September 25, 2022

After the Miami Heat suddenly ended their season one win away from reaching the NBA Finals, the front office had a choice to make: step back from being so close to a championship or make big changes to reinvigorate the team.

It looks like the organization’s top decision makers have decided to relaunch it…for now. Throughout this time, the Heat have made it a priority to protect their core assets and maintain salary cap flexibility to put themselves in a position to actively participate in the trade market should a superstar become available.

So far in free agency, the Heat have re-signed three players at center Dewayne Dedmon, forward Caleb Martin and guard Victor Oladipo. Miami has yet to add an outside free agent.

In fact, the only player currently on the Heat’s 15-man roster for this upcoming season who wasn’t on this year’s season-ending roster is rookie forward Nikola Jovic, who was drafted by Miami with the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft. And the only player currently missing from the Heat’s 15-man roster for this upcoming season who was on this year’s season-ending roster is forward PJ Tucker, who left to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency. .

“I can’t wait to get him back,” Oladipo said in a Zoom call with reporters Thursday morning after signing his new contract with the Heat. “I felt like we had a really good, solid opportunity to get to the final last year, and that’s the goal this year is to get there and be successful. . So I’m happy to be able to be part of this journey and this process to try to make it happen.

A week in free agency, the Heat entered Thursday with a nearly complete roster for next season with 13 players signed under standard contract: Jimmy Butler ($37.7 million), Bam Adebayo ($30.4 million), Kyle Lowry ($28.3 million), Duncan Robinson ($16.9 million), Oladipo ($8.5 million), Martin ($6.5 million), Tyler Herro ($5.7 million dollars), Dedmon ($4.3 million), Jovic ($2.2 million), Max Strus ($1.8 million), Gabe Vincent ($1.8 million), Omer Yurtseven (1, $8 million) and Haywood Highsmith (partially guaranteed $1.8 million).

Guards Javonte Smart and Mychal Mulder, who both play in the summer league, currently hold the Heat’s two two-way contracts. Two-way agreements do not count towards the salary cap.

The Heat have about $147.7 million committed to next season’s salaries, with the NBA setting the 2022-23 salary cap at $123.7 million and the luxury tax threshold at $150.3 million. .

With about $2.6 million separating the Heat from entering the luxury tax, it has just enough room to sign a 14th player on a minimum contract without becoming a tax team.

The Heat created that space under the luxury tax by renegotiating with Oladipo to make a change to the one-year, $11 million contract he agreed to on the first day of free agency last week. The Heat and Oladipo met on Wednesday to restructure the terms of a two-year deal worth around $18 million, according to a league source, which includes a smaller first-season salary. worth about $8.5 million and a player option in Season Two.

“It was just the best deal for me, I feel like,” Oladipo said. “It seemed like a lot of people were turning away from me [because of my injury history]. So I think coming back here and playing with the Heat was the best option for me.

Why would the Heat do that? Lowering Oladipo’s cap to about $2.5 million for this upcoming season gives the team just enough room to use a minimum contract on a 14th player while still under the tax to push back to again the time on the impending repeat punitive tax (when a team has completed the tax at least three times during a four-year period). It also provides additional leeway against a potential hard cap that would be triggered by spending more mid-level exception money, using the $4.1 semi-annual exception or a sign-and-trade acquisition.

Why would Oladipo do this? While accepting a lower salary in the first season, this new contract offers a player who has had two knee surgeries in the last four years a little more long-term security with a player option that should be worth around 9 .5 million in the second year. . If Oladipo stays healthy and outperforms the deal this coming season, he can step down and sign a more lucrative free agency contract next offseason.

“I really believe I can be better than I was,” said Oladipo, who was named All-Star Game, NBA All-Defensive First Team and All-NBA Third Team in 2017-18 as a member of the Indiana Pacers. before his two knee surgeries. “It might sound crazy to everyone, but I kind of have that mentality and I can live with the results after that because I’m going to push myself to be that.

“I think the biggest goal for me is just to show everyone that I’m healthy and I can play a whole year and also to show everyone that I’m one of the best players in the game. this league. So everything else will take care of itself and that’s what I’m focusing on.

With just enough room to sign a 14th player on a minimum contract, it could be as simple as the Heat bringing back veteran forward and team captain Udonis Haslem for a 20th NBA season to fill that opening. If Haslem decides to continue his playing career, his veteran minimum hit cap would be $1.8 million and would push Miami within $1 million of entering the tax.

That’s why the Heat could start this upcoming season with just 14 players on standard contracts, not including the two players on two-way deals.

Going into the season with 14 players is slightly less than the NBA’s regular season maximum of 15 players, but still acceptable under NBA roster rules. Miami has gone with 14 players in previous seasons facing the luxury tax or hard cap.

Haslem and forward Markieff Morris are the only two players from the Heat’s late-season roster who remain available in free agency.

Through it all, however, the Heat have yet to sacrifice any of their best trade chips.

Miami is still currently eligible to include two unprotected first-round picks in 2023 and 2028 or 2029 in a deal, and could open up a third unprotected first-round pick to throw in a trade if it changes lottery protections at the first round of 2025 selection he owes to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And after bringing back Dedmon with a salary of $4.3 million in 2022-23, Martin with a salary of $6.5 million in 2022-23 and Oladipo with a salary of $8.5 million in 2022- 23, the Heat added “mid-range salaries” it could trade to help facilitate trades for salary-matching purposes.

It should be noted, however, that Dedmon and Oladipo are not eligible to be traded until January 15 and Oladipo also cannot be traded without his consent this season. Martin becomes eligible to be traded on December 15.

So, as it looks like the Kevin Durant draw could drag on for weeks with teams struggling to meet the Brooklyn Nets’ insanely high asking price for the superstar and the uncertainty still surrounding the situation of Donovan Mitchell with the Utah Jazz, the Heat are moving forward with a roster that looks a lot like last season…for now.

This story was originally published July 7, 2022 12:35 p.m.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.