Playing Miami Heat’s Damian Lillard Timeline

Free agent negotiations across the NBA could begin today at 6 p.m., but because the Miami Heat are limited in what they can offer outside of free agency, they will have their eye on making a big acquisition via trade.

The Heat plan to wait patiently for Damian Lillard to make a final decision on his future. After meeting with Portland Trail Blazers decision makers this week, Lillard has decided to give them a chance to improve the roster in free agency before potentially seeking a trade for a championship-caliber roster. If Lillard were to request a trade, it’s believed the Heat would be at the top of that list of preferred destinations.

But that might not happen for several weeks, if at all. This timeline complicates things a bit for the Heat, who must deal with other business while keeping an option open to trade for Lillard.

The Heat enter free agency facing a salary cap. With $179 million already committed to 10 players, Miami is already over the salary cap and first luxury tax bracket at $172 million, and is very close to crossing the projected second tax bracket at $182.5 million.

Miami’s own free agents include Gabe Vincent and Max Strus (both of whom can be re-signed with Bird rights), as well as Omer Yurtseven, Kevin Love, Cody Zeller, Jamal Cain and Orlando Robinson. Jaime Jaquez Jr., whom the team selected with the 18th pick in last week’s draft, is set to make $3.5 million next season when he signs his rookie contract.

In addition to their own free agents, the Heat also have to make a decision on Kyle Lowry and Victor Oladipo. Both are set to make a combined $39 million next season, and Miami is motivated to move both contracts to create more cap space under the other frontcourt. The Heat have until Sept. 1 to use the waiver-and-stretch clause on both contracts, which could create as much as $26 million in salary savings and unlock the taxpayers’ mid-level exception worth $5 million.

But waiving and stretching Lowry removes an expiring salary that could be used to complete a Lillard trade. Oladipo’s $9.5 million salary could also be used in a move.

So this is Miami’s dilemma: Wait for Lillard and watch rivals pick up valuable free agents, or go ahead and try to improve the lineup on the margins.

There may be a way to do both. Here’s a hypothetical timeline that would allow the Heat to handle internal business and still be a player if Lillard seeks a trade.

30th of June: Begin contract negotiations with Vincent. Keep in touch with Strus, who expects offers in the range of $12 million per season.

July 7: Sign Vincent using his Bird rights to a contract in the range of $33 million over three seasons.

Monitor Jerami Grant’s free agency. Grant returning to Portland could prolong Lillard’s decision, while losing him could be the last straw for Lillard. See also Draymond Green. League insiders expect Green to sign with the Warriors, which would take a valuable veteran off the table for Lillard and the Blazers.

Re-signed Love to a one-year deal worth $3.8 million.

Sign Dario Saric to a one-year minimum contract with the promise of competing for the starting power forward spot.

Strus signs with another team for a contract in the range of $48 million over three years.

15th of July: Haywood Highsmith’s $1.9 million salary for next season will be fully guaranteed if the Heat do not waive him by that date.

July 7-17: Allow free agency to play out while they await Lillard’s decision. Ten days should be plenty of time for Lillard and the Blazers to sort out their business. Yes, the top free agents will likely come off the board, but the Heat aren’t in play for them anyway because they don’t have cap space. By holding on to Lowry’s salary, the Heat also won’t have the taxpayers’ mid-level exception available.

Mid July to August: Sign outside free agents to minimum contracts. Targets at that price point could include: Damion Lee, Seth Curry, Jevon Carter, Cory Joseph, Jae Crowder, TJ Warren, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Jeff Green, Taurean Prince and Wesley Matthews. Some of them will have accepted the terms at this point.

For this hypothetical exercise, let’s say the Heat sign Crowder (an option at power forward) and Matthews (to replace Strus).

August 1: If there is still no decision from Lillard, start actively shopping Lowry for salary cap space. The Spurs and Clippers could potentially be trade partners if they strike out in free agency and other deals. A Clippers deal could include Marcus Morris Sr. and Terence Mann, while the Spurs could absorb Lowry into their cap space and send back smaller contracts like Doug McDermott and Khem Birch.

Sometime in August: The Blazers, who have hit offseason targets like Green and OG Anunoby, can’t offer Lillard a chance to compete in the West. It is tweeted by an NBA insider close to the situation that Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers mutually agree that it is best for both sides to move on. Blazers GM Joe Cronin will work closely with Lillard to send him to a team where the seven-time All-Star can compete for a championship and gives the Blazers an opportunity to build around their promising young core.

August: The Heat trade Herro, Robinson/Lowry, Nikola Jovic, Jaime Jaquez Jr., first-round picks in 2028 and 2030, second-round picks in 2029 and 2030, and pick swaps in 2027 and 2029 for Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic.

The biggest problems with this hypothetical scenario are not being able to use the $5 million mid-level exception and the obvious risk of not getting Lillard at all. Either way, this exception likely won’t land the Heat a starter-caliber player this summer capable of tipping the scales next season. If the Heat don’t land Lillard, they can waive and stretch Lowry and Oladipo before Sept. 1 and still have that regular-season exception. The Heat can trade Lowry or Duncan Robinson at any point this summer and still have enough salary for a Lillard package.

Waiting for Lillard is somewhat limiting, but the risk is worth the potential reward.

  • Published on 30/06/2023 at 10:00
  • Last updated 30/06/2023 at 10:00

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