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NBA Monday: Can Miami Keep The Big Three?

With the Miami HEAT closing in on a fourth NBA Finals berth why is there talk of the Big Three breaking up?… What is going on in Memphis?… Up Close With Noah Vonleh.

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Keeping The Big Three:  For some unexplainable reason – well not entirely unexplainable – there is this public and media driven belief that Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are somehow destined to break up. If not this summer, next summer or the summer after that.

All three players signed similarly constructed deals – they all have an option for free agency in July, another one next July and their contracts come to an end in July of 2016. So they all have the option to leave every summer for the next three years.

Having the option and wanting to use the option are two very different things.

Since coming together in July of 2010, the HEAT are 224-88, that is a win rate of 71%. They have won two championships and are on the eve of making their fourth straight Finals appearance and could collect their third championship this year.

Who Could Have Cap Space?

 Team  Max Possible Space
 Dallas Mavericks   $30,834,657
 Philadelphia 76ers   $28,797,920
 Utah Jazz   $26,276,061
 Los Angeles Lakers   $24,808,804
 Phoenix Suns   $23,118,682
 Charlotte Hornets   $18,356,720
 Orlando Magic   $16,139,426
 Cleveland Cavaliers   $16,038,933
 Detroit Pistons   $15,542,190
 Atlanta Hawks   $10,345,536
 Milwaukee Bucks   $10,326,218
 Washington Wizards   $9,380,622
 San Antonio Spurs   $8,265,107
 Boston Celtics   $3,279,450
 Toronto Raptors   $2,483,490
 New Orleans Pelicans   $1,604,459

***Would require renouncing all free agents, options and cap holds. Does not include draft pick placeholders.

The core of the team adores head coach Eric Spoelstra. HEAT president Pat Riley has delivered on everything he promised them in 2010 and HEAT owner Mickey Arison has said he’ll pay whatever he needs to pay to keep the championship train on its tracks.

So exactly what is not working that would have these guys looking for the door?

Dwyane Wade isn’t dead yet. As much as there is this perception among fans that James wouldn’t want to tie himself to Wade long-term because of repeated knee injuries, the two are extremely close friends and there is zero animosity between those two guys. There is a reason they sit at the podium together, there is a reason they came together in Miami in 2010. They are very close.

Bosh is playing the role they ask him to play. If you believe for a second that he can’t be more than he has been in Miami, you might be crazy. Bosh is one of the guys that has put his game in the closet to win championships. He is absolutely capable of doing more for the HEAT and from time to time he shows that. Bosh playing in the paint gums up how Miami plays, so he’s been asked to dial it back to things that fit into the system, and he is more than happy with that. He still makes the All-Star team; he has started a nice jewelry collection and has bought his second massive piece of property in Miami.

He isn’t looking for the door any more than Wade is.

So this brings us back to James.

There is this sense that because he left one team, that he will pick up and leave another. That when the championship train slow down, he’ll get off and go find a new one.

Could you imagine saying that about Tim Duncan? How about Kobe Bryant? Dirk Nowitzki? How about Michael Jordan? He left the Bulls when the Bulls gave up on him. He didn’t hop from team to team trying win championships.

But because James left once, there is this perception he’ll do it again, which completely overlooks how happy he is with his team, his coach, management and ownership.

James has a family in Miami. He is getting absolutely everything he could have dreamed for and a little more and he is packing up and leaving?

He has the option, so because that option is there it must be talked about, because it is an option.

James’ camp does their best to keep everyone honest and aggressive with rumors and innuendo. They want the HEAT to continue to add top level pieces around him to keep that ring train rolling and with how the HEAT’s roster is structured they will be able to do exactly that this summer.

Virtually all of the current roster players’ contracts expire this summer. Udonis Haslem has a final year worth a little more than $4.62 million that is a player option. Chris Andersen has something similar worth $1.44 million. Norris Cole is the only player with a fully guaranteed deal worth just over $2 million. So the books become pretty clean in Miami this summer.

Behind The Numbers
Big Three’s Current Deal

 Year  Salary
 1  $20,590,000
 2  $22,112,500

A New Four Year – $80 Million Deal

 Year  Salary
 1  $17,278,618
 2  $19,092,873
 3  $20,907,127
 4  $22,721,382

The Big Three all have two years and just over $42.7 million left on their deals. If they opt-in, the HEAT won’t have much to work with, but if all three opt-out, the HEAT have plenty of options.

What they re-sign for opens up a lot of possibilities.

A new three year deal in the three years for $60 million range gets the HEAT to roughly $54 million next season to those three players and opens up roughly $9 million in cap space depending on how they manage Haslem and Andersen.

