Friday is the deadline league wide to exercise player, team or early-termination options. The Heat doesn’t have any players who have contract issues to work out in that regard, but if there is an outside chance of four-time league MVP LeBron James coming back to South Florida for next season Friday’s deadline is important for Miami.
If James, 33, opts into his $35.6 million contract for next season with the Cavaliers the Heat could work out a trade for James by matching salaries of players on the roster. But if James opts to become a free agent Miami has no chance at signing him outright. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said earlier this week there was an outside shot James could choose the Heat.
The Lakers and Cavaliers, however, remain the favored future destinations of James, who spent the weekend in South Florida with his eldest son who was involved in a local AAU basketball tournament.
With 10 players already under contract for close to $120 million team president Pat Riley said last week he will not be out pounding the pavement when free agency begins and will be trying to stay under the league’s $123 million luxury tax line. He said it could be a quiet summer for the Heat.
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The Heat has two key rotation players from last season’s first round playoff team who are free agents: 12-time All-Star and 36-year-old Dwyane Wade and 30-year-old three-point specialist Wayne Ellington, who set an NBA record for three-pointers off the bench last season.
Wade could come back for the team’s $5.2 midlevel exception.
Ellington, though, will fetch interest on the open market and could end up out of the Heat’s price range.
The Heat has Ellington’s early Bird rights, which allows them to exceed the cap and pay him 175 percent of his current salary (or as much as $10.9 million next season). But it would put the Heat into the luxury tax, something Riley does not want to do.
The Heat, though, would have until the end of the regular season to get back under the luxury tax line and that’s something the team could explore.
“There’s no doubt that we want him back,” Riley said last Thursday. “It’s how do we get him back and deal with the tax threshold. If we signed Wayne and he takes us into the tax, then that guy right over there [general manager Andy Elisburg] has 15 months to get us out.”
▪The Heat made a minor business move Wednesday extending a qualifying offer to two-way contract player Derrick Walton Jr., making him a restricted free agent and allowing Miami to match any offers he receives when free agency begins shortly after the stroke of midnight Sunday.
The news does not mean Walton Jr., who played in 16 regular-season games with the Heat, will be part of the team’s 15-man roster next season. It’s simply another two-way contract worth $77,250.
Miami can now decide whether to bring the 23-year-old point guard back for another two-way season (players are allowed to sign up to three NBA two-way contracts with the same team) or let Walton Jr. walk if he receives an offer as a restricted free agent that the team is unwilling to match.
Walton averaged 16.1 points and 7.0 assists in 27 games with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce in South Dakota last season and will play for the Heat’s summer league team, which opens play Monday in Sacramento. Center Bam Adebayo, the team’s 2017 first-round pick, and two-way forward Derrick Jones Jr. are also playing on the Heat’s summer league team.
▪ VCU forward Justin Tillman (18.9 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game as a senior) and 28-year-old former Ball State power forward Jarrod Jones, who has spent the last six seasons playing overseas in Europe, were added to the summer league roster over the weekend.
▪ Unless the Heat makes a surprising decision to waive him, guard Rodney McGruder will have his $1.5 million contract for next season guaranteed on Saturday.