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Victor Oladipo’s time with the Miami Heat will continue.
The Heat needed to add backcourt depth and did it by bringing back one of its own free agents. Guard Victor Oladipo agreed to a one-year minimum deal worth about $2.4 million on Wednesday to return to the Heat, according to a league source.
With Wednesday marking the third day of free agency, the Heat’s roster for next season now stands at 12 players on standard NBA contracts (these are salary estimates): wing Jimmy Butler ($36 million for next season), guard Kyle Lowry ($28.5 million), center Bam Adebayo ($28.1 million), forward Duncan Robinson ($15.5 million), forward P.J. Tucker ($7.3 million), guard Tyler Herro ($4 million), forward KZ Okpala ($1.8 million), forward Markieff Morris (minimum counts as $1.7 million toward salary cap), center Dewayne Dedmon (minimum counts as $1.7 million toward salary cap), Oladipo (minimum counts as $1.7 million toward salary cap), wing Max Strus ($1.7 million), Gabe Vincent ($1.7 million).
Oladipo, 29, was traded to the Heat in March but played in just four games with Miami before feeling discomfort in his right knee and eventually undergoing surgery to repair the quadriceps tendon in the knee on May 13. He ruptured that same tendon in January 2019 before returning a year later in January 2020.
Oladipo is not expected to be ready for the start of the upcoming season, but there’s some hope that he’ll be cleared to return to full contact basketball as early as November and be able to play in games by March.
While there are questions regarding Oladipo’s injury history and what type of player he’ll be when he returns, it’s clearly a low-risk, high-reward short-term signing for the Heat if he can return to pre-injury form. Oladipo was voted to the All-Star Game, NBA All-Defensive First Team and All-NBA Third Team, and earned the NBA’s Most Improved Player award just a few seasons ago in 2017-18 as a member of the Indiana Pacers.
Oladipo, who is coming off a contract that paid him $21 million last season, averaged 12 points while shooting 37.2 percent from the field and 23.5 percent on threes, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in four regular-season games (four starts) with the Heat before his latest setback.
With Oladipo splitting last season between the Pacers, Houston Rockets and Heat, he averaged 19.8 points while shooting 40.8 percent from the field and 32.6 percent on threes, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals in 33 games (33 starts).
By keeping Oladipo, the Heat retains his Bird rights and can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him up to his maximum salary when he hits free agency again next offseason. This will help Miami in its effort to re-sign Oladipo next summer if he impresses after returning from injury.
But the Heat front office’s work isn’t done yet, as there are still two roster spots to fill to get to 14 players, which is one shy of the NBA regular-season maximum of 15 players but still acceptable under NBA roster rules. Miami has gone with 14 players in previous seasons when up against the luxury tax or hard cap.
What money does the Heat have remaining to offer free agents to complete the roster?
The 12 players already committed to Miami for next season combine to total $129.7 million, and that number grows to $134.9 million when including Ryan Anderson’s $5.2 million waive-and-stretch cap hit.
The 2021-22 NBA salary cap is set at $112.4 million and the luxury-tax threshold is at about $136.6 million. But because the Heat is acquiring Lowry through a sign-and-trade transaction, Miami faces a $143 million hard cap.
This leaves the Heat with about $8.1 million to fill out the roster before reaching the hard-cap threshold unless other trades are completed to create additional room.
The Heat obviously does not have available cap space to sign an outside free agent. But by operating as an over-the-cap team, Miami has two exceptions available to use: the non-taxpayer midlevel exception for $9.5 million and the bi-annual exception for $3.7 million.
With about $7.3 million of the $9.5 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception going to Tucker, the Heat has roughly $2.2 million remaining of that exception to sign another player. And Miami still has the full $3.7 million bi-annual exception available to use.
In addition to those two exceptions, the Heat can also sign outside free agents using minimum contracts that count as $1.7 million toward the luxury tax and hard cap. Miami could lower that cap hit to just under $1 million if the free agent it signs is an undrafted player.
The Heat does have enough room to offer an outside free agent the $3.7 million bi-annual exception and fill out the remaining two spots with veteran minimum deals to get to the NBA regular-season maximum of 15 players. That scenario would leave Miami about $1 million under the hard cap.
Despite landing Lowry and bringing back Oladipo and Vincent, the Heat could still look to add depth at guard because Oladipo is not expected to be available for most of the season. Among the guards still available in free agency who could sign for the money Miami has to spend are J.J. Redick, Lou Williams, Wesley Matthews, Avery Bradley, Tyler Johnson and Elfrid Payton.
The Heat also has a need for another big man in its frontcourt rotation, with Adebayo and Dedmon currently the only two centers on the roster. Among the bigs still available in free agency are Paul Millsap, Ed Davis, Frank Kaminsky, DeMarcus Cousins, Khem Birch and Harry Giles.
Center Omer Yurtseven is another option the Heat could turn to. Yurtseven, who is an unrestricted free agent after Miami declined the $1.5 million team option in his contract over the weekend, is on the Heat’s summer league team and was impressive in his debut with 27 points and 19 rebounds in 32 minutes in Tuesday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Sacramento.
But the hard cap isn’t the only thing to monitor as the Heat fills out the rest of its roster. Miami also can’t ignore the luxury tax threshold after finishing the 2019-20 season as a tax team and the threat of a punitive repeater tax (when a team is over the tax at least three times over a four-year period) looming.
The Heat stands roughly $1.7 million away from the tax line and is on track to cross it while completing its roster for next season. Miami will have until the end of the regular season to make moves to get completely below the line to avoid finishing as a tax team and paying the penalty.
In addition to all of that, the machinations of the Lowry sign-and-trade are still being worked out, with Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa believed to be the only two Heat players being sent out in the deal.
There are three players from the Heat’s season-ending roster who remain free agents: Udonis Haslem, Andre Iguodala and Yurtseven. The expectation is that Haslem also again will return at the veteran minimum.
Negotiations began Monday, but free agents can’t formally sign their new contracts until Friday at 12:01 p.m.