Providing Proper Credit

I try to live my life in an honorable way. As those who know me can attest, I believe very strongly in the virtue of honesty and integrity. A huge component of such a core belief, to me, is giving credit. I believe giving credit is the right thing to do.

Providing proper credit can be difficult, for various reasons. Sometimes people may not even realize that they’re using someone else’s ideas as the basis for their work. Sometimes people may realize that they’re doing it, but are motivated more by the fact that giving off the impression that the ideas being leveraged are their own can produce advantageous results for themselves; people are sometimes motivated by self-serving intentions, and that, as you might imagine, has the potential to yield rather ugly results. Sometimes various other factors are at play.

I believe I always try to provide proper credit when I leverage the ideas of others.

I also believe that others may not always choose to live up to that same standard. I tend to believe that my ideas do sometimes get leveraged without proper credit being provided. I believe that sometimes my ideas just get taken, while other times my ideas get presented to a source, confirmed as accurate by the source, and then get taken with reference only to the source.

But please note that establishing that other people may be leveraging your ideas is difficult. Just because I, for example, come up with an idea does not mean that someone else can’t independently come up with the same idea. There are a lot of people in this world. There are tons of ideas. And most aren’t unique.

So sometimes I just don’t write at all – nobody can take what I don’t put out there. Other times I use various tools to help me assess whether my ideas are being leveraged, whether they be simple (e.g., waiting for others to break down a particular situation before I provide any unique insights of my own) or more clever in nature.

As an example, after the Ellington/Johnson trade on Feb. 6, I waited three full days, until the morning of Feb. 9, to fully disclose (both on twitter and in the post below) the mechanics of how the Heat could drop below the tax line as a result of the trade (i.e., with Kelly Olynyk bonuses, 10-day contracts, and two-week periods at the center of it). I waited the three days, quite a bit of time in the real-time analysis world of today, in order to give others the space of time to write their own stories about the trade, to ensure that none of them had written about the idea, and to analyze whether any of them would do so in the aftermath of my writing.

As another example, I wrote about how the Heat would likely not convert the contract of one of their two-way players to meet their 14-player requirement in the aftermath of the trade. In doing so, I provided a rationale that was accurate (and would therefore be confirmed as such by any sources), but inconsistent with the above example (i.e., that it had to do with their qualifying offers). I did so because people who leverage the ideas of others without a true understanding of what they’re leveraging sometimes don’t realize that, if they aren’t careful, doing so makes their work inconsistent, and thus makes it easier to establish that they are doing so.

Of course, whether the evidence uncovered by deploying such tools provides definitive proof that my ideas are being leveraged is inherently subjective. We make our own judgments. But here’s what always gets me – the people doing it, if indeed they are doing it, know the truth. They know they’re causing pain, and apparently just don’t care. It’s a world I hate.

In some ways, I am an ideal person from which to leverage ideas – I hope you feel I have good ones, I present them openly, I am relatively passive about protecting them, I have a relatively small following, and I have no direct affiliation with any media company. In other ways I am not – I am fortunate enough to have access the resources and contacts (which can perhaps easily be verified by anyone who chooses to look) to do something about it if I choose. I have chosen not to thus far. All I ask is that we all try to be respectful of each other.

So I, yet again, make one simple request — please don’t copy my work without providing proper credit.

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GENERAL STATEMENT

Idea theft is a common problem, certainly not exclusive to me. It’s far more pervasive than you may realize. It permeates every aspect of the NBA’s media landscape.

The unfortunate truth is that, for some, providing proper credit would effectively mean sourcing numerous (if not every) aspects of their writing. So some pick and choose – within articles (they’ll source one sentence, so they don’t have to source other sentences), across articles (they’ll source someone in one article, so they don’t have to source him or her again in another), etc. Others ignore it altogether.

So what can readers do to help? Question everything.

Don’t focus on tenure or contacts or employers (which are favored deflections). The NBA landscape is changing. Meaningful content requires far more insight than in years past. It requires skill. It requires creativity. It requires subject matter experts as much as it does eloquent writers… Just for fun, pick an article at random from a decade ago (one that breaks down a trade, a free agent signing, or whatever else interests you), and compare it to a similar article from today, to see what I mean.

So, when you’re reading something new:

  • Ask yourself if you believe the writer even has the ability to provide the insights you’re reading. When you’re reading about, for example, even the most basic financial aspects of a trade (like how it impacts the team’s luxury tax situation), let alone the more complex aspects (like that, as a result of the trade, a team might potentially be able to avoid the luxury tax if it were to: (i) miss the playoffs, (ii) not play one of its players more than specified period of time, and (iii) only sign certain types of contracts going forward), ask yourselves if you believe he or she has the creativity (to be able to realize it’s even possible, and therefore investigate the possibility), skill-set (to be able to sort through all of the countless, highly intricate salary cap rules, find the relevant ones, and analyze them accordingly), and knowledge (to gain access to the salary details of the various players, to apply the rules that have been analyzed) to even be able to generate the sentences you’re reading.
  • Take note of timing. To get a better sense for the providers of original content versus the ones who leverage it, take note of timing. Is the content you’re reading original, or have you seen it somewhere before? If you’ve seen it somewhere before, what are the chances that the writer has too? If a big event has transpired (e.g., a trade or free agent signing), who are the people tweeting about it in the moments after it occurs, and who are the ones pausing for several minutes or hours (i.e., after the original ideas have been disclosed)? If you read a truly original piece of content on one random day, and then spot another article on the very same topic in the next couple of days, question it… And don’t get fooled by references to “sources.” Sources can be incredibly valuable. But no source is going to just give a journalist an article to write. So even if an article credits “sources,” how did the writer know what to ask? Where did the idea come from?
  • Focus on the details. Unfortunately, some people who steal the ideas of others have the skill-set but not the creativity. They can’t always generate the ideas on their own, but they can take them and break them down. But, other people can’t do even that. Often times, people who steal ideas don’t fully understand them. And that leads to inconsistencies in their writing. One sentence might be correct, but another may not be. Or, perhaps both are correct, but they don’t make sense together. For example, nobody who has the ability to break down a complex trade and distill it into a concise article about how a team can avoid the luxury tax would then follow it up by making a suggestion as to how to the team can fill out its roster in a way that destroys the very premise of his or her article; that makes no sense.

When you free your mind of all distractions and focus purely on who even has the creativity and skill-set to produce the ideas you’re reading, I believe you’ll be able to more accurately access where the original ideas are coming from. And, hopefully, when you find that out, you’ll respond accordingly.

