Ira Winderman: Heat’s Andre Iguodala again in unique place ahead of NBA free agency

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Arguably, the most significant offseason decision for the Miami Heat in advance of free agency involves a $15 million commitment to a player who scored only 15 points in the playoffs, turns 38 next season, and likely will not again wear the team’s colors.

Because in the NBA, especially during the offseason, it can be as much about the contract as about the player, even when the player is a three-time champion.

For Andre Iguodala, this offseason is both decidedly different and eerily familiar.

For the first time in seven years, Iguodala finds his season over before the culmination of the NBA season, this the first time he has failed to appear in the NBA Finals since 2014.

Having time on his hands is something new.

What is not new is having time left on his contract when the contract is viewed somewhat as ballast.

It was after the Golden State Warriors lost in the 2019 NBA Finals when management decided his contract had to go as part of a makeover. So Iguodala’s $17 million salary was shipped to the Memphis Grizzlies in order to clear space for the acquisition of D’Angelo Russell.

This time, as part of a strategic move by the Heat to increase 2021 offseason flexibility, Iguodala’s contract, upon his acquisition from the Grizzlies at the 2020 NBA trading deadline, was amended with a 2021-22 team option for $15 million.

For the Heat, it was similar to the approaches taken with Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard prior to the start of this past season, with 2021-22 team options put in place to assist in potential future cap-balancing moves.

Leonard’s contract eventually was sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the acquisition of Trevor Ariza’s at the trading deadline.

But now the clock is ticking on the Heat’s team options on Iguodala and Dragic, decisions that must be made by Aug. 1, the day before the start of free agency. For now, the only way the Heat can trade either would be to invoke their 2021-22 team options, which for Dragic is $19.4 million.

With only five players locked into contracts for next season (Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, KZ Okpala and Precious Achiuwa), having salary-cap ballast could prove essential in a trade ahead of free agency. With only Butler currently on a high-end contract, the $15 million for Iguodala or the $19.4 million for Dragic stand as just about the only way for the Heat to fashion a dollar-for-dollar deal for a pricy acquisition ahead of free agency.

And, yes, the trade market is open for the Heat and for all but eight of the NBA’s 30 teams, with only those still in the playoffs barred from making deals.

So if a suitor would, say, have interest in Herro (at $3.8 million on the books in current cap year) or Achiuwa ($2.6 million), it is the extra money of Iguodala or Dragic that could balance a deal for a higher-end talent (CJ McCollum? Damian Lillard? Kristaps Porzingis? Bradley Beal? Myles Turner? Zach LaVine? Harrison Barnes?).

Picking up the option of either Iguodala or Dragic — to use either in a trade or to retain the player — would remove the Heat as a direct participant in free agency, by eliminating cap space. But such a move could still facilitate a sign-and-trade transaction, with Iguodala likely to be bought out by an acquiring team.

It is one of the idiosyncrasies of the NBA personnel market, when a contract becomes as much about fiscal flexibility and the player himself.

One of the enduring images of the sudden conclusion of the Heat’s season was the embrace between Iguodala and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Five days later, it was Heat President Pat Riley noting a letter he wrote to Iguodala, about how the former All-Star never truly got to experience the embrace of Heat Culture due to pandemic restrictions.

Now there is another reality for Iguodala, one similar to the end of his Warriors championship tenure . . . that, at least when it comes to the NBA personnel market, sometimes the measure of a man can be reduced to a measure of his contract.

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