In the end, the Heat decided that having point guard Kyle Lowry on the team, even at a bloated $29.7 million, was more valuable than having him off the team and getting rid of his money in the bargain. There is clear logic in that decision, but there is also a pretty big drawback.
Last week, the Heat let pass the deadline to use a trick of the collective bargaining agreement—the stretch provision—to waive Lowry and keep only a fraction of his salary on the books for this season. The Heat still would have had to pay Lowry his $29.7 million, but on the salary ledger, it would have been spread over three seasons, at $9.9 million.
That would not be enough to move the Heat under the luxury tax, but it would have put them much more comfortably under the league’s restrictive “tax aprons.” And if they had done that, they’d have been freed up to use some available exceptions to sign lingering free agents like Christian Wood and, presumably, another point guard.
Trade Involving Lowry Still Possible
Instead, the Heat will be back with Lowry next year—maybe, at least. One advantage to keeping him, of course, is that the Heat now have his $29.7 million available to use in a trade, whether as part of a blockbuster Damian Lillard deal or for another player altogether.
A potential Lillard deal with Portland likely will involve guard Tyler Herro, draft picks, and one or more young players (Jaime Jaquez, Nikola Jovic). But, it could wind up being an expanded deal between the teams that also brings Miami Jusuf Nurkic, a player the Blazers would like to move because of his shoddy injury history (he has played 153 games in the last four seasons) and salary (he is owed $55 million over the next three seasons).
There’s also the possibility that the Heat and Blazers can only get something done by involving another team, or multiple teams. Maybe, too, the deal gets done as part of a mega-blockbuster that sees James Harden traded from Philly, too.
In those scenarios, the Heat would need Lowry’s salary to be included in a trade.
Lowry Played Well in Postseason
It’s true, too, that after a rough regular season, Lowry found a second wind as a sparkplug for the Heat off the bench during their impressive run to the NBA Finals last spring. He averaged 9.2 points, 4.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds in the playoffs, playing 26.0 minutes per game.
It can’t hurt to have Lowry around, whether the Heat trade for Lillard or not. They’re very thin at point guard, with backup Gabe Vincent having moved on to the Lakers in the offseason.
But missing out on the salary space could hurt. The Heat have significant exceptions–$5 million for the mid-level exception, $9.45 million from the Victor Oladipo trade, $7.2 million from the Max Strus deal—that they could use now or later in the season, if they had the room on their books.
As it stands, the Heat owe $178.5 million in salaries according to Spotrac, which is above the first apron and only $4 million below the very punitive second apron.
As Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald points out, one of the consequences of being so far above the first apron is that the Heat can’t sign a player in the buyout market who had made more than $12.4 million. “The decision on Lowry also makes it impossible for the Heat to add a particularly pricey player in the buyout market unless Miami can trim more than $7 million off its payroll in the months ahead,” Jackson wrote.
That includes a player like Kevin Love. Cutting Lowry would have changed that.
Sean Deveney is a Heavy editor with a focus on the NBA and basketball in general. He has covered the league on a national basis for 20 years and has interviewed stars from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He is the author of seven nonfiction books, including “Fun City,” “Before Wrigley became Wrigley,” and “Facing Michael Jordan.” More about Sean Deveney