Heat Trade Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Cash to Suns for Ryan Anderson

PLEASE DO NOT COPY THIS WORK WITHOUT PROVIDING PROPER CREDIT

The Miami Heat approached the NBA’s Feb. 7 trade deadline with three primary goals in mind: to placate the unhappy consummate professional Wayne Ellington, to reduce their payroll, and to clear positional logjams.

They partially addressed all three in one shot, by trading Ellington and Tyler Johnson to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Ryan Anderson.

Ellington, who signed a one-year, $6.3 million contract with the Heat this summer, was waived by the Suns shortly after the trade, enabling him to sign a free agent contract with the team of his choosing (and grab some extra cash in the process).

Johnson received a four-year, $50.0 million offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2016. Despite intricate salary cap rules that were deemed so unfair to the Heat that they were subsequently changed in the latest collective bargaining agreement, whereby the majority of the salary and cap hits in the contract were backloaded to the final two seasons, the Heat, just after losing Dwyane Wade to the Chicago Bulls, questionably elected to match the offer sheet and keep him, despite the onerous salary cap and luxury tax implications that have hamstrung the team ever since. As a result, Johnson is earning $19.2 million this season, and has a player option for the same amount for next season.

The $25.5 million in combined salary for Ellington and Johnson this season is about $5.1 million more than that of Anderson, who is being paid $20.4 million for 2018-19, and has a $21.3 million salary for 2019-20 that is only partially guaranteed for $15.6 million if he waived by July 10.

The Heat also sent the Suns $1.8 million of cash in the trade, to cover the difference in the players’ remaining 2018-19 salary payouts. Miami now has $3.4 million in tradable cash remaining for the rest of the season. They also created a $6.3 million trade exception in the deal.

Until Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones Jr. return from injuries at some point after the All-Star break, the Heat’s rotation now figures to include Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside as starters, and Dwyane Wade, Rodney McGruder, James Johnson and Bam Adebayo off the bench. That’s still nine deep with rotation-capable players, and ultimately a still-too-many imbalanced 11 when the team is completely healthy.

Overall, the Heat roster now stands at 13 (excluding two-way contracts). By league rule, they have two weeks to add a player to build back up to the league minimum of 14.

The trade was undoubtedly a luxury-tax driven move for the Heat: (i) for 2018-19, it drops the Heat’s team salary from $6.3 million over the tax line to $1.2 million over the tax line, resulting in a projected $8 million of luxury tax savings, and (ii) for 2019-20, it converts Johnson’s $19.2 million player option (which he’ll surely exercise) into a $15.6 million partial guarantee (which the Heat will surely capitalize upon by waiving him this summer, if they can’t trade him), which, with the Heat currently over the projected luxury tax line, figures to result in another $5 million or so of luxury tax savings.

The trade was a brilliant piece of technical work by the Heat — which (i) squeezed every last bit from the salary-match to drop their team salary a full $5.1 million, and (ii) required the consent of both Ellington (who had an effective no-trade clause) and Johnson (who had to forgo all but $112K of his $1.0 million trade bonus) to make happen.

But (because they had to take back salary in the trade, rather than finding a trade partner that could swallow Ellington’s full $6.3 million salary outright) the trade, by itself, was not enough to drop the Heat below the luxury tax line for this season, and the Heat weren’t willing to compromise their competitiveness to make that happen. Had they followed up the trade with another of Rodney McGruder (whose $1.5 million salary had just $541K remaining to be paid on it) to any one of the 10 or so teams that were capable of taking him in (without crossing the tax line themselves), the Heat would’ve dropped under the tax line, permanently. They didn’t.

Nonetheless, there is still a path for the Heat to avoid the luxury tax, and it’s as clear as it would be painful.

For the Heat to avoid the 2018-19 luxury tax, three things would need to happen: (i) Kelly Olynyk can’t play 1,700 minutes, (ii) the Heat must miss the playoffs, and (iii) the Heat’s next contract must be a 10-day contract (following by yet another one after it expires).

Here’s why:

As a result of the trade, the Heat are currently $1.2 million above the tax line. The trade also leaves the Heat with 13 players under contract, and needing to build back up to 14 within two weeks; by using strategically-timed 10-day contracts, they can limit the cost of that 14th player to as little as $171K. That would put them $1.3 million over.

Kelly Olynyk has $1.4 million in bonuses (which are currently being included in the Heat’s team salary because he earned them last year) – $1.0 million for playing 1,700 minutes, and $400K for making the playoffs.

So… the Heat could be as little as $1.3 million over the tax line at the end of the season, even after accounting for their required 14th player but before making any bonus-related adjustments. And the Heat would save $1.4 million if Olynyk misses out on both of his bonuses. Which would drop them under the tax line, permanently…

They’d even have as much as $53K to spare, which they’d undoubtedly use to build back up to 15 players at the very end of the regular season — enabling them to still prioritize growth for the future, by potentially signing up to two players to rest-of-season or multi-year deals, and thereby potentially retain their rights into training camp and beyond. Two-way players Duncan Robinson and/or Yante Maten could get extended looks for those spots toward the end of the regular season (they can be called up for the rest of the regular season, regardless of the NBA service days remaining on their contracts, starting Mar. 24). If they perform well, the Heat could unilaterally convert their two-way contracts to standard NBA contracts toward the end of the regular season (which would make them eligible for the playoffs, but increase their qualifying offers as restricted free agents this summer from another two-way contract with $50K guaranteed to $1.6 million guaranteed), but would perhaps be more likely negotiate long-term deals (they have the flexibility to offer up to four years). They could also choose to look elsewhere.

The Heat surely aren’t actively pursuing this tax avoidance strategy — which would involve missing the playoffs (and the playoff revenue that comes with it) in Dwyane Wade’s final NBA season. But that doesn’t mean they won’t prepare for it, in case it happens naturally. In fact, they undoubtedly will. Which would mean that, as far as the roster is concerned, we can expect three things to happen: (i) Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra may be mindful of Olynyk’s minutes for the rest of the season (he needs to average fewer than 23.9 minutes per game for the Heat to avoid the $1.0 million bonus payout) if it doing so doesn’t negatively impact the Heat’s playoff chances, and, more proactively in the meantime, (ii) the next contract that Heat president Pat Riley hands out, to meet the 14-player minimum roster requirement, will surely be a 10-day contract, and he’ll likely wait the full two weeks, until Feb. 20, to give it out, and (iii) after that 10-day contract runs out, Riley will surely wait the full two weeks (plus an extra couple of days, because the two-week period can’t expire on weekends or holidays), until Mar. 18, to give it out. While they won’t be forced to add anymore players after that (since the two-week period will carry them through the end of the regular season), they’ll surely add two more, to reach the maximum 15; they can split six NBA days between them (e.g., one signed with five days to go and the other with one day to go, both signed with three days to go, etc.).

