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Looks like the Miami Heat are running it again minus PJ Tucker

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After the Miami Heat’s season came to a sudden end just one win away from reaching the NBA Finals, the front office had a choice to make: get back on the road after coming so close to a championship or make big changes. to revitalize the team.

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It seems that the top decision-makers in the organization have decided to run it again… for now. Meanwhile, the Heat have made it a priority to protect their top assets and maintain salary-cap flexibility to put themselves in a position to be an active player in the trade market if a superstar becomes available.

So far in free agency, the Heat have re-signed three players: center Dewayne Dedmon, forward Caleb Martin and guard Victor Oladipo. Miami has yet to make outside free agent additions.

In fact, the only player currently on the Heat’s 15-man roster for next season who wasn’t on this year’s end-of-season roster is rookie forward Nikola Jovic, who was selected by Miami with the 27th pick in this year’s draft. And the only player currently not on the Heat’s 15-man roster for next season who was on this year’s end-of-season roster is forward PJ Tucker, who left to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers at the agency. free.

“I’m looking forward to running again,” Oladipo said during a Zoom call with reporters Thursday morning after signing his new contract with the Heat. “I felt like we had a really good, solid shot at getting to the Finals last year, and that’s the goal this year, to get there and be successful. So I’m glad I get to be a part of that journey and that process of trying to get there.”

A week after free agency, the Heat entered Thursday with nearly a full roster for next season with 13 players signed to standard contracts: Jimmy Butler ($37.7 million), Bam Adebayo ($30.4 million), Kyle Lowry ($28.3 million), Duncan Robinson ($16.9 million), Oladipo ($8.5 million), Martin ($6.5 million), Tyler Herro ($5.7 million), Dedmon ($4.3 million), Jovic ($2.2 million), Max Strus ($1.8 million), Gabe Vincent ($1.8 million), Omer Yurtseven ($1.8 million), and Haywood Highsmith ($1.8 million partially guaranteed).

Guards Javonte Smart and Mychal Mulder, who play in summer league, currently have the Heat’s two-way contracts. Two-way deals do not count against the salary cap.

The Heat have about $147.7 million committed in salary for the upcoming season with the NBA setting the 2022-23 salary cap at $123.7 million and the luxury tax threshold at $150.3 million.

With about $2.6 million separating the Heat from entering the luxury tax, they have enough room to sign a minimum contract with a No. 14 player without becoming a tax team.

The Heat created that space under the luxury tax by renegotiating with Oladipo to make a trade to the one-year, $11 million contract he agreed to on the first day of free agency last week. The Heat and Oladipo teamed up Wednesday to restructure the terms of a two-year contract worth $18 million, according to a league source, that includes a lower salary in the first season worth $8.5 million and an option. player in the second season.

“I think it was the best deal for me,” Oladipo said. “It seemed like a lot of people were turning away from me [because of my injury history]. So I think coming back here and playing for the Heat was the best option for me.”

Why would the Heat do this? Lowering Oladipo’s cap by about $2.5 million for next season gives the team enough room to use a minimum contract on a 14th player while remaining under the tax to turn back the clock again on the looming repeater penalty tax. (when a team completes the tax at least three times during a four-year period). It also provides additional wiggle room against a potential hard cap that would be triggered by spending more mid-tier exception money, using the $4.1 biannual exception or a sign-and-trade acquisition.

Why would Oladipo do this? While accepting a lower salary in the first season, this new deal offers a player who has undergone two knee surgeries in the past four years a little more long-term security with a player option that is expected to be worth around of $9.5 million in the second year. . If Oladipo stays healthy and makes it through next season, he can opt out and sign a more lucrative deal in free agency next offseason.

“I really think I can be better than I was,” said Oladipo, who was named to the All-Star Game, NBA All-Defensive First Team and All-NBA Third Team in 2017-18 as a member of the Indiana Pacers. before his two knee surgeries. “That may sound crazy to everyone, but I prefer to have that mindset and I can live with the results after that because I’m going to push myself to be that.

“I think the biggest goal for me is to show everyone that I’m healthy and that I can play a full year and also show everyone that I’m one of the best players in this league. So everything else will take care of itself and that’s what I’m focused on.”

With enough room to sign a 14th player to a minimum contract, it could be as simple as the Heat bringing back veteran forward and team captain Udonis Haslem for a 20th NBA season to fill that vacancy. If Haslem decides to continue his playing career, his minimum cap for veterans would be $1.8 million and he would leave Miami less than $1 million from entering the tax.

This is why the Heat could start next season with just 14 players on standard contracts, not counting the two players on bilateral deals.

Going into the season with 14 players is one short of the NBA regular season maximum of 15 players, but it’s still acceptable under NBA roster rules. Miami has walked away with 14 players in previous seasons when faced with the luxury tax or cap.

Haslem and forward Markieff Morris are the only two players on the Heat’s season-ending roster who remain available in free agency.

Through it all, though, the Heat still haven’t sacrificed any of their top trading chips.

Miami is still eligible to include two unprotected first-round picks in 2023 and 2028 or 2029 in a deal, and could open up a third unprotected first-round pick to include in a trade if it changes lottery protections in the first round. of 2025 Selection owed to him by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And after bringing back Dedmon on a $4.3 million salary for 2022-23, Martin on a $6.5 million salary for 2022-23 and Oladipo on an $8.5 million salary for 2022-23, the Heat added some “mid-range wages” that could include trade-offs to help facilitate pay-equalization agreements.

However, it should be noted that Dedmon and Oladipo are not eligible to be traded until Jan. 15 and Oladipo cannot be traded without their consent this season either. Martin becomes eligible to be traded on Dec. 15.

So, as it looks like the Kevin Durant draft could drag on for weeks with teams struggling to meet the Brooklyn Nets’ insanely high asking price for the superstar and the uncertainty still surrounding Donovan Mitchell’s situation with the Utah Jazz, the Heat are moving forward with a roster. which looks a lot like last season…for now.

This story was originally published July 7, 2022 12:35 p.m.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.

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