminated by Dallas, Mitchell was asked “Do you want to be in Utah?” He said yes, but then was asked shortly after that if he would ask out of Utah.

“For me, I just want to win,” he responded. “I’ll think about it in a week, but right now, I’m not really thinking about any of that.” There haven’t been any public comments from him since.

Mitchell has three years remaining on his contract, plus a fourth-year player option. He’s due to make $30.3 million next season, and a hypothetical trade of Mitchell for Herro ($5.7 million), Duncan Robinson ($16.9 million), Omer Yurtseven ($1.75 million) and a first-round pick would work within cap rules.

Any deal involving salary above $19.6 million can return as much as 125 percent of outgoing or incoming salaries, plus $100,000.

But in that scenario, taking on about $6 million more than Miami is sending out would leave the Heat positioned to pay a luxury tax, if it also keeps free agents Victor Oladipo and Caleb Martin.

Mitchell, 25, this season averaged 25.9 points and 5.3 assists and 33.8 minutes while shooting 44.8 percent overall and 35.5 percent on threes in 67 games, all starts.

Herro, 22, averaged 20.7 points, 4.0 assists and 32.6 minutes while shooting 44.7 percent and 39.9 percent on threes and appearing in 66 games (10 starts) while winning the NBA’s Sixth Man award.

This summer, Herro becomes eligible for a five-year contract extension if he signs a max deal (unlikely) and a four-year extension otherwise. He could command a contract somewhere in value between the four-year, $90 million extension that Phoenix gave Mikal Bridges last year and the four-year, $115 million extension that Boston gave Jaylen Brown when he became extension-eligible in 2019.

If Herro doesn’t sign an extension this year, he would be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2023, with the Heat having the right to match outside offers.

For those wondering about Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, there’s no indication he will ask for a trade. And he comes with drama everywhere he goes.

▪ What if the Heat can’t trade for a star? Any other options?

If the Heat wants to target a good player (but not a star) with only a year left on his contract, there are five interesting options: Bulls center Nik Vucevic, Kings forward Harrison Barnes, Wizards wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (a player the Heat has always liked), Pistons forward Jerami Grant and Houston forward Christian Wood.

Miami would need to hope that sending a team one future first-round pick and one of the Heat’s three young minimum players (Yurtseven, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus) would entice that team to take the final four years of Robinson’s five-year, $90 million contract, which would be needed to facilitate such a deal. That’s questionable.

Don’t rule out Charlotte power forward P.J. Washington, who has the background (Kentucky), decent size (6-7) and the three-point game that would appeal to Miami. Washington, who moved to the bench so Miles Bridges could start, is due $5.8 million next season, with the Hornets holding his rights if they make a $7.9 million qualifying offer for 2023-24.

▪ If the Heat plans to keep P.J. Tucker (who can opt out of $7.3 million) and free agents Oladipo (unrestricted) and Martin (restricted), then Miami probably couldn’t use most or all of its $10.3 million mid-level exception on outside help, because using that would result in Miami being hard capped all of next season.

The Heat could use a $6.34 million taxpayer mid-level exception instead, without being hard capped, but that likely would result in a big tax bill if Miami keeps Tucker, Oladipo and Martin as well.

The Heat has avenues to keep Tucker, Oladipo and Martin without touching that exception money, though it’s trickier in Martin’s case.

If Tucker opts out, Miami can offer him a non-Bird exception starting at $8.4 million, which seems like a sensible solution. Miami could go to three years and $27 million with Tucker if it chose to commit that long; Tucker, 37, told me he wants to play at least two or three more years and “my question is do I want to go past five.”

To keep Martin, the Heat can use the full $10.3 million mid-level exception, the $4 million bi-annual exception, a $2.4 million non-Bird exception or the $2 million veteran minimum. None of the four can be combined.

The hope is that Martin would take bi-annual money.

If Tucker opts out and Miami exercises its $1.75 million option on Haywood Highsmith, the Heat would have $126 million committed to nine players for 2022-23: Butler (due $37.7 million next season), Adebayo ($30.4 million), Lowry ($28.3 million), Robinson ($16.9 million), Herro ($5.7 million), Strus ($1.8 million), Vincent ($1.8 million), Yurtseven ($1.75 million) and Highsmith.

The luxury tax is projected to be $149 million.

So if ownership wants to stay under the tax, that would leave the Heat with about $23 million to spend on Tucker, Oladipo, Martin and/or an outside free agent using exception money. Keeping Tucker, Oladipo and Martin could top a combined $20 million next season, depending on their markets in free agency.

Using the full mid-level exception of $10.3 million would hard-cap the Heat at $155 million all of next season. Using the taxpayer midlevel exception of $6.34 million instead – a team cannot use both of those exceptions – would not hard cap the Heat, but Miami would need to decide whether to pay a sizable tax bill.

FYI: Dewayne Dedmon, Markieff Morris and Udonis Haslem are all unrestricted free agents.

▪ What outside free agents could be realistic for mid-level exception money if Miami opts for an outside option over, say, Oladipo?

Free agents in that price range could include Otto Porter Jr., Thaddeus Young, Malik Monk, Joe Ingles (coming out a torn ACL) and Taurean Prince.

With few appealing mid-level-exception-type options available, the Heat could bypass outside players and instead focus on keeping Tucker, Oladipo and Martin, while searching the trade market for help.

▪ By altering terms on the No. 1 pick due Oklahoma City in the February KZ Okpala trade, Miami now can trade its first-round pick in 2022 or its first-round pick in 2023.

Teams cannot trade first-round picks in consecutive years before those picks are made, but Miami could trade its next two first-round picks if timed correctly, with the Heat selecting a player on behalf of another team at No. 27 in the June 23 draft.

OKC now gets the Heat’s first-round pick in 2025 if it’s not in the lottery or 2026 otherwise. The Heat also got a $1.7 million trade exception in that deal.

So Miami now has enough – with draft picks and Herro – to make a competitive offer for a disgruntled star that asks for a trade, if one inevitably surfaces.

The question is whether Herro’s uneven postseason (12.6 points per game, 40.9 percent shooting) will make the Heat more inclined to include him in trade proposals for an All Star.

This story was originally published May 30, 2022 4:08 PM.

Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.





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