Why would the Heat prepare for the possibility of missing the playoffs, in case it happens naturally (even if they aren’t willing to compromise their integrity to do it actively)?

Because the Heat missing the playoffs could lead to two undeniably valuable outcomes:

  • It could drop the Heat below the luxury tax line, which, in turn, would: (i) save them from what was once a projected $9.7 million tax bill, (ii) enable them to collect a share of the proceeds of all the luxury-taxpaying teams (currently projected at $3.0 million, if the Heat fall under), and (iii) push out any repeater tax concerns another season (to 2022-23 at the earliest).
  • It could significantly improve their 2019 first-round draft pick — from what would surely be No. 15 overall, to what could be anywhere from a slightly to a significantly better lottery pick… The Heat currently has 25 wins. If they were to finish the season behind all teams with the same number or more wins, they would be the eighth worst team in the NBA, which would give them a 26.2% chance at a top-4 pick (including 6.0% for first overall, 6.3% for second, 6.7% for third, and 7.2% for fourth), and a 73.8% chance at a pick between Nos. 8 and 12 (including 34.5% chance for eighth, 32.1% for ninth, 6.7% for tenth, 0.4% for eleventh, and 0.0% for twelfth).

The Heat knew exactly what they were doing with the Ellington/Johnson trade. They believed it wouldn’t compromise the team’s competitiveness, they knew that the playoffs were long odds either way (with a relative strength of schedule as difficult as is theirs to close out the season), and they knew that it would mean big savings if they make it and avoiding luxury tax altogether if not.

With so much on the line, the Heat’s final 29 regular season games will undoubtedly be filled with drama!

Notes:

There are other ways the Heat could reduce their team salary, in an effort to drop below the luxury tax line. For example:

  • They could buy out a player. But who? The only player who would seemingly make any sense is Ryan Anderson, and he already sacrificed $5.6 million when he reduced the guarantee on his 2019-20 salary from $21.3 million to $15.6 million. After all, the buyout would need to be fairly substantial, given that (i) it would be applied to team salary in each of the next two seasons based upon the guaranteed salary remaining (which means it would only be allocated 31% to 2018-19 as of today, declining to less than 1% on the last day of the regular season) and (ii)  it would need to cover the cost of the new player, before producing any net savings.
  • They could waive a player and hope he gets claimed off waivers. Perhaps Rodney McGruder would be the player most likely to get claimed. But such a strategy is not within their control, and it could backfire and increase the Heat’s team salary if he doesn’t get claimed. 
  • They could hope a player gets suspended by the league office. But that’s also not within their control.

The most logical way for the Heat to drop below the luxury tax is as presented above. The other methods presented in this footnote could prove helpful at a later date, depending upon how things play out. 

Anthony Davis Has Asked To Be Traded: A Brief FAQ On What That Could Mean

I drafted this FAQ because I have received countless questions, and seen countless reporting issues, about the Anthony Davis situation. As many of you know, I have tried provide as much assistance as I possibly can, but I figured that one article, which everyone can see, that describes many of the main issues, would be helpful. I hope it does prove helpful. If so, I would respectfully ask that you please not copy my work – instead, please either ask me directly or provide proper credit. Please don’t copy my work product without providing proper credit. I tend to write about complex stuff. I help everyone who asks; I do so privately, never asking for credit or compensation. But these are challenging concepts, and I feel it’s proper to respect the people who provide the insight (unless you first request permission not to do so).

Anthony Davis sent a jolt through the basketball world on Monday, in the lead up to the NBA’s annual trade deadline on Feb. 7, when he informed the New Orleans Pelicans that he does not intend to sign a contract extension this summer and that he is formally requesting a trade.

The news has created a flurry of activity for teams, fans and writers alike, for whom there are various potential issues to consider. The following is a brief FAQ:

What are the Terms of Anthony Davis’ Current Contract?

Davis signed a 5-year, $127.2 million extension, known as a Designated Rookie Scale Player Extension, with the Pelicans on July 9, 2015.

The contract pays him $25.4 million this season and $27.1 million in 2019-20, with a player option worth $28.8 million for 2020-21. Davis can therefore become an unrestricted free agent no sooner than July 2020.

The contract is paying out the maximum is was able to – starting at 25% of the adjusted 2016-17 salary cap, with annual raises equal to 7.5% of his first-year salary (in each case, reflecting the rules of the 2011 CBA). It also contained a provision (colloquially referred to as the “Rose Rule”) that would have enabled him to receive a higher 30% of the adjusted salary cap if he met certain criteria (technically referred to as the “5th Year, 30% Max Criteria”). The provision would’ve paid him an extra $25.4 million over the course of his 5-year contract if he made any of the three All-NBA teams in 2015-16. But he didn’t receive enough votes for inclusion, after being limited to just 61 games due to shoulder and knee injuries.

Davis’ contract also contains a 15% trade bonus, which would pay out up to $65,976 if he’s traded this season or $4.1 million if he’s traded in July.  Continue reading “Anthony Davis Has Asked To Be Traded: A Brief FAQ On What That Could Mean”

Wayne Ellington’s Future With Heat Uncertain, As Trade Deadline Approaches

PLEASE DO NOT COPY THIS WORK WITHOUT PROVIDING PROPER CREDIT

Wayne Ellington is a class individual. But he’s not happy.

Ellington set a Miami Heat record with 227 three-pointers (on impressive 39.2% shooting) last season, establishing career highs of 11.2 points and 26.5 minutes per game and leading the team in fourth-quarter scoring (287 points) in the process. He was, at times, the Heat’s most valuable player. Instant offense. His herculean, on-the-dead-run clutch three-point shooting outbursts, displaying deft body control, converted losses into wins. His mere presence on the court commanded constant attention, and drew defenders away from his teammates.

The Heat, recognizing his value, somewhat surprisingly re-signed Ellington to a one-year, $6.3 million contract this summer. Luxury tax consequences be dammed.

Now, he doesn’t play at all.

