The upcoming Tuesday and Wednesday visits to AmericanAirlines Arena by Giannis Antetokounmpo certainly will take on a different tenor with the Milwaukee Bucks forward having recently agreed to his five-year super-max extension.
Without the extension, it would have been particularly interesting had the coronavirus pandemic not prevented fans from attending, producing one of those rare NBA nights when an opponent is embraced.
Such is a world where fans are well versed in upcoming free agency and cap space.
So now does the outpouring wait until Jan. 28, when the Los Angeles Clippers arrive, possibly with fans back in seats at 601 Biscayne Boulevard?
Kawhi Leonard certainly has left that door open.
On the eve of a season that will end with the championship forward with an opt-out to mull, Leonard made it clear it is an option he is considering.
“For my situation right now,” he said during a video media session, “I’m just focused on this season. You know what I mean? I’m not saying I’m going anywhere else or staying here. But I’m just focused on the season.
“And, obviously, if I stay healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option. But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving or staying. I’m focused on this season. We’ll talk about that when the time is right.”
Of course, with Leonard, you never know, even as the goal appears to be holding the Clippers’ feet to the fire. After all, he left the San Antonio Spurs after a championship. And the Toronto Raptors after one, as well.
Granted, with Bam Adebayo’s extension eating into their 2021 salary-cap space, the Heat will be space shy when it comes to Leonard’s maximum slot. But with Paul George locked into the Clippers’ books with an extension of his own, the Clippers could potentially be amenable to a franchise-salvaging sign-and-trade, if cornered into such a spot.
The point being that even with Giannis off the board in free agency, and even with seemingly every extension-eligible candidate opting for an extension over 2021 free agency, there still are options for the cap space the Heat have squirreled away.
Future cap space that could make it easier to deal at this season’s trading deadline.
Or facilitate trades next summer (removing the need to match salaries dollar for dollar).
Or potentially shop next summer from the B-list.
And then there is an idea floated by The Athletic, a possible move for Blake Griffin from the rebuilding Detroit Pistons.
Yes, we get it. He’s 31 and coming off years of injuries. But that could make the asking price more reasonable than the Heat trade packages floated for James Harden.
With Griffin due $36.8 million this season, and then with a $39 million player option for 2021-22, it puts him at the same age and on the same contract schedule as Jimmy Butler (who has a player option for ’22-23).
Such a move could better position the Heat to win now, while also protecting young assets. (No, Tyler Herro doesn’t go out in this one, and, of course, not Adebayo either.)
But the Pistons basically can move off the 2021-22 money that Griffin likely would opt into, plus could get some of the Heat’s youth (perhaps Kendrick Nunn plus maybe one of either Precious Achiuwa or KZ Okpala). The expiring contracts of Kelly Olynyk and Andre Iguodala would be the starting point to begin the salary-match process (with Meyers Leonard eligible to be thrown in if the Heat wait until February).
For the Heat, working with a roster that can be on both Butler’s schedule and Adebayo’s schedule presents the best of all worlds. And Griffin, with his passing and passable shooting, seemingly would be a quality complement.
For that matter, there also are the San Antonio Spurs and the expiring contract of LaMarcus Aldridge, who is due $24 million this season.
Even with the Heat putting the kibosh on the Harden talks, and even with Giannis arriving for a Tuesday-Wednesday doubleheader with his Bucks extension in tow, there still are paths for Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg to maximize the Heat’s cap approach, even with the Adebayo extension.
Such approaches that then could make it possible to move ahead with another season of Goran Dragic, Avery Bradley and potentially others with 2021-22 Heat team options.
With Giannis, now that the Heat couldn’t get him to join them, it’s back to the way it was in last season’s playoffs — finding a way to again beat him.
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