As the Heat tries to overcome a difficult remaining schedule, it’s already attempting to avoid two ignominious distinctions:
If Miami (38-39) cannot climb above .500, the Heat would have the highest payroll in NBA history for a team without a winning record.
And regardless of its final record, Miami is in serious jeopardy of becoming the NBA’s most expensive non-playoff team ever. The Heat stands eighth in the East but has a more difficult remaining schedule than No. 9 Orlando.
With a payroll of $125 million (per spotrac.com), the Heat is the 12th most expensive team in NBA history. But none of the other 11 had records anywhere near as mediocre as the Heat’s. (Two teams just below the Heat in payroll this season — Washington and Cleveland — are having bad seasons and will miss the playoffs.)
And Miami’s payroll actually rose to $126 million on Monday with Kelly Olynyk collecting a $1 million bonus for reaching the 1,700 minute mark.
Miami isn’t the worst most expensive team ever; that distinction goes to the 2005-06 New York Knicks, who had a $124 million payroll and finished 23-59. And that $124 million included $19.1 million for Allan Houston, who announced his retirement shortly before that season but was paid anyway.
The Heat will pay a small luxury tax payment this season, which was assured when Olynyk achieved his bonus Monday.
For perspective, more than 110 teams have paid luxury tax bills since 2001, and 22 have finished with a losing record. Two of those have been Heat teams, which paid a $5.2 million tax in the wake of going 25-57 in 2003-03 and an $8.3 million tax while going 15-67 in 2007-08.
The only teams with higher payrolls this season than the Heat, following the trade deadline, are Oklahoma City, Golden State, Toronto, Portland and Boston — all playoff-bound teams.
And there’s no relief next season. The Heat has six of the NBA’s 104 highest paid players this season (led by Hassan Whiteside, who’s 27th) and is scheduled to have eight of the NBA’s 103 highest-paid players next season, that 7.8 percent (8 of 103) higher than any other team in the league.
At $27.1 million, Whiteside will be tied with Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond for the 25th highest salary in the league next year.
The Heat, in all, has eight players scheduled to make at least $10 million each next season. No other team has more than six. Ryan Anderson’s salary would be reduced from $21 million to $15.6 million if he is released by July 10, as expected.
Dragic, at $19.21, will be 49th, unless he exercises an opt-out in his contract. James Johnson ($15.1 million) will be 74th, Justise Winslow ($13 million) will rank 83rd, Dion Waiters ($13.3 million) will stand 91st, Olynyk ($13.1 million) will be 94th and Josh Richardson ($10.1 million) will be 103rd. Anderson would be 58th if he’s bought out.
Whiteside and Dragic have player options that give them the right to become free agents this offseason, but Whiteside isn’t expected to exercise the opt-out and there’s a good chance Dragic won’t, either.
This was a painful lesson for Heat management – especially if Miami barely misses the playoffs - and the franchise presumably has learned it must stop giving big money to average players off small sample sizes.
Even if the Heat misses the playoffs, it likely won’t result in a lottery reward. If Miami finishes with the second-best record among lottery teams, for example, the Heat would have just a one percent chance of landing the top pick in the weighted lottery and a 4.6 percent chance of a top four pick.
Realistically, the Heat could still “fall” to the third-worst record, which would carry a 1.5 percent chance of the top overall pick and a 7.1 percent of a top four pick.
So despite having strong management and coaching and some good young pieces, the Heat remains precisely where no franchise ideally wants to be – good enough to likely not get an elite player in the draft but bad enough to miss the playoffs or be first-round fodder for a contender.
Here’s my piece Tuesday on the teams competing for three playoff spots in the East, their schedules and tiebreakers, plus notes on Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Bam Adebayo.