The 31-year-old, who must approve of any trade as a result of that contract, desperately wants to play. And, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, his agent Mark Bartelstein has approached the Heat about it. “I feel like I need to be on the court right now playing instead of just watching as the season goes by, quickly,” Ellington recently said.

This couldn’t have been the plan.

But if the Heat have proven one thing in the post Big Three era, it’s that rotations change. Frequently. Players who don’t play at all one month can easily become the Heat’s most critical the next. It’s a byproduct of a roster full of role players.

So Ellington remains valuable. Even from the bench. Which complicates matters. Continue reading “Wayne Ellington’s Future With Heat Uncertain, As Trade Deadline Approaches”

The Complexities of Trading John Wall

I wrote this article because I find the topic rarely fascinating. But please keep in mind that it reflects only my interpretations of the corresponding rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. They appear to be quite different than the interpretations of most other people (including from a consensus of NBA teams, as reported in this wonderful article on the subject by Bobby Marks, which I would strongly suggest you read). This situation has never happened or been tested before. Nobody knows how the situation would actually be treated in reality. But what I can say is that I believe each of the interpretations I describe below is consistent with all, and not inconsistent with any, league rules and corresponding guidance.

The concept of the Washington Wizards potentially seeking to trade John Wall this season has made the rounds across the internet in recent weeks. It’s almost certainly not going to happen. But the complexities surrounding such a hypothetical situation are, for salary cap nerds, nonetheless quite fascinating.

John Wall’s Contract Details

Wall is in the midst of the final year of an extension that he signed on July 31, 2013, which pays out $19.2M for 2018-19.

Wall subsquently signed a four-year designated veteran player extension on July 26, 2017, which will kick in next season. For 2019-20, it will pay out 35% of the then-salary cap. It will then contain annual raises equal to 8% of his 2019-20 salary. The final season, 2022-23, is subject to a player option.

At the $109M salary cap currently being projected by the league for 2019-20, Wall’s contract would look like this:

  • 2018-19: $19.2M (final year of initial extension)
  • 2019-20: $38.2M (first year of designed veteran player extension)
  • 2020-21: $41.2M
  • 2021-22: $44.3M
  • 2022-23: $47.3M (player option)

Total: $190.1M

When Wall signed his most recent extension, he reportedly also amended his contract to include a trade bonus. The trade bonus would be payable only the first time the contract is traded following the signing of his extension. Trade bonuses are paid by the team trading away the player. They can be defined as a specific dollar amount, a specific percentage of the remaining value of the contract, or some combination. In either case, the actual amount cannot exceed 15% of the remaining value of the contract. In Wall’s case, it is exactly 15%. Players can, at their discretion, choose to waive any or all of a trade bonus.  Continue reading “The Complexities of Trading John Wall”

LeBron Has a Bunch of Exciting, Imperfect Options This Summer

LeBron James will have a critical decision to make this summer.

He holds a $35.6M player option for the 2018-19 season. He must decide by June 29 whether to exercise it.

If he declines the option, Cleveland could offer him more money as a free agent than can any other team – while his maximum starting salary would be the same $35.4M (35% of the projected $101M salary cap) no matter where he goes, the Cavs can offer a five-year deal worth as much as $205M while other teams could offer a four-year deal worth as much as $152M.

LeBron has said he is no longer willing to take a discount from max money, as he did for the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010. But what he decides to do with his player option will surely be dictated not my monetary concerns but rather by where he wants to play next season.

LeBron has indicated on numerous occasions that he ideally wants to finish his career in Cleveland. But after a tumultuous year for the Cavs, he may be inclined to change his interim calculus. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers have positioned themselves as teams of the future in the Eastern Conference, and the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are each a clear step ahead in the Western Conference.

The Cavs will have a difficult time keeping pace with any of them. Including LeBron, they’d not only be capped out but deep into the luxury tax next season (with a payroll that projects to be a minimum of $24M over the tax line). They’d have access to only the $5.3M Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception, which could be cost prohibitive to utilize, and minimum salary contracts with which to improve in free agency. Their No. 8 pick in the 2018 draft isn’t likely to provide significant near-term help. And they have numerous unappealing contracts and limited assets with which to pursue potential trades. The prospect of building a championship-caliber roster around LeBron in Cleveland appears daunting.

If LeBron were to consider leaving Cleveland, a host of NBA teams would surely line up to recruit him. Among those already rumored to be in the mix: the Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and San Antonio Spurs.

None is a perfect fit. Each would have its unique challenges.

There are only three primary ways by which a potential suitor could acquire LeBron James this summer: a direct signing, a sign-and-trade, or a trade. Continue reading “LeBron Has a Bunch of Exciting, Imperfect Options This Summer”

A View Into the Miami Heat’s Uncertain Future

The Miami Heat revealed itself for what it is this past season – a fun and exciting team which can out-effort anyone to victory on any given night, but not one built for sustained playoff success.

It’s a team with a ton of quality role players, but also one so severely lacking in playmaking that it increasingly turned to a former ex-employee re-acquired at the trade deadline to create any semblance of offense as its competition stiffened. Dwyane Wade is a future Hall-of-Famer but, at 36 years old, he’s not the future of the franchise. Beyond Wade, the Heat essentially employs a playmaking-by-committee approach. Goran Dragic takes the lead, but he gets tired. James Johnson and Justise Winslow try their best to pick up the slack. Even Kelly Olynyk contributes. It’s tough to criticize any one of them. They’re all good at it. But none is truly great, or reliable in the biggest of moments… The Heat have been somewhat unlucky in that regard. They had interest in drafting Donovan Mitchell, who has proven to be an excellent playmaker in his rookie season, with their No. 14 pick in last season’s draft, but the Utah Jazz traded up eleven spots to leapfrog Miami and snag him at pick No. 13. That was followed by the loss of (last year’s version of) Dion Waiters, whose emergence as a legitimate secondary playmaker with the ball in his hands, and the team’s best floor-spacing shooter without it, jump-started the Heat offense in the second half of last season.

It’s a team with a flawed roster construction. The Heat has SIX shooting guards on the roster (Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade and Dion Waiters), but not a single true point guard beyond Dragic. It also has just one small forward (Justise Winslow) who made huge strides this season but, depending upon how you view the evolution of his shooting stroke (and whether you feel the statistics belie the reality), may still not yet be starter-quality for a team that relies so heavily on spacing. It has two talented power forwards (James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk), but it pays starter-level money to both. And it has a temperamental starting center (Hassan Whiteside) with game-changing talent when engaged and utilized correctly – he’s a pick-and-roll guy (though he still hasn’t fully mastered the craft) who can excel setting hard screens in space and rolling to the basket for lobs, put-backs and garbage points; he’s not a back-to-the-basket guy – but only one teammate who has the skill-set to take advantage of it (Wade).

