Miami Heat

Mailbag: How can Heat pull off a trade for Russell Westbrook? A look at the possibility

The Miami Herald Heat mailbag is here to answer your questions. This week it’s all about, you guessed it, the possibility of trading for Russell Westbrook.

If you weren’t able to ask one this time, send your questions for future mailbags via Twitter (@Anthony_Chiang). You can also email me at achiang@miamiherald.com.

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Mike: What do I need to know about what the Heat needs to do to make this Russell Westbrook trade happen?

Anthony Chiang: The most important thing to know is the Heat needs to come out of any trade below the $138.9 million hard-cap apron. Because Miami had to go the sign-and-trade route to add Jimmy Butler, the Heat is hard capped for the rest of the season at that number.

The Heat now has 13 players under contract: Jimmy Butler (a 2019-20 salary of $32.7 million), Goran Dragic ($19.2 million), James Johnson ($15.3 million), Kelly Olynyk ($12.7 million), Justise Winslow ($13 million), Dion Waiters ($12.1 million), Meyers Leonard ($11.3 million), Bam Adebayo ($3.5 million), Derrick Jones Jr. ($1.6 million), Yante Maten ($1.4 million), Kendrick Nunn ($1.4 million), Duncan Robinson ($1.4 million) and KZ Okpala ($898,000). First-round pick Tyler Herro would become the 14th once he signs, and he is slotted to make about $3.6 million this upcoming season.

The bonuses of Olynyk and Waiters, and the $5.2 million owed to Ryan Anderson and the $350,000 owed to AJ Hammons from when the Heat used the “stretch provision” on them also needs to be included when calculating payroll for hard-cap purposes.

That means the Heat will be about $1 million under the hard cap after eventually signing Herro. That makes a trade for Westbrook somewhat complicated because the Heat must send the Thunder contracts at least equal in value to Westbrook’s $38.5 million salary for next season to stay under the hard cap when the deal is complete.

How can the Heat do that? A combination of Dragic ($19.2 million), Olynyk ($12.7 million) and Waiters ($12.1 million) gets that done, in a hypothetical scenario. Miami has enough sizable contracts on its roster to make this work, but it’s about whether Oklahoma City wants to take on that amount of money as part of the deal, considering the Thunder is already above the luxury tax line.

One way to avoid this is to include a third team in the trade. But no team has the remaining cap space to absorb a significant Heat contract to help Miami shed additional money to stay under the hard-cap threshold.

Danny: Is Westbrook really a negative asset like some say he is? He has averaged a triple-double in three straight seasons!

Anthony: It’s hard to believe that’s true, isn’t it? But Westbrook’s contract has a lot to do with that line of thinking. He’s scheduled to be paid $38.5 million this upcoming season, $41.4 million in 2020-21, $44.2 million in 2021-22 and holds a player option worth $47.1 million in 2022-23. That means Westbrook, who turns 31 in November, will be 34 in the final season of his current contract. For a player who relies so much on his athleticism, that’s certainly worth noting.

Also, what’s the market for Westbrook? That contract isn’t a fit for every team. It probably isn’t a fit for most teams, actually. Remember that NBA rules say free agents who signed this offseason are not eligible to be traded until Dec. 15, which rules out a lot of players around the league as options for the Thunder unless it’s willing to wait until the middle of the season to deal Westbrook. The thinking is Oklahoma City wants to get this done before the start of the season, though.

If there isn’t much of a market out there for Westbrook, the Heat could find itself in a position of leverage. Would Miami really be able to make this deal without breaking up its young core (Adebayo, Herro, Jones, Winslow)?

@Ty_TooFly: Who’s one player you definitely don’t wanna give up for Russell?

Anthony: I would draw the line at Adebayo. If the Heat ends up with a Butler-Westbrook pairing, they are going to need a capable big (and shooting, obviously) to play with. Adebayo projects to be an ideal big man in today’s NBA. He can defend multiple positions at a high level, can rebound, doesn’t need plays run for him to make an offensive impact, can run the floor, sets solid screens and is an above-average passer for his position. Plus, he still has the potential to expand his game, as he has shown glimpses of being able to stretch the floor with an outside shot that’s still a work in progress. Oh, and he’s just 21 and is due a team-friendly $3.5 million next season and $5.1 million in 2020-21.

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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.
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