NBA Lockout Analysis: What Happens to LeBron James, Miami Heat?

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By Diego Quezada

Micky Arison’s tweets that earned him a $500,000 fine from NBA commissioner David Stern confirmed what most people following the lockout already knew – small market owners want more concessions from the players union than other owners. I won’t spend a lot of time on this issue, but Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was fined $100,000 for his letter chastising LeBron James for leaving Cleveland. Come on.

Seeing Arison’s tweets can make it easy for people to overlook the fact that the two sides have made significant progress towards a deal. According to The New York Times’ Howard Beck, the new collective bargaining agreement is about 95 percent complete. The two sides are now in a staring contest over the league’s basketball related income – the owners want a 50/50 split while the union wants 52.5 percent of the share. David Aldridge points out that the best option for the players is to blink and accept the 50/50 split. Economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier agree, saying that the players should take the offer, even if it isn’t fair. If Stern and union executive Billy Hunter shake hands on a deal this week or next, the season could conceivably start by mid-December.

Although the players have offered considerable concessions, Pat Riley should feel pretty good about the agreed-upon parameters of the collective bargaining agreement. The NBA won’t impose a hard salary cap, and the mid-level exception will start at $5 million. Here’s what to expect to happen when the lockout ends.

Where the Heat Stand Now

The Heat currently have eight players under contract for next season: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, Eddie House and Dexter Pittman. Together, they will earn $62.5 million. The luxury-tax threshold for the 2010-11 season was $70.3 million, and it probably won't change much for next year. First-round draft pick Norris Cole will sign a contract with the Heat shortly after the lockout ends, bringing that figure to nine.

In order to mitigate media speculation surrounding Erik Spoelstra, who only has one year left on his contract, Riley should sign the Heat coach to an extension immediately. It won’t completely stop the speculation, but it would be a public show of support for the man who guided the Heat to the Finals.

Miami’s Restricted Free Agents

Expect Riley to act quickly with the status of Mario Chalmers. The restricted free agent would probably have the starting point guard job if he signs back with the Heat, and he voiced his desire to re-sign as recently as Oct. 9, the date of the South Florida All-Star Classic.

Miami’s other restricted free agent, James Jones, opted out of a chance to earn $1.4 million next year, so he wants more. Riley may be willing to offer more than $1.4 million considering Miller’s injury-prone history and offseason surgeries. Teams will be charged $1.50 for every dollar spent in the luxury tax for the first $5 million a team goes over the threshold. Arison may be willing to open his wallet on his team, but the luxury tax becomes more punitive the more a team spends in the tax.

Mid-level exception

The largest tool the Heat can use this offseason, the mid-level exception, will only see a decrease of $800,000 in the starting salary from last year. Despite James’ recruitment messages on Twitter, don’t expect Jamal Crawford to sign here; he is way out of the Heat’s price range.

The conventional choice is Samuel Dalembert, a serviceable 30-year-old center with roots in Haiti. The owners want to shorten the length of MLE contracts to three years, while the players want four. Whatever the length becomes, the contract Dalembert signs this offseason will likely represent his last chance to cash in. Although teams can split the MLE among multiple players, Dalembert could ask for the full $5 million. And with the Heat’s lack of quality at the center position, Riley would probably have to oblige him.

Amnesty Clause

Each team will be able to waive, with pay, one player who was under contract by July 1, 2011 at any time during the new collective bargaining agreement. Because of the one player limit, it wouldn’t make sense to use the amnesty clause on Eddie House, who only has one year left on his contract.

With the additions of Chalmers, Jones and Dalembert, the Heat may reach the luxury tax threshold. Riley may consider waiving Miller, but Brian Windhorst reported that the Heat President will likely wait another year before considering that possibility.

Free Agents

Windhorst also reported that the Heat could try to sign amnesty candidate Baron Davis. That decision may come down to two points: whether Riley and Spoelstra feel comfortable with Chalmers and a rookie in Cole as his point guards and whether Davis has the motivation to get in shape. Riley has also looked at free agent center Eddy Curry, a player who has had weight issues in the past. Mr. GQ has taken chances on players with conditioning problems in the past, so don’t discount the possibility of him signing Curry and/or Davis.

Assuming Riley re-signs Chalmers and Jones and uses the MLE on Dalembert, he would have 12 players under contract, and would possibly find himself in the luxury tax. Expect him to sign players for minimum-salary contracts (such as Davis or Curry), although it would be best to sign young players with some promise as opposed to players on the edge of retirement with little left in the tank.

Get more great Miami Heat stuff over at Hot Hot Hoops.