To cover it all up, the Heat leans heavily upon its versatility. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson are often asked to handle point guard duties on offense; but while Richardson can step around a closing defender and knock down a mid-range pull-up jumper, or even penetrate through the lane to finish with a sweeping lefty scoop layup, neither is particularly adept at collapsing defenses and creating offense for themselves or their teammates, and handling the ball in that capacity compromises their efficiency as shooters. Richardson, the team’s most versatile perimeter player, is also often tasked with shifting to small forward; but that has him shooting over longer and stronger players on offense and marginalizes his All-NBA-caliber production against like-sized players on defense. James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk often get their roles flipped; but that gets you a sub-optimal spacing threat in the starting lineup. And Whiteside often doesn’t play at all; but while that gets you better one-on-one interior and perimeter defense (from Bam Adebayo), it comes at the expense of imposing size and interior help-side defense, dominant rebounding (and the garbage points that come with it), and, when utilized effectively, what has the potential to be a solid framework in which to initiate the offense.

All of which leads to inconsistent offensive output – which far too often requires herculean, on-the-run three-point shooting outbursts by Wayne Ellington to bail itself out. There just isn’t enough talent for sustained offensive excellence.

What the team really needs is a star.

Stars take the pressure off. They revel in creating plays for themselves and others. They step up in the big moments. They extract the very best from quality role players.

The good news for the Heat is that there are plenty to be had this summer (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James, etc.), and at positions of need.

The problem for the Heat is that they have few resources with which to get one. Signing one requires cap space and a willingness on behalf of the player. Trading for one requires trade assets (and perhaps a willingness on behalf the player to commit to stay over the longer-term). Acquiring one via sign-and-trade requires a willingness, trade assets, and adherence to a hard cap on spending. All of which would be extraordinarily challenging for a Heat team without a whole lot of flexibility.

If the Heat were to round out a 14-player roster through free agency in the cheapest possible way this summer, they’d end up with a team salary between $124M and $126M, depending upon whether Olynyk and/or Waiters collect their bonus money. That’s already higher than the $123M projected luxury tax threshold, and that’s before even dealing with Ellington… let alone improving the roster.

The Heat can retain Ellington if they choose. He’s coming off his best season as a pro but, having earned $25M over his first nine NBA seasons, he’s turning 31 in November. He’ll want what could be his last chance at a sizeable contract. Miami can leverage his Bird rights to offer him a salary of up to $7.5M on a one-year deal, or a starting salary of up to $11.0M on a deal that lasts between two and four years. That would surely be enough. The bigger issue is with the luxury tax. Each dollar over the minimum only increases the team’s luxury tax burden. The Heat would surely love to bring him back, but do they want to be spending even more luxury tax dollars to do it?

The Heat also have access to exception money, which they can deploy if they choose. They’ll have access to both the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($8.6M starting salary, up to four years) and Bi-Annual Exception ($3.4M, up to two years). But using either one would subject the team to a hard cap on spending at the apron (projected at $129M). They could also choose to bypass these exceptions and instead utilize the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($5.3M, up to three years), which would provide greater flexibility without the brick wall on spending. But again, do you think the Heat are likely to utilize any one of these exceptions without first somehow reducing their team salary?

Which leads to the third option: Trade scenarios… whether to improve the roster, to shed salary, or both.

You can bet Micky Arison doesn’t want to be paying the luxury tax next season. Not for this team anyway. If the Heat were somehow able to grab a star, he’d gladly do it (and make just about anyone or anything available to get it done). But without a clear path toward title contention, he will be reluctant. As any NBA owner would be. Which leads to one likely conclusion: Pat Riley will, as always, battle for all the best free agents and possible trade targets this summer and, if he fails, a primary focus for the team to start the summer could be to shed salary.

It’s not just about avoiding the luxury tax for next season. It’s also about avoiding the luxury tax for 2019-20. The Heat already have as much as $121M in guaranteed salary to just nine players for that season (assuming all options are exercised). A mid-round 2019 first-round pick — which feels like it’s coming — would cause Miami to cross the projected tax threshold ($131M) that season as well. And that’s before even dealing with Winslow.

The oddity of it all is that the Heat knew precisely what they were getting into when they doled out $205M in new long-term free agent money last July, with the current tax line projections for each of the next two seasons remaining unchanged since then.

Nevertheless, this is very much a middling team in luxury tax hell. Which makes just about everyone a potential trade target, depending upon the circumstances (whether it’s to make this team better, clear positional logjams and/or reduce team salary), and several facing key challenges.

Whiteside was a dominant force when he signed his four-year, $98.4M contract. But after a strong first season under it, the Heat has allocated a somewhat befuddling number of minutes to him — fewer total minutes than rookie Bam Adebayo, who started the season out of the rotation entirely. Part of that was due to injury. But some of it was also by choice. Whiteside is a polarizing figure. He can deliver game-changing performances at times, but if he’s not involved or performing well, he can be virtually unplayable and highly temperamental. He constantly wants the ball in the post, but he’s largely a pick-and-roll type player. And since really only Wade has the skill-set to consistently capitalize on that, he’s often left sullen and unsatisfied. It’s tough to get a read on the Heat’s intentions with him, and whether Spoelstra’s match those of Riley. Perhaps the Heat are increasingly inching closer to trying to move on, and giving Adebayo his shot. But the Heat’s decisions as to how to utilize him, and his play when he was so utilized, has cratered his trade value before what the Heat brass likely things is fair. They’ll surely want something of value in return (or, at the very least, not to have to give up something of value to make it so), and that won’t be easy.

Tyler Johnson could be even harder to move. The Heat have been subtly trying for more than a year. While he’s a solid two-way player, his $19.2M payouts in each of the next two seasons, $38.5M total, are nowhere near market value. His contract also contains a 15% trade bonus which, if he were to be traded this summer, would pay out another $2.9M. Johnson would have the sole power to reduce or eliminate it (which gives him a small degree of leverage over his trade destination), but, if he doesn’t, the Heat would need to pay it, and the team to which he’s traded would need to add it to his cap hit(s). If he’s traded prior to July 1, the bonus would be spread evenly over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, bringing his cap hits to $7.3M and $20.7M, respectively. If he’s traded after July 1, the bonus would be allocated exclusively to the 2018-19 season, bringing his cap hit to $22.1M. His cap hit for 2019-20, assuming he ultimately exercises his player option, would remain at $19.2M. He’s also highly injury prone, and may even need surgery this summer to repair this damaged left thumb.

