This is when the door is supposed to swing open, especially in a league dominated by free agency.
Because for all those signatures collected over the summer, Dec. 15 is the first day that players signed in the offseason can be dealt (or three months after signing, whichever is later).
It sounds like a juicy and imminent storyline.
It also is more fiction than fact.
For example, for all the dealing Pat Riley has done over his two-plus decades with the Heat, and even dating to the inception of the franchise 31 years ago, the Heat have never made a trade in December. Ever.
Beyond that, the only NBA deal in December last year came before the Dec. 15 lifting of the restriction. That was on Dec. 7, when the Brooklyn Nets dealt Trevor Booker to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas and a second-round pick. In fact, the first trade after Dec. 15, 2017 did not come until Jan. 29, when the Los Angeles Clippers pulled the blockbuster that sent Blake Griffin, Willie Reed and Brice Johnson to the Detroit Pistons for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a first-round pick and a second-round pick.
Taken, further, in 2016 there was not a single trade between Nov. 1 and Jan. 6.
And in 2015, the only trade between Nov. 10 and Jan. 12 was the middling Dec. 24 deal that sent Ish Smith from the New Orleans Pelicans to the Philadelphia for a pair of second-round picks.
In other words, Dec. 15 is not exactly Christmas in the NBA.
While there had been a December trade this year, the Dec. 7 three-way deal between the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards involving George Hill, Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, Jason Smith and Sam Dekker did not involve a player, obviously, with a Dec. 15 restriction.
Then came Saturday’s deal sending Trevor Ariza from the Phoenix Suns to the Washington Wizards for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers, signally a breakthrough, perhaps.
So now, Dec. 15 at least allows for the consideration of a wider net of possibilities.
For the Heat, the biggest move in this timeframe last year was replacing the two-way contract of Matt Williams Jr. with the two-way deal of Derrick Jones Jr.
This year, four Heat players are impacted by the Dec. 15 restriction, but only nominally:
— Wayne Ellington: With Saturday the first day he can be dealt, because he is on a one-year contract and has Bird Rights, Ellington has the right to veto any trade.
— Udonis Haslem: As with Ellington, because he is on a one-year contract and has Bird Rights, Haslem has the right to veto any trade despite becoming trade eligible Dec. 15.
— Derrick Jones Jr.: Jones is in a similar position as Ellington and Haslem, eligible to be dealt starting Dec. 15, because he was signed in the offseason, but in his case with no other restriction because he is on a two-year deal.
— Dwyane Wade: Wade actually has a Dec. 18 restriction because he did not sign until Sept. 18, and, like Ellington and Haslem, has the right to veto any trade because of his impending Early Bird Rights, which obviously won’t be a factor with his impending retirement.
As far as what comes next in advance of the Feb. 7 3 p.m. NBA trading deadline, there are a few other restrictions in place for the Heat.
— Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk each have trade kickers, further complicating trades working within salary-cap allowances when dealing with another team over the salary cap.
— Because he begins a three-year extension next season, Justise Winslow has a “poison pill” element in play, meaning a team would acquire him at $10.3 million against the cap, but the Heat could only replace him at his $3.4 million 2018-19 salary.
— The Heat are unable to trade their 2020 or ’22 first-round picks because their 2021 selection is due to the Philadelphia 76ers (from the 2015 trade for Goran Dragic, with that selection dealt by the Phoenix Suns at June’s NBA draft).
— The Heat can send out or acquire up to $5.2 million in cash in trades until June 30, having not touched either of those allotments since the start of the 2018-19 cap calendar.
— The Heat also hold a $1.3 million trade exception that cannot be aggregated in a deal (from last season’s deadline move of Okaro White to the Atlanta Hawks).
IN THE LANE
SUPPORT GROUP: The lingering Heat memory of Willie Reed is the center breaking down in tears in the locker room after the 30-11 finish to 2016-17 left the Heat a tiebreaker shy of the playoffs. Since then, Reed failed to get his expected long-term free-agency deal from the Heat, spent time with the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons, and now is with the Utah Jazz’s G League affiliate, lacking an NBA contract. With Reed’s team playing in Salt Lake City the night before the Heat played the Jazz, several former Heat teammates took in the game and spent time with Reed. “He’s a Heat guy, a good friend of mine, still a brother,” forward Rodney McGruder said. “So just having an opportunity, you have to go. I felt like it was only right to go out there and show him love and support.” Teammate Josh Richardson agreed. “It was good to see our guy,” Richardson said. “He’s approaching it the right way.” Forward James Johnson also attended, as did center Bam Adebayo, who was selected with the lottery pick the Heat received when failing to make those 2017 playoffs. Despite never playing with Reed, Adebayo attended in solidarity. “It shows we all still care about each other. And we always want each other to do well,” he said. “You know that he’s going to be called up one day. I know he’s going to find someone to call him up.”
GOTTA HAVE HART: So why, of all the Los Angeles Lakers players to choose from, did Dwyane Wade gift his Monday sneakers to Josh Hart? Because he knew the meaning. “That’s my role model. That’s my favorite player growing up,” said Hart, who wears No. 3 having idolized Wade as a youth. “Sometimes it’s tough when you’re playing that 48 minutes to separate those feelings. You want to be competitive, you’re a competitor.” Wade wrote on the shoes given to Hart, “I love the way you play this game. Reminds me of me.” Wade said because of the impromptu nature of such decisions he often finds himself having to first reflect on what to inscribe, given the limited space to utilize. His shoes went the following game to Jazz forward Kyle Korver, who quipped, “It’s one of those things you put away in the closet and in a bunch of years, your kids find it and be like, ‘Whoa, D-Wade!’ “
TALKING POINT: In the wake of that Wade farewell game at Staples Center amid his retirement tour, LeBron James said he discussed with Wade how it took such an iconic arena to create such a poignant moment. “Here or the Garden, that’s it. That’s the only places we could have ended it at, man,” James said he told Wade. It was quickly clarified that James had been talking about the storied nature of Madison Square Garden and not that LeBron thought such a final moment could have occurred with him in a New York Knicks uniform. Nonetheless, Knicks coach David Fizdale, the former Heat assistant coach, seized on the narrative. “I can’t speak for him, but I just know this place attracted me,” Fizdale, who worked with James for four seasons in South Florida, told reporters. “I wanted to be a part of the organization and being in the mecca and the Garden. That meant a lot to me in my decision. I know there’s players out there that are gonna be a part of this and be in New York.”
WAITING GAME: For now, the San Antonio Spurs’ preference is to allow former University of Miami guard Lonnie Walker to continue to work his way back from October knee surgery while playing for their G League affiliate, the Austin Spurs. “Right now, we think it’s better for him to play instead of coming up here and watching us play,” coach Gregg Popovich told San Antonio’s Express News of the No. 18 pick in last June’s NBA draft. “He’s gaining a lot by learning about the NBA and learning the basics. For now, it’s probably the best place for him.” Walker went into the weekend averaging 15.8 points in five G League appearances, yet to make his NBA debut.
32. Months since Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem had been on the court together as teammates before last weekend’s victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. They previously had played in the same game together since Wade’s return at last February’s trading deadline, but were not on the court together until last Saturday.
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