A new four year deal worth $80 million gets the HEAT to $51.8 million in commitments to those three players next season and could open up as much as $11 million in cap space depending on how they manage Haslem and Andersen.

The message to the Big Three is a new four deal lets you pick two or possibly three players from the free agent pool to fill in the roster. Do similar ‘trade you one for two’ deals with Haslem and Andersen to spread out what’s owed across one more year and the HEAT are under the cap, under the tax and have the ability to add whatever they want.

But wait, that means giving Wade and Bosh a bunch of money right?

That’s the cost of keeping the band together.

It’s possible you could say to Wade, give us a little bit of a break and he might do that, especially if it means bolstering the team where he doesn’t have to do as much.

But the money paid out to those guys isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds, mainly because we have seen the salary cap increase significantly this year and with a new National TV deal on the horizon the cap could go up even more in the life of their contract giving Miami more room to add and build around those guys.

Would the last year of Wade’s deal be ugly? Sure, but if it yields two or three more championships do you honestly believe anyone cares?

It’s easy to say James goes looking for a new championship contender. He has done it before, which means he could do it again. He has the options in his contract and this year’s HEAT are not nearly the unstoppable force that they were even a year ago.

The HEAT have to add fresh blood to the team, and there is a window to do exactly that this summer. As much as some want to talk about the Big Three breaking up, what’s far more likely is that the Big Three opt-out and re-up and give Pat Riley some breathing room to add to the roster. Trading two years and $42 million for four years and $80 million doesn’t seem like a crazy compromise to help your team get under the cap to go after one or two significant free agents.

The HEAT have all kinds of options in front of them and as fun as it is to speculate that it will all come apart as quickly as it all came together, the sense of things is the HEAT have done everything they promised those guys they would do and they all would like for this to keep rolling.

He Is In, He Is Out, He Is In Again:  If you are watching the Memphis Grizzlies from afar, they have become a head scratcher. Out of the blue majority owner Robert Pera ousted the front office and management that had turned the Grizzlies from a perennial money loser with no future beyond what was on the roster, into a profitable team with possibilities beyond the current core of guys.

Thanks for nothing I guess.

As rocky as head coach Dave Joerger’s start was to the season, he found his way mid-season and got the team into the postseason, but as the front office was packing, so too came the belief that Joerger was not Pera’s guy and that he was going to be fired and replaced by a higher profile coach.

There were media reports that Pera wanted to give the team to Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau much like Detroit did with Stan Van Gundy. That was followed by additional reports that suggested if Pera couldn’t get Thibodeau, he’d target Jeff Van Gundy.

Oh what a league it would be if both Van Gundy’s completely ran teams. Can you see it?

Smartly, Joerger started looking at his options and landed on the Timberwolves’ radar. The Wolves were granted permission to interview Joerger for their open coaching position and it seemed like the two were headed towards an agreement.

Joerger met with Wolves president Flip Saunders, who escalated the process to ownership and it seemed a coaching deal was imminent.

However to everyone’s surprise Joerger announced yesterday that he was not heading to Minnesota and that he and Pera had spoken on the phone and that both got to know each other a little and he is excited to remain in Memphis.

Huh?

Pera took to Twitter to defend his team and his direction. He made sure to point out that the media knew nothing about what was going on and that none of what was being reported was true. He was excited to have Joerger back, and he believes he is the right coach to lead the team.

Huh?

If you have watched all this unfold and find yourself confused, you are not alone. Former managing general partner Jason Levien who brought all of this together in Memphis, is likely as stunned as everyone else in the equation. Some where he has to be saying ‘I brought this all together and I am the one who is out?’.

If the image of a power mad tech billionaire jumps into your head, that might not be far from the truth.

If you have not seen this, Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer did a breakdown in 2012 of who paid what in the Memphis ownership group.

Robert Pera paid $45 million for a 25.6% ownership controlling stake in the team.

Huh? $45 million?

Things in Memphis have taken an absolutely weird turn towards the uncertain, and while Pera seems to want to manage the story from Twitter, at least the team has a head coach.

Chris Wallace, who was as far on the outside of the process as you are two weeks ago, is now back running the show and the draft. It’s completely unclear who will be running the team in the long-term, but for the time being stay tuned to Twitter, because that seems to be how news is going to come out now.

It’s been an odd couple week for Memphis, that’s for sure.

Up Close With Noah Vonleh:  While the top five spots in the 2014 NBA Draft might be pre-slotted to some combination of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum and Julius Randle, Indiana big man Noah Vonleh is very much in the discussion. With amazing length and shooting ability Vonleh gets compared a lot to a young Chris Bosh, and while no two players are the same, Vonleh’s physical dimensions and his scoring averages coming out of college compare extremely close to Bosh and that has teams more than intrigued.


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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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