James Johnson is every bit the two-way talent he was when Miami signed him to his four-year, $60.0M contract last summer — an underrated downhill attacker of the basket, who we lovingly wish could be just a bit better with his outside shooting, and a highly skilled and versatile defender — but he’ll be 34 years old collecting $16.0M by the time it runs out.

Waiters never really got the chance to prove the second half of last season wasn’t a fluke. The start to the season was not promising. He certainly has a chance to outplay his deal when healthy, but there’s a ton of risk in taking on the three years and $39M+ remaining on it. It’s not even clear if he’ll be ready for training camp.

Olynyk has his own 5% trade bonus, which would pay out $1.1M if he’s traded this summer, but doing so would starve the team of much-needed floor spacing. The Heat would surely be reluctant to do that.

Richardson’s issue is not so much a challenge but an opportunity. The Heat surely don’t want to trade him either. But if he is to be traded prior to July 1, his outgoing salary for trade purposes would be $1.5M (his 2017-18 salary). If he’s traded after July 1, it jumps to $9.4M (his 2018-19 salary). There’s some salary-matching gamesmanship to be had there.

So how can the Heat facilitate a salary-reducing trade (and hopefully improve at the same time)?

They can take back lesser salary in return for any traded player. Every other team in the NBA, except for those who would exceed the luxury tax line in doing so, could take on any one of the Heat’s eight-figure players and send back a player(s) making at least $5M less in return. The trade partner would effectively be buying down the cost of the Heat player, while the Heat would still be recognizing net savings equal to the difference in salaries.

They can throw in assets as a sweetener.

The Heat, in any potential trade they pursue this summer — whether it be to improve the roster, to dump salary, or both — could offer some combination of player assets, cash considerations, and/or draft picks. Potential player assets could include Goran Dragic (who would be eligible to be extended through 2020-21 in the context of a trade), Josh Richardson (whose 4-year extension kicks in next season), Justise Winslow (who is eligible to sign a rookie-scale extension starting in July, or could be made a restricted free agent in the summer of 2019 if not), Kelly Olynyk (who just completed the first season of his 4-year deal) and Bam Adebayo (who just completed the first season of his rookie-scale deal). Cash considerations are fully depleted for the current salary cap year, but will be replenished with the full $5.2M allocation starting in July. As for draft picks, while the Heat can’t currently trade away any first-rounders until the 2023 draft, they will become eligible to trade their 2019 first-round pick after their 2018 first-round pick, which they traded to the Phoenix Suns as part of the Goran Dragic trade, is utilized on June 21 (if they want to add any protections to it, though, they’d need to be creative). At that point, Miami will own six of its next seven first-round draft picks (all but 2021), of which as many as three will be eligible for trade (2019 and 2024 OR 2019, 2023 and 2025). Miami has already traded away most of its second-round picks, but still has its selections in 2022 and 2024 (31-55), both of which are available to trade, as will be its 2025 selection after its upcoming selection, currently owned by the Houston Rockets, is made in the June draft.

But Riley has to be careful in any potential pursuit to shed salary. It’s often very difficult to justify trading away assets to do so, particularly for a team that has so few of them to begin with, when the primary goal for doing so is financial. On the one hand, dumping big salary still won’t provide the team any material cap space for either of the next two seasons. On the other hand, it could incentivize the Heat to re-sign Ellington, utilize their available exceptions, and/or possibly even receive back a quality player in return.

Ultimately, if the Heat can’t identify an acceptable trade this summer that drops them below the tax line, you might find them employ some subtle salary cap management at the fringes. They only project to be as much as $3M over, which can be creatively squeezed out. Perhaps a finalized regular-season roster at 14 players (one below the 15-player max). Perhaps a few end-of-roster guys signed to minimum-salary contracts with the intention of being traded at the Feb. trade deadline. Perhaps a two-way contract that’s ultimately converted after they are. When it comes to the tax line, every dollar will count, and the Heat are masterful at sneaking below it.

However it works out, the hope is that a healthy return of Waiters, a fully immersed Olynyk, and the continued improvement of a solid group of Heat youngsters — Richardson, Winslow, Adebayo, etc. — could propel the team forward to bigger and better things next season and, with a 2019 first-round pick when it’s over, perhaps even bigger things thereafter. But that can be no doubt that such a team needs more. Much more.

And if the ultimate goal is to recover flexibility for a partial or complete rebuild through free agency, it’ll probably have to wait until at least the summer of 2020. Riley will have more than $50M of cap space then (excluding potential Winslow money), or what could possibly be an entirely clean slate in the summer of 2021. He’d be playing with fire though. If it were to fail, and these things tend to be very hit or miss, Miami still has that unprotected 2021 first-round pick it owes to the Phoenix Suns looming in the distance.

Note:
I would kindly as that if you utilize ideas from this post, even if you subsequently confirm them elsewhere, that you provide proper credit. 

Miami Heat: 2017-18 NBA Season Preview

The Miami Heat pulled off perhaps the greatest turnaround in NBA history this past season, following up an exasperating 11-30 first half with an 30-11 second half that was good for second-best in the league and made it the first team to ever fall more than 12 games under .500 and climb all the way back to even.

During those final 41 games, despite the lack of a (current or former) All-Star anywhere in the rotation, the Heat posted an astounding offensive efficiency (109.7 points per 100 possessions) that would, projected over the course of a full season, have ranked second best in its history.

They did it by trading star power for depth.

Lacking an All-Star caliber playmaker, they replaced it with a bunch of quality ones. Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and James Johnson each excelled at breaking down defenses, and then either finishing strong at the rim or passing out to open teammates along the perimeter.

Lacking a star three-point shooter to space the floor, they replaced it with a bunch of guys who had atypically strong shooting seasons. Luke Babbitt, Tyler Johnson, Waiters and Wayne Ellington each shot 40%+ plus from 3-point range after the All-Star break.

And they made it all coalesce by employing one of the most fundamental of basketball principles: drive, and kick.

