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Monday, December 6, 2010
Miami's "doomsday scenario" this summer

By Tom Haberstroh

After signing six players to at least five-year deals this offseason, Pat Riley and the Miami Heat solidified their core for the long-term. Or did they?

Jonathan Abrams writes in the New York Times Off the Dribble blog that the uncertainty surrounding the new collective bargaining agreement has teams worried about their payrolls, and the potential new rules that could retroactively affect their outlays to players under contract. Abrams gives us the details:
One view is that the Heat, Lakers and other luxury-tax teams will not be broken up through the implementation of a hard salary cap and the long-term contracts signed the last few years will not be burdensome under a new deal. In that view, teams can gamble that contracts will be reduced in the next agreement and they will not have to pay them in full.

...

The prospect of the hard cap would be a doomsday scenario for conglomerates like the Heat and Lakers. But it is unlikely the N.B.A. will break up its most popular, and thus most profitable, teams. The league could try to phase in a hard cap over years by reducing the salary cap a portion each season. This would also be an attempt at promoting parity.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are on the hook for $47.7 million in 2011-12 while the conglomeration of Joel Anthony, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem are due another $12.8 million. That total of approximately $60.5 million will balloon to 76.4 million in 2014-15 if all six players execute their player options. No one has a clue as to where a potential hard cap would be set, but it's safe to say that there would be provisions that would allow the Big 3 to remain intact. There's almost zero chance that the league institutes a hard cap below the $48 million owed to the Big 3 next season, but they could make it difficult to keep Miller and Haslem in a Heat uniform long-term.

The Heat are the hottest ticket in the NBA, regardless of the notoriously sparse and tardy crowds at AmericanAirlines Arena. The SuperFriends have drawn an average of 19,030 fans on the road which equates to 100.9 percent capacity (don't ask me what the extra 0.9 percent comes from) and an average of 19,394 fans overall. The Chicago Bulls come in second at the turnstiles while, interestingly enough, the Los Angeles Lakers rank third in the attendance standings.

So if the NBA chooses to tighten their belts with a hard cap that would force breaking up Miami's Big 3, they will wave goodbye to a lot of that ticket revenue and hope it gets dispersed to the lower market clubs.

But the real pain would come from the lost viewers at home. Television ratings involving the Heat have produced eye-popping numbers so far this season and we haven't even reached the Christmas day match-up with the Lakers. That will be telling.

Another big question is what will happen to the soft-cap exceptions that allow teams over the cap threshold to add to their payroll.  The Heat will likely look to upgrade their roster at the point guard and center position this summer, but it remains to be seen how much cash will be available for free agent spending.

Of course, all of the speculation we're hearing this time of year is premature considering we're months away from the negotiating table. Until then, the Heat organization can only hope that Riley won't have to perform an encore and overhaul the roster yet again next summer.