The Heat reduced its roster to the league-maximum 15 players on Saturday by cutting five players who were expected to be jettisoned, and Miami also amended the contract of swingman James Ennis, with the understanding that Ennis will be on the opening night roster, according to league sources.
The players released: forwards Keith Benson and Greg Whittington, and guards Tre Kelley, John Lucas III and Briante Weber. Several of those players are expected to join the Heat’s D-League affiliate in South Dakota, though they can be claimed by another NBA team at any time.
Ennis’ contract, which had been altered in July after he struggled during NBA Summer League, had called for his entire $845,059 salary to be guaranteed on opening night of the regular season, Wednesday against visiting Charlotte.
Ennis' agent, Scott Nichols, said 40 percent of his contract nlow will be guaranteed opening night, with the rest guaranteed if he's on the team Jan. 10.
The move gives the Heat more time to evaluate Ennis, a potentially slightly smaller luxury tax burden and flexibility with its 15th roster spot.
The Heat also moved up the team option on Ennis’ $980,431 contract for 2016-17 from Aug. 1 to before the start of free agency on July 1.
Ennis sustained a dislocated finger on his left hand in Miami’s exhibition finale against New Orleans on Friday, but the injury is not considered long-term.
The Heat likes Ennis’ athleticism and skill set and wasn’t ready to give up on him after he showed potential as a rookie last season and had some good moments this preseason.
Saturday’s move leaves the Heat with six power rotation players (Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Amar’e Stoudemire, Josh McRoberts, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem) and nine wing players: Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, Gerald Green, Mario Chalmers, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Ennis.
The Heat had explored trading Chalmers and Andersen in recent months in order to lower its substantial luxury tax burden. Luxury tax charges for next summer are based on a team’s roster on the final day of the upcoming regular season.
According to hoopshype.com, the Heat will enter the season with the league’s third-highest payroll at $93.3 million, behind Cleveland ($94.9 million) and Oklahoma City ($94.7 million).
The league’s luxury tax threshold is $84.7 million, but the Heat must pay a tax substantially more than the typical dollar penalty for each dollar above the threshold because Miami is a repeater tax team, having surpassed the threshold three of the past four seasons.