The Heat drove to the basket more than any other team in the NBA last season (35.1 times per game). They became exceptionally proficient at collapsing the defense to stop their penetration, then passing back out to create open looks for teammates — which for the Heat led to numerous easy chances at the rim for Hassan Whiteside, and tons of open 3-pointers for its well-spaced perimeter shooters. When they knocked them down, they won. When they didn’t they lost.

The players that made it all happen? An unlikely collection of former D-Leaguers, second-rounders, and beaten-up first-round retreads performing collectively well above their individual talent levels. Perhaps unsustainably so.

Which made the Heat’s summer priority rather obvious: Identify that elusive All-Star who could would fit within the Heat culture and carry the team deep into the playoffs.

But when Gordon Hayward rejected his overtures this summer, Pat Riley was left with a decision to make: continue to roll the team’s cap space forward as he had done in each of the prior two summers, or use it to commit to his overachieving core and maybe squeeze out enough room for something extra.

Tyler Johnson’s contract, which explodes to $19 million next season, factored heavily on that decision. Riley had tried to offload it throughout the course of the past season, offering Johnson as the centerpiece of a proposed trade with the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka. The Magic quickly rejected. Johnson’s contract is essentially untradable.

Which effectively meant that Riley would be choosing between $40+ million of cap space this summer, or around half that much next summer. Which isn’t really much of a choice at all. So he went all in.

The Heat went on to use its cap space to lock in four players: Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson and Wayne Ellington.

Waiters locked in a four-year, $47 million deal, with up to another $5 million in potential bonus money if he is able to play in 70+ games each season. It would seem like an imminently reasonable contract if the 25-year-old is able to replicate the success he discovered during the second half of last season, perhaps trading a bit of his likely unsustainable efficiency from behind the three-point line with an increased efficiency at the rim. But he reported to training camp complaining of continued pain in same the left ankle for which he chose to bypass corrective surgery last March, which would’ve sidelined him for 8 – 10 months. This will be a major concern throughout the upcoming season (if not beyond). The Heat could come to regret this decision.

Olynyk signed a 4-year, $46 million deal, with up to another $6 million in potential bonus money if he plays 1,700 minutes per season. He should have no problem achieving that if he remains healthy. He’s a far more impactful and versatile version of McRoberts — a strong shooter, passer and play-maker with the potential to provide the type of spacing the Heat crave for its drive-and-kick offensive mentality but presumed initial starter Johnson struggles to provide. He should excel in Miami, and could ultimately transition toward a starting role. The Heat could come to really like this decision, particularly if he improves his defense.

Johnson locked in a four-year, $59 million deal, with up to another $1 million in potential bonus money if he meets certain conditioning related milestones. He can take over a game on offense in short bursts with his ability to put the ball on the floor and finish strong at the rim or make the quick pass, but on the whole his offensive impact is limited. He’s not the best floor spacer, which means he’s either dominating the ball or not doing very much at all. He’s an awesome defender — maybe the only person in the NBA capable of shutting down a player with the size, strength and speed of a LeBron James — but it doesn’t justify his contract. While the $14 million starting salary seems reasonable, he’ll be collecting $16 million as a 34-year-old by the time it’s all over. That’s be tough to swallow. Two years feels about right. It’s hard to justify anything more than three. The Heat could come to regret this decision.

Exercising Ellington’s $6.3 million team option took some salary cap genius, but it was well worth it. His three-point shooting efficiency isn’t quite among the league’s best, but that’s only because the shots he takes — and often makes — are incredibly difficult. He’s constantly moving without the basketball and shooting on the run when he gets it, which makes you sometimes wonder how he can even spot the rim let alone shoot a 30-inch basketball into the middle of it from 24 feet away. He is instant offense, and, for a team lacking a true star, at times its only offense. Even when he’s not firing, his mere presence on the court demands the respect of opposing defenses and therefore creates space for his teammates. Even as a soon-to-be 30-year-old, he remains a critical component for the Heat. The Heat will retain his Early Bird rights as a free agent next summer, which will surely be more than enough to retain him in the future. But that’s far from guaranteed at this point.

After all of its cap space was used up, the Heat leveraged new rules from the recently-executed 2017 collective bargaining agreement to give Josh Richardson a 4-year, $42 million extension, which kicks in for the 2018-19 season. It’s a sound investment (particularly when considering that interested parties with potential cap space (e.g., the Philadelphia 76ers) could be lurking). Richardson is already an All-NBA caliber defender — he leverages his long, wiry frame and quick feet to stifle his defensive assignment, having held the man he was guarding to 41.0% shooting (215 for 524), ninth-best among 135 NBA guards who defended at least 300 shots, last season — which alone is worth many millions. The progression of his offense game, however, will determine the arc of his career. He shot 46% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in 2015-16, positioning himself as a potential powerhouse 3&D role player, but he followed it up shooting just 34% in twice as many such situation last season. If he levels off at around the midpoint, he’ll be a perennial starter. If playmaking skills emerge as the Heat envision they will, he could become much more. But, to find success, he’ll need to overcome continued positional problems for the Heat. Having not addressed the small forward position in the offseason, Miami will force Richardson into the role — which will force him to fire his shots over taller defenders on offense, and force him to guard more physical players on defense.

***

Riley has locked in a solid and deep nucleus, which includes Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside. All except Ellington are either under contract or Heat control for at least the next three seasons (when including options). Any way you mix and match it — and Erik Spoelstra will try just about everything — it should produce a solid starting unit and a deep bench.

But he’s also locked in a very expensive nucleus. The cost of depth is, well, the heavy cost. The guaranteed money alone already causes the Heat’s payroll to cross the projected luxury tax line for 2018-19, more-so if Waiters and/or Olynyk were to earn their bonus money, and that’s before even contemplating Ellington, whom the Heat surely don’t want to lose.

But Micky Arison doesn’t want to be paying the tax either. Not for this team anyway. It’s a playoff team, and a potentially exciting one at that. But it’s also one without a bona fide star, with an offensive philosophy to which defenses will surely adjust.

To avoid the possibility of paying the tax, the Heat will likely need to dump several million dollars in salary. To do so and retain Ellington, they’ll likely have to dump salaries into the eight-figure range.

Expect Pat Riley to be active on the trade market as a result.

He doesn’t have much in the way of draft picks to facilitate any such trades — he won’t be eligible to trade any first-round picks until 2023 during the course of the upcoming season (a result of having traded away the team’s 2018 and 2021 first-round picks to the Phoenix Suns) or any second-round picks until 2022 (a result of having traded away each of its second-round picks through the 2021 draft).

