Tread carefully, hoops heads.
With the NBA Finals in the rear view and free agency in sight, now's a time for reflection, regret or comfort and promising scenarios that gate the line of outer-space-teaparties implausible.
Kyle Lowry's interest in joining the Miami Heat, and their interest in signing him, is among these fantastic notions. It's not impossible—it doesn't cross that sipping-intergalactic-tea line—but it is unlikely.
The guy who has mutual interest with the Heat and who fits a position of need is Kyle Lowry. Lowry could attract max offers from the Raptors and elsewhere; for the Heat to sign him -- at a discount -- Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would have to opt out of their contracts and re-sign for less money.
Like most other ambitious free-agency ventures, signing Lowry sounds great. The Heat need a point guard as it's become clear Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole won't cut it any longer.
This is a point man's league and while LeBron James is a floor general with the body and explosiveness of a power forward, he cannot direct the offense for 48 minutes a night, every night. Lowry adds much-needed depth to the NBA's most important position.
Not only is he coming off a career season with the Toronto Raptors—during which he averaged personal bests in points (17.9), assists (7.4) and three-point shooting (38) percent per game—but he's fit to play off the ball, a requisite quality when placed alongside James and Dwyane Wade.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), he sank 45.6 percent of his spot-up opportunities overall and 44.6 percent from deep in 2013-14, making him an ideal point man for these Heatles.
All of which, again, sounds good. Too good. So good, it's unlikely.
Too Much Posturing
To even have a shot at Lowry, the Heat need to have a number of things go their way.
Before anything else, they must create cap space. How much they need to clear isn't as important right now as actually being in position to get under the cap.
This is only possible if each member of the Big Three opts out of their contracts. Their 2014-15 salaries—$20-plus million each—still count as cap holds, but the Heat have the ability to diminish those hits by signing them to new, discounted pacts or renouncing their Bird rights entirely.
Either way works. Relinquishing the Bird rights to James, Wade and Chris Bosh would normally be insane, but they'll be expected to take less money anyway. And with that being the goal, having the ability to offer them more money than other teams isn't paramount.
Signing them to reduced salaries immediately would be preferable—possible too, so long as the Heat know how much they can shell out without jeopardizing their chance at signing Lowry.
Everything we just discussed rests on the Big Three taking less— a pretty big, problematic assumption.
Asking the best player in the world to accept a pay cut is sacrilegious to a point. It doesn't matter if it's the championship-ring-clad Pat Riley doing it.
James is already underpaid in the sense that he's worth far more than the collective bargaining agreement would ever permit him to make. Suggesting he take anything other than the maximum allowed can be considered unfair.
Bosh isn't some throw-in who just goes with the flow either. He said he would accept below market value "if that's what it takes," while on ESPN Radio's The Dan LeBatard Show, per Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post, but he's an eight-time All-Star (nine selections). He's not at a point in his career where he needs to curb his earning potential.
Then there's Wade, who stands to be the most complicated case study, as Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick discusses in the below video:
Wade is due almost $42 million over the next two seasons. Not even Riley's magic touch can persuade him to walk away from that much. Not unless the Heat are dangling a back-loaded deal that pays him—like Skolnick noted above—$60 million over four years or something.
No amount of championships Wade has won, no level of adulation he receives from the city of Miami, is worth locking him down for that long. Who's to say he can even play another four years?
There's no doubt he still has talent. But this isn't an ability issue. It's an availability issue, and Wade isn't always available now, let alone three, four years down the line.
Opening up additional cap space is predicated on the Heat getting him to opt out and accept less. You don't even have to read between the lines of comments he offered during the NBA Finals to realize that's unlikely to happen—there are no lines, per ESPN.com's Michael Wallace:
Obviously, you don't have to do anything. From the standpoint of us even coming together, it wasn't anything I had to do. It's what I wanted to do. And will never feel like I have to do this. We all think I worked very hard over my career to earn what I've earned and put myself in that position. So I will never feel like I have to take less after this, or have to do this. It's not my job. It's the job of others around to figure out how to make it work. If I want to be a part of that, then I'll be a part of that. But if I don't, I won't. It's simple as that. I don't feel that pressure at all.
