Around this time a year ago, Miami Heat president Pat Riley famously extended Danny Ainge an "STFU" message.
Now, he owes the Boston Celtics president a huge "thanks."
In a three-team trade being finalized Wednesday, the Heat unloaded seldom-used center Joel Anthony and the $3.8 million he's owed next season onto the Celtics and acquired veteran combo guard Toney Douglas from the Golden State Warriors.
For the Heat, the move is a major tax relief above anything else. Douglas earns $1.6 million this season and will become a free agent this summer, thus the trade clears Anthony's salary for next season off Miami's books and could save the team between $4 million and as much as $11 million for the remainder of this season and next.
Anthony, an offensively limited shot-blocking specialist, signed with the Heat as an undrafted free agent out of UNLV in 2007. But he has seen his role diminish in recent seasons as the team shifted to a small-ball approach and used 3-point shooters to surround LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the way to winning consecutive championships the past two seasons.
Anthony was given a five-year, $18 million contract in the summer of 2010, when the Heat also brought in James, Bosh and Mike Miller and re-signed Wade and Udonis Haslem. Now, Anthony's departure helps relieve the punitive luxury-tax burden the Heat stands to face this summer as they hope to keep their increasingly expensive core intact.
James, Wade and Bosh are each due to earn at least $20 million next season, but all three player hold opt-out clauses in their contracts that would allow them to become free agents after this season. Wednesday's move helps the Heat in their quest to clear as much salary-cap space as possible, with Haslem and backup point guard Norris Cole the only other players on the roster who are slated to be due more than $2 million during the 2014-15 season.
The Heat also sent the conditional first-round pick they acquired from Philadelphia to Boston, with that pick likely to become a pair of second-round selections based on the 76ers' current struggles. In Douglas, a former star at Florida State, the Heat gain a player who has averaged 8.1 points, 2.2 assists and has made 339 career 3-pointers in his five seasons.
But Douglas has seen his playing time dip as he’s spent time with four teams over the past three seasons, and he’s averaging just 3.7 points and shooting 37 percent from 3-point range this season. If they indeed keep Douglas after the trade, he would provide depth to a backcourt that has seen starting guards Mario Chalmers and Wade miss a total of 14 games this season. Chalmers will miss his fourth straight game Wednesday in Washington as he recovers from Achilles tendinitis. Wade has been on a maintenance program to periodically rest his knees after undergoing an offseason procedure.
If the Heat decide to release Douglas, it would free up a roster spot that could allow them to make a midseason acquisition via free agency. Miami has been mentioned among the teams that have shown at least some level of interest in available center Andrew Bynum, who was released by Chicago last week after he was traded from Cleveland.
The three-team trade allowed Boston to send guards Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks to Golden State, with the Celtics expecting Rajon Rondo to return from knee surgery in the coming days.
But this isn't the first time the Heat and Celtics have had a productive exchange. Last spring, the top basketball executives of both teams traded barbs after Ainge accused James of being one of the most prolific complainers in the game in an attempt to draw fouls.
Ainge's comments came after James complained about opponents being too aggressive with fouls when they try to slow him down. It was in the aftermath of a game against the Chicago Bulls on March 27, when guard Kirk Hinrich tackled James in the open court to stop a layup. The Bulls won the game at home and ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak.
"I think that it's almost embarrassing that LeBron would complain about officiating," Ainge told a Boston radio station at the time.
After hearing of Ainge's comments, Riley took issue and fired off a statement through a team spokesman.
"Danny Ainge needs to shut the f--- up and manage his own team," the statement read. "He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing, and I know that because I coached against him."
Apparently, Riley and Ainge have since worked out their differences in a trade that was largely beneficial to the Heat's immediate future.