Dragic, Leonard sign new deals with Heat after free agent signing window opens Sunday

Anthony Chiang

Goran Dragic did not waste any time.

The veteran guard was the first Heat free agent to commit to a return just one minute after free agent negotiations were allowed to begin at 6 p.m. Friday, and he was the first to sign his new contract with the Heat after free agent signings were allowed to start Sunday at 12:01 p.m.

Meyers Leonard followed about two hours later, signing his new deal with the Heat.

“It was essential for us to bring Goran back,” Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement. “He is part of our team, part of our culture and part of our family. He provides backcourt veteran leadership and can still play at a very high level. I’m glad to have him back in the fold.”

And regarding Leonard, Riley said: “It’s good to have him back. He is a prototypical center, a very good one. Meyers is strong on the interior of our defense and sets screens as well as anyone in the league to get our shooters and drivers open. He also shots over 40 percent from three-point range. He is one of the most positive attitude players we have in the locker room. A real team guy. We expect him to have a great season.”

According to a league source, the Heat signed Dragic to a two-year, $37.5 million deal that includes an $18 million salary this upcoming season and a $19.5 million team option for 2021-22.

Under the structure of Dragic and Leonard’s new contracts, they are both not allowed to be traded without their approval this upcoming season.

While free agent negotiations were permitted to begin Friday evening, the Heat began courting Dragic before then.

The organization took out three billboards in Dragic’s home country of Slovenia — where he spent most of the offseason — with messages of appreciation ahead of free agency. Two of the billboards read (in Slovenian): “Your second family is always with you.” The other read (in Slovenian): “Son of Ljubljana [Dragic’s hometown]. Captain of Miami.”

Dragic was an important part of the Heat’s winning formula this past season, averaging 16.2 points on 44.1 percent shooting, 3.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists as Miami’s sixth man in the regular season. The reserve role was new for Dragic, who started 268 of the 282 regular-season games he played in with the Heat prior to 2019-20, but it helped to maximize his minutes and keep him fresh after he played in a career-low 36 games in 2018-19 because of right knee surgery.

Dragic then moved into a full-time starting role in the postseason, averaging a team-high 20.9 points on 45.2 percent shooting, to go with 4.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the first three rounds of the playoffs before tearing the plantar fascia in his left foot in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. But offseason surgery was not required, and Dragic recently said to The Athletic that he has since fully recovered from the painful injury.

Since the Phoenix Suns traded Dragic to the Heat in February 2015, he has averaged 16.6 points on 46 percent shooting, 3.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 341 regular-season games (271 starts) in six seasons with Miami.

Leonard, meanwhile, agreed to a two-year deal topping $19 million, with about $9 million due this season and a team option in 2021-22.

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Along with Dragic and Leonard, the Heat received commitments from free agents Udonis Haslem, Avery Bradley and Maurice Harkless.

Bradley, Harkless and Haslem have not signed their new deals yet, but are expected to soon.

The Heat did not commit any guaranteed salary past this upcoming season in free agency, signing players to either a two-year contract with a team option in the second season or a one-year contract. This was done to help facilitate Miami’s plan to enter the 2021 offseason with max-level cap space for a loaded free agent class that could be headlined by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Bradley’s two-year contract is worth nearly $12 million and includes a team option in the second year.

Harkless committed to Miami on a one-year, $3.6 million deal.

Haslem is expected to sign a one-year, $2.6 million veteran minimum contract with Miami that would only count about $1.6 million against the salary cap because of NBA rules.

The Heat’s current salary-cap breakdown for this upcoming season looks like this: Jimmy Butler ($34.4 million), Dragic ($18 million), Andre Iguodala ($15 million), Kelly Olynyk ($12.6 million), Leonard ($9.7 million), Bradley ($5.7 million), Bam Adebayo ($5.1 million), Tyler Herro ($3.8 million), Harkless ($3.6 million), Duncan Robinson ($1.7 million), Kendrick Nunn ($1.7 million), Haslem ($1.6 million cap hit) KZ Okpala ($1.5 million), Chris Silva ($1.5 million), and the projected $2.6 million cap hit for first-round pick Precious Achiuwa. In addition, a $5.2 million waive-and-stretch cap hit for Ryan Anderson is still on Miami’s books, as well as a $350,000 waive-and-stretch cap hit for AJ Hammons.

Add all that up, and the Heat has about $124 million of guaranteed salary committed to 15 players for this upcoming season with the 2020-21 salary cap set at $109.140 million. Miami’s roster is basically full with 15 players under standard contracts, which is the NBA regular-season limit.

The Heat is now about $8 million away from the tax line of $132.627 million after accounting for commitments from Bradley, Dragic, Harkless, Haslem and Leonard. That gives Miami some cushion for a potential trade if it wants to take in more salary than it sends out (within cap rules) at the trade deadline or before then.

In order to sign Bradley and Harkless, Miami will use exception money since it’s already over the salary cap. The Heat has the ability to utilize a $9.3 million midlevel exception and/or a $3.6 million biannual exception, and exceptions can’t be combined.

The Heat could fit Bradley ($5.7 million) and Harkless ($3.6 million) both into the $9.3 midlevel exception to preserve the biannual exception.

Why would Miami do this? It would allow for the Heat to use the biannual exception next offseason since this exception can’t be used in two consecutive years.

Or the Heat could simply use the entire $3.6 million biannual exception to sign Harkless and part of the $9.3 midlevel exception to sign Bradley if the math did not add up to take the other route.

In either scenario, the Heat will be operating under a $138.9 million hard cap this season. That number is the tax apron — about $6 million above the tax line — but it’s not especially restrictive for Miami because it prefers not to be a taxpaying team this season anyway after finishing as a tax team this past season.

Both options were possibilities as of Sunday afternoon, as some of the contract details were still being finalized. But the hope is Miami will be able to split the midlevel exception to sign both Bradley and Harkless, saving the biannual exception for next season.

In addition, Achiuwa is expected to sign his rookie contract with the Heat soon.

The Heat is also now eligible to sign Adebayo to an extension, with a deadline to agree to one coming the day before the start of the regular season on Dec. 21. If an extension is not signed in the next month, Adebayo will become a restricted free agent next offeason.

Guard Gabe Vincent will be one of the Heat’s two two-way contract players this season, a deal that allows him to play as many as 50 of the Heat’s 72 scheduled games in the regular season. Miami’s other two-way contract slot is still open.

Teams are allowed to carry up to 20 players during training camp and the preseason. With Vincent signing a two-way deal, Miami now has 16 players on its roster (15 under standard contracts and one under a two-way contract).

The Heat will likely fill out the remaining four spots on its preseason roster with Exhibit 10 contracts, which includes an invitation to training camp. Exhibit 10 deals, which do not count against the salary cap or luxury tax, can be converted to two-way contracts.

There will be a quick turnaround for the entire NBA following free agency, with training camps opening in early December in advance of a Dec. 22 start to the 2020-21 season.