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What the Heat’s free agency options are and are not, as well as how Rozier affects that…



Two major target pools for this summer were essentially removed when the Heat decided in January to take on the remaining two and a half years of Terry Rozier’s contract: 1. Participants who would take into account the midlevel exemption for non-taxpaying $12.4 million and 2). Players who are eligible to be moved for that exception for the first time in NBA history. It also made it much harder to hold onto Haywood Highsmith and extremely improbable to keep Caleb Martin.

It also made it far less likely that the Heat would sign any free agent this summer who wasn’t on a minimum deal. A $5 million taxpayer midlevel exception will be available to the Heat, but given the significant tax implications, it’s likely to be underused. Rozier’s multiyear contract took the place of Kyle Lowry’s expiring one, leaving the Heat almost $10 million above the luxury tax threshold for the next year.

At the time, and to some extent even now, the Heat needed an offensive boost, and Rozier occasionally delivered it. He finished his first Heat season with an average of 16.4 points per game on 37.1 percent shooting in 31 games before suffering a neck/spinal injury that kept him out of action for the final six games. Trading Lowry and a first-round pick for Rozier was justified. According to Pat Riley, the experts anticipate that Rozier will fully recover.

However, Miami decided that Rozier was better than anyone it could have signed (or traded for) at a salary of $12.4 million or less this summer, even at the expense of the 2027 or 2028 first-round pick Miami must send Charlotte, in order to accept the $24.9 million and $26.6 million due Rozier over the next two seasons. That last sentence’s trading element is novel. Teams may exchange their non-taxpaying midlevel exception for a player earning at least the exception’s worth as part of the new labor agreement.

This summer, a number of players might be moved for a midlevel exception, including former Heat guard Gabe Vincent of the Lakers, guards Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmo, and Jevon Carter of the Bulls, forward Bobby Portis of the Bucks, and forward Herb Jones of the Pelicans. After the Rozier deal, Miami won’t have access to that route.

However, Rozier is probably a better fit for Miami than any of those guys who would be available otherwise. (A few of those items would not have been accessible.) Had the Heat not acquired Rozier through trade, it could have signed a free agency point guard this summer with exception money, someone like Spencer Dinwiddie of the Lakers, Tyus Jones of Washington, and Kris Dunn and Talen Horton-Tucker of Utah. In the end, Rozier was superior than all of those choices. Unless the Heat drastically reduce cost in a trade, the Heat’s payroll with Rozier included will exclude the Heat from consideration for players who want to earn a salary higher than the league minimum.

These players, who are not elite free agents but are in line to receive exception money, include forward Gordon Hayward of Oklahoma City, guard Gary Trent Jr. of Toronto, and guard Lonnie Walker IV of the Nets and former Miami Hurricanes (9.7 points this season and 38.4 percent on threes). Paul George, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Klay Thompson, Pascal Siakam (who is anticipated to re-sign with Indiana), Miles Bridges, Tobias Harris, Buddy Hield, Malik Monk, and—most likely—a few players with player options—LeBron James, DeAngelo Russell, OG Anunoby, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope—will be the main players in this summer’s free agent class.

As a result, trading for a player who isn’t a free agent may end up being easier than trading for one who is. One thing regarding Rozier to keep in mind is that, even though the Heat would benefit from his scoring the next season, his two-year deal would also be significant in order to facilitate a trade for a high-paid All-Star player.