What he does have is a collection of youngsters on what could be considered bargain contracts if they have breakout seasons. After years of protecting cap space, he’s hoping that becomes his new version of “flexibility.” But whether he can leverage that “flexibility” to achieve his objectives is unclear at this point. He’s probably looking to add star power and dump substantial salary. Which won’t be easy.

Things will get a bit easier after the upcoming draft in June, though, when the Heat’s 2019 first-round will become tradable(1). If he’s not able to complete any trades during the course of the season — expect Tyler Johnson to once again be made available in trade, with the Heat potentially even willing to take back a bad contract to partially offset his subsantial future cap hits — it’s not all that difficult to project him using it, if necessary.

It feels as if this team was constructed as the hopeful prelude to something more. But in the absence of that, it’s still an intriguing team to evaluate, given that the whole is so incredibly much more than the sum of its somewhat imbalanced parts.

The Heat has a ton of playmakers, but none to really count on to lead the offense over the duration of a 48-minute basketball game. The Heat has a ton of youngsters with the potential to develop into awesome three-point shooters, but none of whom who has consistently proven it and all of whom (other than Ellington) who require set feet and space to launch.

Offensive output will be choppy at times. Defense will carry it through.

This is a 45-win basketball team on shear effort alone, with the potential for five or so game swing depending upon how things break. It’s not a powerhouse. But it will be fun. And it will be entertaining.

It’ll also be expensive. That is what the Heat has now seemingly locked in for the next several years. If it wants to be more, Riley will have to pull out some trade magic.

Can he? Will he? Only time will tell.

Notes:
(1) This assumes the Heat’s 2018 first-round pick, which is top-7 protected, is conferred. 

Kyrie Irving Reportedly Requesting Trade Out of Cleveland, Lists Miami Heat as a Preferred Destination

Just when we thought a wild NBA offseason was finally winding down, another stunner was delivered last Friday with the disclosure by ESPN that four-time All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving has asked the Cleveland Cavaliers to trade him.

Irving reportedly made the request to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert because he no longer wants to play a secondary role to LeBron James, and would have little interest in leading the shell of a team that would remain if James should choose to leave when his contract expires after next season.

James has always been proactive in maintaining his flexibility to shift course, having already been linked to possibly joining the Los Angeles Lakers next summer, which has caused Irving to be proactive about his desire to do the same. After agreeing to sign what would become a five-year $94.3 million extension with the Cavaliers in July 2014, Irving was forced to surrender being the face of the franchise when James agreed to return home just 10 days later. After winning a title together, and watching Russell Westbrook and James Harden do their thing last season, Irving wants that opportunity back. A trade would give him the chance to test drive his new team for a bit before committing to a long-term future. Among the preferred destinations he reportedly communicated to Gilbert are the Miami Heat, along with the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Irving has two years and $39.0 million remaining on his contract, excluding a player option for a third year he is likely to decline. His contract also contains a 15% trade kicker that would pay him up to $5.8 million (with the associated cap hits allocated equally to the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons), which he could choose to reduce or eliminate in the event of a trade.

The Cavaliers, however, are certainly not obligated to honor Irving’s trade request. And they are certainly not obligated to comply with his preferred trade destinations if they do. With an acquiring team assured of at least two seasons of his services at pre-cap-explosion prices, the list of potentially interested suitors could be substantial.

Incoming general manager Koby Altman will surely test the market, but will surely also be thorough and deliberate in his attempts to secure maximum value in return for a player he need not trade (at least until after Dec. 15, when most recent free agent signees become available for trade, or beyond) if he doesn’t receive a compelling offer.

Altman will first need to determine what would constitute a compelling offer. Irving’s trade request intensifies an already highly complex situation for the Cavaliers. Despite their recent dysfunction, Cleveland remains a heavy favorite to reach the NBA Finals. But they have also amassed what projects to be the most expensive team in NBA history next season, for what could be another futile attempt to compete with a Golden State Warriors team that could well be the best construct in NBA history. And when it’s all over, James could walk in free agency, leaving behind a flawed and bloated roster that was designed to complement a former player. Which means that Altman may seek out not only a quality replacement for Irving so that the team can compete this season but also cap relief and, perhaps most importantly, assets for a rebuilding process.  Continue reading “Kyrie Irving Reportedly Requesting Trade Out of Cleveland, Lists Miami Heat as a Preferred Destination”

The Miami Heat, Creatively, Locks In Its Vision for the Future

Pat Riley’s goal for this summer was clearly to sign Gordon Hayward. It had been that way for quite a while. He downplayed it because, well, it was always going to be exceedingly difficult to execute.

Hayward tugged at our heartstrings for a few weeks, when reports emerged that allowed us to believe it was actually possible. For a couple days in there, even likely. But, in the end, the Heat finished right where it was always going to finish. In third. Behind the two, Boston and Utah, who were always going to finish 1-2 (in whatever order).

Riley was prepared. We all were.

The non-Hayward plan: Re-sign Dion Waiters and James Johnson, and try to squeeze out some extra cap room for whatever else might come along.

Perhaps it wasn’t the most exhilarating plan, but it was grounded in something real.

Despite an exasperating 11-30 start to the 2016-17 season, the Heat pulled off an unprecedented reversal in its final 41 games, posting a 30-11 mark that was good for second-best in the league and made it the first team to ever fall more than 12 games under .500 and climb all the way back to even.

They did it by employing the most fundamental of basketball principles: drive, and kick.

The Heat drove to the basket more than any other team in the NBA last season (35.1 times per game), and no single pair of teammates did it more frequently than Dragic (11.9 per game) and Waiters (11.0 per game). Only two players in the league averaged more drives per game than Dragic (Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder) and only two others more than Waiters (John Wall and Russell Westbrook).

What made the philosophy work so well for the Heat was not that they were lethal scorers at the rim. They weren’t. Waiters, in fact, shot a rather awful 42.8% when driving last season (surely an area for improvement this season). What made it work so well is that they both passed so much. When they drove, they passed the ball a combined 44% of the time.

Dragic and Waiters each became exceptionally proficient at collapsing the defense to stop their penetration, then passing back out to create open looks for teammates — which for the Heat led to numerous easy chances at the rim for Hassan Whiteside, and tons of open 3-pointers for its well-spaced perimeter shooters.  Continue reading “The Miami Heat, Creatively, Locks In Its Vision for the Future”