Yeah, that, unlike the report of Lowry liking Miami, doesn't sound so good.
Lowry's Market Value
Allow me to make an optimist out of you for a few seconds.
Say Miami's Big Three are willing to accept less. How much less must they accept?
Goodbye optimism. We barely knew, ye.
Outfitting Lowry in Heat colors will take drastic pay cuts. Not $1 or 2 million annually. More than that. Much more than that.
Riley and Co. run into the same obstacles here as they do with chasing Carmelo Anthony. Windhorst and colleague Marc Stein said the Heat were planning to make a run at the seven-time All-Star, but the numbers just don't add up.
Lowry isn't much different when you consider how much he can fetch in free agency:
Point guard is a deep position, so that could taper his value slightly. But he should have been an All-Star this year and played well enough that Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was wary of trying to re-sign him this summer, according to NBA.com's David Aldridge.
The Heat cannot count on reeling in Lowry at a steep discount either. At 28, his value has never been higher. This is his chance to sign a fat contract that pays him eight figures annually.
Let's set his price tag at $10 million for 2014-15, which could wind up being on the low end. And let's also say the Heat wipe their books completely clean by getting Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem to decline their player options, trading Norris Cole, renouncing their rights to Mario Chalmers, waiving Justin Hamilton and having the Big Three opt out.
Each NBA team must have at least 13 players on the roster. We know the Heat will (hypothetically) have four in Lowry, Bosh, James and Wade. They also own the 26th overall pick in this year's draft.
Minimum cap holds worth approximately $500,000 are placed on empty roster spots. The Heat would have eight in this scenario, totaling $4 million. Then there's whatever they pay their draft pick—about $1 million.
That gives them $5 million in salary commitments. Subtract that from the $62.3 million cap projection Stein gives us, and the Heat are left with $57.3 million in spending power.
Tack on $10 million for Lowry, and they're left with $47.3 million. Split between the Big Three equally, this comes out to nearly $15.8 million each.
Is that enough? Probably not. Worse, this is the best-case scenario. There's no guarantee they can dump Cole in a trade. It's also unlikely Haslem passes on a $4 million payday next season
And if all goes according to plan, what are the Heat left with? Four established players, a rookie and some fillers? Even if they get guys like Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Andersen to return on minimum contracts, their depth issue doesn't improve much, if at all.
Possible, Yet Far From Probable
When pitted against the possibility of luring Anthony to Miami, Lowry's arrival is more realistic.
But more realistic doesn't mean probable.
Significant pay cuts are still involved. Joining Miami may even demand Lowry take less himself. Mutual sacrifice isn't something both parties are necessarily interested in, even if they are, in fact, intrigued by one another, as NBC Sports' Brett Pollakoff wrote:
Lowry seemed like he was envisioning himself as part of Toronto’s future shortly after his team’s playoff loss to the Nets, but that will only be the case if the deal offered by the Raptors is in line with what he can get somewhere else. Either way, Miami will be hard-pressed to free up enough money to make a serious run at a costly talent like Lowry — unless James, Wade and Bosh all are convinced he’s the critical piece that will put them back into championship contention.
Financial concessions and depleted depth are risks worth taking only if the shallow, star-stuffed roster being fielded will bring you closer to a title. A combination of Lowry, James, Bosh and Wade doesn't improve the Heat's ceiling by leaps and bounds.
Accepting a depreciated salary for a diminished offensive role also won't appeal to Lowry, a solid floor general in the middle of his prime. And conceding tens of millions of dollars over the life of their new contracts won't pique the Big Three's interest when a fourth star isn't at stake.
"Because every team in the NBA continues to get better every year, and we need to get better as well," James said, via Skolnick. "We have some holes that need to be filled."
Holes that need to be filled for the sake of depth; depth that can only be created through financial sacrifices; financial sacrifices that aren't worth making when the prize is only one hole-filler.
*Contract information via ShamSports.