MIAMI — The change in designation was subtle, with the Miami Heat announcing Thursday that Andy Elisburg’s title had been changed from Senior Vice President, Basketball Operations/General Manager to Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations/General Manager.
The reality is that the mainstay of the franchise’s entire 35-season history remains, as always, the Muse of (Higher) Math.
Or, as he explained during a WQAM radio interview during the Heat’s just-concluded summer league run, he’s the member of Pat Riley’s staff charged with making sense of yet another NBA collective bargaining agreement, in this case the one in place for the first time in this 2023-24 league calendar.
“First of all, like I’ve always said about the CBA, you have to understand two plus two equals five,” Elisburg said of trying to understand the league’s new salary cap. “As long as you understand that, everything becomes simple.”
Which, of course, is anything but, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra explained ahead of last season’s NBA trade deadline.
“He speaks a different language when he talks about the cap,” Spoelstra said with a laugh of his conversations with Elisburg. “He’s losing us all. It’s like, ‘Wow.’ We are literally checkers and it is chess.”
But Spoelstra also appreciates probably the NBA’s ultimate expert kapologist.
“I love sitting in his office in the offseason,” Spoelstra said. “I’m learning a lot. I don’t think I’m keeping anything, but I’m definitely learning a lot.
“It’s really fascinating to see how he can solve problems and find solutions to things that look impossible.”
That’s likely the case at the moment, with the Heat working through various tricks for a potential trade for Portland Trail Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard, who has openly lobbied for a move to Miami.
While Heat president Riley remains the franchise’s singular forward-looking voice when it comes to personnel, having been the team’s policy since Riley’s arrival in 1995, it has been Elisburg’s math-a-match-ics that has made so many of the team’s transactions fit the logistics of the salary cap.
“Andy is so deserving of this promotion,” Riley said in a statement announcing Elisburg’s promotion. “Working together for 28 years has brought so many great transactions that have improved the franchise multiple times over the years, both on and off the court. More importantly, Andy’s knowledge and work ethic is second to none, he has been involved in everything we do at The Heat, and we look forward to continued success.”
Elisburg is now listed as one of four members on the team’s executive team, along with Managing General Partner Micky Arison, Chief Executive Officer Nick Arison and Riley.
Elisburg, an original Heat employee dating back to his time with the team’s media relations department in 1988-89, is charged with “salary cap administration, talent acquisition, league compliance and the day-to-day business of basketball operations,” according to the team’s guide. He served in his previous title for the past 10 years.
The Heat announced Elisburg’s promotion, with the team’s front office getting its first real break since the NBA Finals playoffs, the NBA draft, free agency and then summer league.
“When you have a late run and what I like to say is a short summer, you go right from the finals into the draft and draft to free agency and free agency to summer league,” Elisburg said during his radio interview. “And so there is no immediate time. You just put your head down and go.
“From now on, we’ll be able to enjoy it now a little bit more over the next month or two and kind of sit back with it and reflect on it a little bit.”
Until now, Elisburg has said, “The price of a final race is that you go straight into the next thing.”
In terms of summer reading, there is the new CBA, one that has transition rules in place for the 2023-24 season, and then additional new work rules starting next summer.
“When you look at the new CBA, you have to dig into what are the fundamentals of the rules, and they kind of gave us a summary to understand what the fundamental differences are,” he said. “Although there are many changes, there are also many more similarities. It is not terribly different in many ways from what we have been.”
Essentially both a new title for Elisburg and a new working reality, tighter salary cap rules that have already led to tough choices, with the Heat losing free agents Max Strus and Gabe Vincent in the offseason.
“I think what several of them have done is they’ve forced teams to have to make choices,” he said of new salary cap nuances. “At the end of the day, you’re not able to keep everyone.”
That doesn’t mean, he said, that there isn’t a sense of loss.
“Obviously we have some guys that we’ve lost that’s gone,” he said of the summer personnel period. “But they got to work for an opportunity where they were here for several years, trying to get roster spots, trying to get themselves on a G League roster, trying to get themselves on an NBA roster, and they were able to draw life-changing money and set themselves up for their futures and their lives and their families. And you appreciate what the path is for that to happen.
“And you’re happy for them and you’re proud of them . . . unless we play them and they shoot us a lot.”