In a financially-driven move, the Heat released swingman Rodney McGruder on Sunday, less than two hours after he played 22 minutes of a critical loss to the Toronto Raptors.
The Heat made the move hoping another team would claim his expiring contract worth $1.5 million this season. If another team claims him off waivers (and the Heat has strongly been led to believe that will happen), Miami would avoid paying a luxury tax this season – which has become a priority with the Heat facing long playoff odds.
McGruder is not playoff-eligible, but a team claiming him would get his Bird rights, an incentive for another team to claim him.
McGruder is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and though the Heat hasn’t offered him a new deal, Miami likes McGruder and would be interested in talking to him about a deal this summer. But by cutting him, Miami loses his Bird Rights, which makes a new deal less likely unless Miami gives him a share of the taxpayer midlevel.
McGruder appeared in 65 games and started 45 for the Heat this season, averaging 7.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists, while averaging 23.5 minutes and shooting 40.7 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three-point range.
He appeared in 161 games for the Heat over three seasons, with 112 starts, and averaged 6.8 points.
McGruder helped lead the Heat’s G-League affiliate to a championship in 2015-16, then earned a contract with the Heat after impressing Miami in Summer League play in 2016.
He was the second player to be used off the bench in Sunday’s 117-109 loss and scored two points on 1 for 6 shooting, with six rebounds, with the Heat outscoring Toronto by eight points with him in the game.
He entered with 40 seconds left in overtime on Sunday and was in the game when it concluded.
The Heat thought it would be paying a luxury tax when Kelly Olynyk reached the 1700 minute mark on Monday, thus guaranteeing him a $1 million bonus.
But releasing McGruder – and hoping another team claims him – apparently was always the last-resort option to avoid the tax.
Besides not wanting to pay the dollar-for-dollar tax this season, the Heat also wants to avoid becoming a repeater tax team, which happens when a team is over the tax three times over a four year period.
Being a repeater tax team carries punitive consequences that can limit player acquisitions, to an extent.
A team’s tax bill is determined on Wednesday, the final day of the regular season.
McGruder’s release leaves the Heat with 14 players, one below the league limit.