Heat quiet so far in free agency as Kevin Durant watch continues, and Jovic signs rookie deal

Daniel A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·7 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Miami Heat looks to be in a holding pattern as the pursuit of superstar Kevin Durant continues.

Saturday marked Day 3 of free agency and the Durant sweepstakes, and the Heat has been relatively quiet so far with no free agent additions since agreeing to terms to bring back center Dewayne Dedmon and guard Victor Oladipo shortly after negotiations were allowed to begin around the league Thursday evening.

But there’s plenty of work being done by the Heat behind the scenes, with the Brooklyn Nets fielding trade offers for Durant, a midlevel exception available to use in free agency, and some of its own free agents like Caleb Martin still on the open market. Miami also signed first-round pick Nikola Jovic, 19, to his rookie scale contract on Saturday.

Then there’s the uncertainty surrounding star Donovan Mitchell’s situation with the Utah Jazz. Teams around the league are trying to figure out if the Jazz will soon be open to listening to trade offers for Mitchell, with the organization unloading rotation players this offseason for draft picks as part of moves that signal the start of a rebuild.

The Athletic reported that the Jazz “are not amendable to trading Mitchell” at the moment and “want to build around their star,” but also emphasized that a trade shouldn’t be completely ruled out if a team made a huge offer for Mitchell that forced Utah to consider a deal.

The Heat has been linked to both Durant and Mitchell, with the current focus squarely on Durant after he requested a trade from the Nets on Thursday.

Durant, a 12-time NBA All-Star, four-time scoring champion and former league MVP, reportedly has the Heat and Phoenix Suns as two of his preferred trade destinations.

With four seasons left on Durant’s contract, he doesn’t hold as much leverage as he would if he was on an expiring deal to force his way to a specific team. But Durant does have some power because a team probably isn’t going to want to deal away rising stars and most of its draft capital for a player who doesn’t want to be there, whether it’s for an all-time great or not.

Reports and common sense indicate that the Nets are looking for All-Star caliber talent and significant draft compensation in return for Durant, who turns 34 in September.

But there’s a fine line because Durant also wants to be traded to a championship contender, so the team that acquires him must hold on to some of its top talent while also giving the Nets what they want to complete the deal.

So how can the Heat keep its top two players, Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, and still build a strong enough trade offer to land Durant?

Such a Heat trade package would need to be headlined by 22-year-old guard Tyler Herro, who was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year this past season.

But for salary-matching purposes to satisfy NBA rules, more Heat players would need to be included in such a trade for Durant. The Heat would need to send out at least about $35 million in salaries to acquire Durant’s $44.1 million salary for next season.

A hypothetical Heat offer that includes Herro ($5.7 million salary for 2022-23), Duncan Robinson ($16.9 million) and Kyle Lowry ($28.3 million) would meet that requirement, and Miami also has young talent on minimum deals like Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Omer Yurtseven who can be included in the offer if the Nets want more.

Then there’s the draft compensation that the Heat would need to include in a trade for Durant.

The Heat is currently eligible to include two unprotected first-round picks in a trade offer. But Miami could unlock a third unprotected first-round pick to offer Brooklyn if it can negotiate to lift the lottery protections on the 2025 first-round selection it owes the Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Heat can make the 2025 first-rounder it owes to the Thunder unprotected, Miami would be eligible to include three unprotected first-round picks in 2023, 2027 and 2029 in a trade offer for Durant. This is the maximum amount of unprotected first-rounders the Heat is currently able to trade away with NBA rules not allowing teams to be without consecutive first-round selections and teams only allowed to deal draft picks up to seven drafts into the future.

In this scenario, the Heat could also include three pick swaps in its trade offer to the Nets in 2024, 2026 and 2028, which would give Brooklyn the ability to come away with the better draft position between the two teams in each of those respective years.

It should be noted that Adebayo is not currently eligible to be included in a trade with the Nets because of NBA salary cap rules, unless Ben Simmons is also part of the deal. That’s because of the Designated Rookie Extension rule: A team can’t have two players acquired via trade who were signed to that type of extension such as Adebayo and Simmons.

Also, Jovic is now not eligible to be traded for 30 days after signing his rookie contract with the Heat on Saturday ahead of his first summer league game. Jovic, who was selected with the No. 27 overall pick in this year’s draft, will be under team control for five seasons under his rookie deal with Miami.

Jovic’s four-year rookie contract is projected to be worth $11.5 million (120 percent of the rookie scale amount, which is standard). He’s scheduled to make $2.2 million this upcoming season, $2.4 million in 2023-24, $2.5 million in 2024-25 and $4.4 million in 2025-26, and the third and fourth seasons are teams options in rookie deals.

And Dedmon and Oladipo won’t be allowed to be included in a trade until Jan. 15 after they sign their new contracts with the Heat, which could happen once the free agency moratorium ends on Wednesday at noon.

The truth is there are more than a few teams that can put together a better trade offer for Durant than the Heat’s if Adebayo and/or Butler aren’t included. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday that the Toronto Raptors are “a team that’s lurking” because of their combination of intriguing young players and draft assets that they can offer the Nets.

But if Durant’s list of preferred destinations is really as short as the Suns and the Heat and he won’t consider playing anywhere else, it doesn’t matter because Miami’s only competition is Phoenix in that case.

Heat general manager and salary-cap guru Andy Elisburg could also get creative and work to improve the team’s trade offer by bringing more teams into the deal.

There are plenty of possibilities for the Heat to consider, including the one that leaves them without Durant.

The Heat’s current roster for next season includes 12 players on standard contracts: Butler, Adebayo, Lowry, Robinson, Oladipo, Herro, Dedmon, Jovic, Strus, Vincent, Yurtseven and Haywood Highsmith (partially guaranteed).

If the Heat does not win the Durant sweepstakes, it will still have a big hole to fill after the departure of starting power forward P.J. Tucker. The Philadelphia 76ers received a commitment from Tucker early in free agency.

But the Heat is not going to risk losing out on Durant by trading away one of its valuable first-round picks for another Tucker replacement. It’s also hard to build a roster in free agency when it’s unclear what things are going to look like if a handful of players need to be included in a blockbuster trade.

Heat president Pat Riley is always going to go after the superstar, even if it means watching mid-level exception options in free agency come off the board and possibly taking a step back in the short term if the chase for the star isn’t successful. It’s a risk he has been willing to take in the past and it’s a risk he’s apparently willing to take again this summer.

HIGHSMITH GUARANTEE

The first $50,000 of Highsmith’s $1.8 million salary with the Heat for next season became guaranteed because he was not waived by Friday’s deadline. Highsmith is currently on track to be a member of Miami’s 15-man roster this upcoming season and also on the summer league team that opened play on Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers in San Francisco.