Barry Jackson

As Heat and OKC discuss Westbrook trade, here’s one issue that must be reconciled

Spoelstra on Westbrook: “He makes you watch doesn’t he?”

The Miami Heat host Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. Dec. 26, 2016.
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The Miami Heat host Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. Dec. 26, 2016.

As the Heat and Oklahoma City continue discussions on a Russell Westbrook trade, one issue that both sides need to navigate is competing financial interests.

The Thunder ideally would like to take back salaries less than the $38.2 million that Westbrook will earn this coming season because OKC doesn’t want to increase its luxury tax payments. That’s a big deal for OKC, which is $2.25 million above the $132.6 million tax threshold and is subject to the punitive repeater tax if it stays over that threshold.

But because the Heat is hard capped at $138.9 million after the Jimmy Butler trade and won’t have space to sign any more players after eventually signing Tyler Herro, Miami cannot send out less money than it absorbs in a Westbrook trade. And the Heat needs to send out players earning at least a couple million dollars more than Westbrook’s $38.2 million if it’s a 3-for-1 trade.

Here’s why: Because the Heat likely will need to send OKC three players for Westbrook, Miami would be left with 12 players under contract if it’s a 3-for-1, instead of the 14 that will be under contract with the current roster after Herro signs.

Teams must have at least 13 players under contract by the first game of the regular season, meaning Miami would somehow need to find a way to trim additional salary to add a very cheap 13th player by mid-October. It would be OK, within league rules, for the Heat to have fewer than 13 players under contract before then.

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But it would violate NBA rules for the Heat to be over the $138.9 million hard cap at any point in the next year.

That’s why it would help if a third team would be involved in the trade, to absorb some Heat salaries without increasing OKC’s luxury tax payment. But it’s not essential.

As one hypothetical, if the Heat sent Goran Dragic, Meyers Leonard and Justise Winslow to the Thunder, their salaries would equal $43.5 million, giving the Heat some flexibility under the hard cap, even if OKC added a minimum player to the deal to accompany Westbrook to Miami. But that would increase OKC’s tax bill significantly, which is problematic.

Another hypothetical that would work — if OKC would go for this — would be Dragic, Leonard and James Johnson for Westbrook and Patrick Patterson, with OKC taking back $1.7 million more in salaries than Miami in that scenario and the Heat being left with 13 players.

Any deal involving Leonard could not be announced until mid-September, because of arcane NBA rules involving players dealt in sign-and-trades, as Leonard was in the Jimmy Butler deal.

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Most teams carry 14 or 15 players. Although individual teams must carry a minimum of 13 (12 active plus one inactive) players, the NBA guarantees a league-wide average of at least 14 players per team. The league is surcharged if they do not meet the average.

The Heat and Thunder have been discussing potential combinations of players, and those specifics remain unknown. But indications are the Heat would prefer not to include Bam Adebayo or Herro. This trade would be highly appealing to the Heat if Miami can merely shed contracts of players not in its long-term plans, but it’s questionable if the Thunder would go for that.

The Heat has been uncertain whether there are other Westbrook suitors; none have surfaced publicly.

As cap expert Albert Nahmad noted, if the Heat released Duncan Robinson or Yante Maten before more of their money is guaranteed this summer (or Kendrick Nunn, after Aug. 1) to create cap room to sign a veteran such as Udonis Haslem, then those players would not be permitted to play for the Heat’s G League team or sign a two-way contract with Miami from now through the end of the season.

And even though Miami would be out of space to sign any more players to standard contracts after signing Herro, Miami can still sign up to six summer contracts.

ESPN announced it will air Dwyane Wade’s documentary on his life and career sometime in 2020.

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