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Heat adds forward Maurice Harkless in free agency, as Jae Crowder leaves to Suns

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 2 days ago Anthony Chiang and Barry Jackson, The Miami Herald

The Miami Heat is adding free agent forward Maurice Harkless to its roster, multiple league sources confirmed to the Miami Herald.

The Heat will use either its entire biannual exception or part of its $9.3 million midlevel exception to sign Harkless to a one-year, $3.6 million deal.

After guard Goran Dragic and center Meyers Leonard agreed to return to the Heat in the opening minutes of free agent negotiations Friday night, Miami added outside help with Harkless’ commitment on Saturday morning and then a few hours later reached an agreement to sign veteran free agent guard Avery Bradley on Saturday afternoon.

Harkless, 27, split last season between the Los Angeles Clippers and the New York Knicks. He averaged 5.8 points while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 34.7 percent on threes, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists last season.

Harkless has never played in a game for the Heat before, but he was technically a member of the organization for a very short time last year. The Portland Trail Blazers dealt Harkless and Leonard to the Heat as part of the four-team Jimmy Butler trade in the 2019 offseason, but the Heat moved Harkless to the Clippers just hours later to help facilitate the deal.

Harkless (6-7, 220) was the 15th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He has averaged 7.2 points while shooting 47.8 percent from the field, 32.5 percent on threes and 61.2 percent from the foul line, 3.7 rebounds and one steal in his NBA career.

After receiving free agent commitments from Bradley, Dragic, Harkless, Udonis Haslem and Leonard, the Heat’s current salary-cap breakdown for this upcoming season looks like this: Jimmy Butler ($34.4 million), Dragic ($18 million), Andre Iguodala ($15 million), Kelly Olynyk ($12.6 million), Leonard ($9.7 million), Bradley ($5.7 million), Bam Adebayo ($5.1 million), Tyler Herro ($3.8 million), Harkless ($3.6 million), Duncan Robinson ($1.7 million), Kendrick Nunn ($1.7 million), Haslem ($1.6 million cap hit) KZ Okpala ($1.5 million), Chris Silva ($1.5 million), and the projected $2.6 million cap hit for Precious Achiuwa. In addition, a $5.2 million waive-and-stretch cap hit for Ryan Anderson is still on Miami’s books, as well as a $350,000 waive-and-stretch cap hit for AJ Hammons.

Add all that up, and the Heat has about $124 million committed to 15 players for this upcoming season with the 2020-21 salary cap set at $109.140 million. Miami’s roster is now basically full with 15 players under standard contracts, which is the NBA regular-season limit, with free agent signings allowed to begin Sunday at 12:01 p.m.

The Heat also learned Saturday that forward Jae Crowder would not return, as he opted for a three-year deal with Phoenix worth $29 million instead of a one-year deal with a one-year team option with Miami. The Heat’s offer to Crowder included a salary for this upcoming season in the $14 million range, according to a league source, and Miami was unwilling to offer more than one guaranteed season because of its desire to retain substantial cap space in the 2021 offseason.

As things stood Saturday afternoon, there are just three players from the Heat’s 2019-20 season-ending roster who will not be back with the team next season: Crowder, and forwards Derrick Jones Jr. and Solomon Hill. Crowder is signing with the Suns, Jones is leaving Miami to sign with the Portland Trail Blazers on a two-year, $19 million contract that includes a player option in the second year, and Hill remains a free agent weighing his options.

The Heat operated as an over-the-cap team to preserve the Bird rights of its own free agents to facilitate their returns. Miami entered free agency with Bird rights for all six of its free agents, which allows NBA teams to exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign their own free agents.

As an over-the-cap team, it became less about how much cap space the Heat has and more about how much room it has below the luxury tax line.

The Heat is now about $8 million away from the tax line of $132.627 million after accounting for the commitments from Bradley, Dragic, Harkless, Haslem and Leonard. That gives Miami some cushion for a potential trade if it wants to take in more salary than it sends out (within cap rules) at the trade deadline or before then.

In order to sign Bradley and Harkless, Miami will use exception money since it’s already over the salary cap. The Heat has the ability to utilize a $9.3 million midlevel exception, a $3.6 million biannual exception and a $7 million trade exception to add outside help, and exceptions can’t be combined.

The Heat could fit Bradley ($5.7 million) and Harkless ($3.6 million) both into the $9.3 midlevel exception to preserve the biannual exception.

Why would Miami do this? It would allow for the Heat to use the biannual exception next offseason since this exception can’t be used in two consecutive years.

Or the Heat could simply use the entire $3.6 million biannual exception to sign Harkless and part of the $9.3 midlevel exception to sign Bradley if the math did not add up to take the other route.

In either scenario, the Heat will be operating under a $138.9 million hard cap this season. That number is the tax apron — about $6 million above the tax line — but it’s not especially restrictive for Miami because it prefers not to be a taxpaying team this season anyway after finishing as a tax team this past season.

According to a league source, both options were possibilities as of Saturday afternoon and the contracts were still being finalized.

The Heat also filled one of its two two-way contract spot Friday, signing guard Gabe Vincent to a two-way deal for a second consecutive season. Miami’s second two-way contract slot is still open.

Teams are allowed to carry up to 20 players during training camp and the preseason. With Vincent signing a two-way deal, Miami now has 16 players on its roster (15 under standard contracts and one under a two-way contract).

The Heat likely will choose to fill out the remaining four spots on its preseason roster with Exhibit 10 contracts, which includes an invitation to training camp. Exhibit 10 deals, which do not count against the salary cap or luxury tax, can be converted to two-way contracts.

While free agent negotiations began Friday, free agent signings begin Sunday at 12:01 p.m.

There will be a quick turnaround for the entire NBA following free agency, with training camps opening in early December in advance of a Dec. 22 start to the 2020-21 season.


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