Concerns began while the sting of April’s collapse was still fresh.
Only a few days after the regular season ended in disappointment, key figures of the Heat’s front office, including team president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg, met to begin preparing for the 2015-16 season. From the start, they knew some tough decisions loomed in the distance. Depending on how free agency played out the first week of July, there was a possibility the team’s payroll would spike well above the luxury-tax threshold. If that happened, then losing some beloved players would almost be unavoidable.
After signing guards Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade last week, the Heat is now facing that reality. As presently constructed, the Heat’s roster is projected to cost team owner Micky Arison around $30 million in tax penalties. In other words, the celebration of the Heat’s recent haul in free agency might not last long.
For weeks, rumors have persisted around the NBA that the Heat might be willing to trade away players to slash payroll. Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen, Shabazz Napier and even Josh McRoberts have been linked to speculation. Then came Thursday and Friday and the free agent signings of Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire. Those moves pushed the Heat’s current roster to 17 players.
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So now, two players must go.
“This is also a business as much as it is about basketball,” Riley forewarned before the start of free agency.
The Heat can carry 20 players into training camp, but the team hopes to have this difficult business of roster whittling done long before then. Green and Stoudemire both signed for the veteran’s minimum, which potentially could reduce the luxury-tax penalty by millions if Andersen and Chalmers are moved.
Chalmers and Andersen seem to be the most likely trade pieces, but why them?
Like Riley said, it has more to do with money than anything. Chalmers is set to make $4.3 million next season and Andersen is on the books for $5 million. Those contracts alone could cost the Heat around $23 million in taxes to the league.
Chalmers has won two championships with the Heat and Andersen was the midseason addition in 2013 that propelled the team to back-to-back titles, but although both of those players are cherished members of organization, they are also entering the final years of their contracts. In the NBA, it’s easier to trade players with expiring contracts.
When Riley dropped the names of Mike Miller and Joel Anthony a few weeks ago in a news conference, it was widely assumed the Heat was hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
In the summer of 2013, the Heat used its amnesty provision to wipe Miller’s contract off the books. That move discouraged some Heat players, including LeBron James, but saved Arison millions in taxes. Anthony’s contract was traded for the same reason during the middle of the season.
“Until we find out exactly were we are with our numbers, we like the team we have,” Riley said. “We also don’t like to add by subtraction either. We have a good team, and we have a great team if we can put everything together.”
As always, the Heat’s goal for this upcoming season is to win the NBA championship. Also as always, the team will need to do it within a strict but smart set of financial guidelines laid down by Riley and Arison. There’s actually a policy handbook the team’s executives consult when the process of building a roster starts to affect the business of running a franchise.
Those pages have been frayed from overuse in the past few years. This offseason, Riley perhaps at times wanted to rip some of those pages out. But the Heat hasn’t become one of the NBA’s most well run franchises by accident. The corporate culture established by Arison and Riley demands consistency if nothing else.
“Going into my 21st year of Micky and I, and without a doubt nothing has changed with what our philosophy is year in and year out,” Riley said. “Over those 20 years we truly have established what I think are great procedures, standards, policies, practice — all of those things I think an organization is built on, and we try to keep them going.”