MINNEAPOLIS - The Heat on Monday released forward Derrick Williams in order to keep emerging forward Okaro White, sources told The Miami Herald this morning.
White’s second 10-day contract expired on Sunday, and Miami’s only options were to sign him for the remainder of the season or risk losing him should another NBA team claim him.
White was at the team’s shootaround at Target Center on Monday but not permitted to participate or speak to reporters until his new contract is finalized.
Miami opted to sign White to a two-year contract, with NBA rules for capped out teams prohibiting a longer deal, according to cap expert Albert Nahmad.
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Per sources, White will be guaranteed 25 percent of his $1.3 million salary if he’s on the team July 1, another 25 percent if he’s on the team Aug. 1, and be guaranteed his full $1.3 million salary if he’s on the opening night roster next season.
The Heat had been carrying White as a 16th player after receiving an injured player’s exception, but the NBA said Miami needed to create a roster spot to keep White beyond Sunday.
The Heat explored trading Williams in recent days but was unable to find a taker.
The Heat knew Williams wanted to play, and he appreciated Miami releasing him, sources said. Washington is among teams expected to have interest.
“Pat Riley is a man of his word,” Williams tweeted. “Ultimate respect.”
Trading Williams would have given the Heat a chance to add a $4.6 million trade exception and also allowed the Heat to use his contract in any trade made before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
But the Heat has been was fearful that White could be picked up by another team off waivers.
White has averaged 4.1 points and 2.6 rebounds and 16.4 minutes per game in nine appearances. He shot 48 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three-point range.
Williams averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 25 games, including 11 starts, and averaged 15.1 minutes per appearance.
He played in only 13 minutes in Miami’s last 12 games.
The Heat signed Williams to a one-year, $5 million contract last July.
The 6-foot-9 White, who went undrafted out of Florida State in 2014, has impressed the Heat with his length, versatility, defense and three-point game.
Erik Spoelstra, while not able to comment on the roster moves on Monday morning, said White has clearly improved since last summer.
“He's committed to working at it and embracing our emphasis on defense,” Spoelstra said. “He'll get better. He's going to be a very good shooter, but that's not the emphasis right now. Being a committed, effort energy defender, let the ball facililitate when he's out there offensively. I will never tell him not to take an open shot, because I think he's a very good shooter.”
Heat guard Goran Dragic compared his skills to Shane Battier’s.
“He's not the same player but he's got similar game,” Dragic said Monday. “Long, good defender, good shooter.”
White played several key fourth-minute stretches during his 20 days with the team.
After being cut by Miami at the end of preseason, White began the season with the Heat’s D-League team in Sioux Falls, S.D., and appeared in 23 games, averaging 18.4 points and 8.7 rebounds.
White spent last season with Aris B.C. of the Greek Basketball League, appearing in 35 games and averaged 13.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.57 steals and 26.8 minutes while shooting 49.1 percent from the field.
He was selected as the Greek Basketball Player of the Year and named to the All-Greek A1 League First Team, All-Defensive Team and All-Imports teams.
White stands to be simply the latest in a long line of Heat developmental success stories.
“We want to invest our time and resources in players who want to explore being the best they can possibly become,” Spoelstra said. “We're going to give them everything we have.We have a great track record for it. We do it a little bit differently. Not saying we do it better or worse than other teams. We just do it differently. The D-League is extremely important for us. We develop guys. We've proven they can be down there for three months and all of a sudden be in our rotation with us.”
The Heat on Sunday took both White and Williams on its flight to Minneapolis, where Miami will play the Timberwolves on Monday. Williams left the team on Monday.