Yes, the Heat stands at 25-27. Yes, the Heat is facing a $9.7 million luxury tax bill if it doesn’t shed salary before the end of the regular season. Yes, a playoff spot is far from a sure thing for this Heat team.
All signs point to a busy 24 hours for the Heat leading into Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
But that doesn’t mean coach Erik Spoelstra has taken time to address trade speculation this week. Some seasons he feels it’s necessary, some seasons he doesn’t.
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“I would say in my 11 years, there may have been a handful of times I’ve talked about it. This year is not one of them,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat spending Wednesday’s off day in Portland, Oregon, before traveling Thursday to Sacramento Friday’s game against the Kings. “I just haven’t felt the need to with this group. I think they understand what time of year it is and how much noise is out there and know how to compartmentalize.”
And all of this doesn’t mean the Heat will necessarily make a move before the deadline.
While Miami would prefer not to pay the luxury tax, there is no ownership mandate to get below the tax threshold. There are also challenges that come with trying to accomplish that.
The obvious one is shedding the $6.3 million the Heat needs to unload to get out of the tax. Trading Wayne Ellington and his $6.3 million salary without taking any money back is one of the most realistic ways Miami could move closer to escaping the tax, which is why he’s one of the Heat players who’s heard his name mentioned in rumors most.
“Same as every other day,” Ellington said when asked how he’s approaching the hours leading up to the trade deadline. “Just coming in and my mind is just here. I can’t think of anything else. It probably would be unprofessional if I did that. I come in with the same approach every day.”
Entering this week, there were only six NBA teams that could absorb Ellington’s $6.3 million salary without sending anything back in return: the Hornets, Mavericks, Nuggets, Thunder, Kings and Wizards.
The Hornets would cross the luxury tax threshold by acquiring Ellington without sending money back to the Heat, which takes them out of the picture. The Thunder and Wizards are already in the tax, so they’re out, too. So, that only leaves the Kings, Mavericks and Nuggets as realistic options.
Of course, the Heat could get creative and orchestrate a multiplayer or three-team deal that could get it below the luxury tax line.
But another obstacle Miami must overcome is the fact Ellington can’t be traded this season without his permission because he signed a one-year deal and has full Bird Rights next summer. Ellington would have to approve any trade.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Ellington said he had not notified the Heat which teams he would approve a trade to, but “obviously, I’ve spoken to my agent.”
“It’s been an emotional season,” said Ellington, who has fallen out of Miami’s rotation and has been an active scratch in 15 of the past 20 games after re-signing with the Heat on a one-year deal last summer. “If there’s any emotion, of course it’s been an emotional season for sure for me. So I’m just fighting my fight, man, every day. Just control what I can control.”
The Lakers and 76ers seemed like fits because they needed three-point shooting and were attractive enough spots for Ellington. But both of those teams addressed its need for shooting this week, as Los Angeles reportedly agreed to trade for three-point threat Reggie Bullock, and Philadelphia is reportedly set to add talented forward Tobias Harris in a trade with the Clippers.
There are other moves the Heat could make, though.
Miami could look to trade Rodney McGruder, who could become a restricted free agent this summer.
Miami could also try to deal some of its bigger contracts that run through 2021 (James Johnson, Dion Waiters or Kelly Olynyk) for another big contract that has fewer seasons remaining to create more cap space in 2020.
Another possibility is trading point guard Goran Dragic, who is expected to return from right knee surgery at some point after the All-Star break, to a contender who is looking to make a win-now move. This could prove difficult because Dragic is currently injured, but it would allow Justise Winslow to keep playing as the Heat’s starting point guard.
Could center Hassan Whiteside (set to earn $27.1 million next season before becoming a free agent in 2020) or Tyler Johnson (set to earn $19.2 million next season before becoming a free agent in 2020) be traded? The Heat would probably have to throw in some type of sweetener in a deal to make that happen. That sweetener could be in the form of its 2019 first-round pick (Miami is prohibited from moving its 2020 or 2022 first-round selections because it already traded its 2021 pick) or a young asset on a team-friendly contract like Josh Richardson, Winslow or Bam Adebayo, but the Heat doesn’t seem interested in moving these core pieces unless it’s to land an All-Star.
There are definitely reasons the Heat should be active leading into the trade deadline. It just doesn’t guarantee Miami will make a move.
“The noise has increased to such a deafening level now in today’s day and age with everything that’s out there and so easily accessible,” Spoelstra said of the trade discussion swirling around the NBA as the deadline nears. “The news line just changes constantly and everybody’s looking at it and 90 percent of it, if not more, is false. It’s probably a challenge for everybody in pro sports to negotiate through the madness.”