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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Ira Winderman

Damian Lillard asks out of Portland; Heat lose Max Strus, add Thomas Bryant

MIAMI — For the Miami Heat, the second day of NBA free agency on Saturday became a case of a player lost ... and the potential for landing a superstar.

Amid the Heat continuing to work through the free-agency process, including the loss of guard Max Strus to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the addition of center Thomas Bryant from the Denver Nuggets, came the thunderbolt that Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard not only is seeking a trade, but that the Heat stand atop his wish list.

The Heat have been linked for weeks to Lillard, 32, who has watched the Blazers move toward a youth movement that included the drafting of projected prodigy Scott Henderson at No. 3 a week ago.

Against the backdrop of a potential deal for Lillard, the Heat have been vigilant in protecting both the young prospects in their organization and their future first-round picks.

With Lillard, the Heat could feature a core of Lillard, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

Among those the Heat potentially could put into play for Lillard would be Tyler Herro, Caleb Martin, 2023 first-round pick Jaime Jaquez Jr., 2022 first-round pick Nikola Jovic and the salaries of Kyle Lowry and/or Duncan Robinson to balance a trade tinder the salary cap.

Amid that buzz, the Heat landed Denver Nuggets free-agent center Thomas Bryant on a two-year, $5.4 million contract at the NBA minimum, with the second year a player option.

The addition provides depth in the power rotation, with Omer Yurtseven and Cody Zeller unlikely to return.

Earlier, for the second time in two days the Miami lost a guard from their NBA Finals starting lineup.

After losing point guard Gabe Vincent on Friday to the Los Angeles Lakers at the start of NBA free agency, the Heat on Saturday lost Strus to Cleveland in a sign-and-trade transaction.

Unlike with the loss of Vincent, the Heat received compensation, albeit nominal, in the Strus transaction, which grew into a three-team trade also involving the San Antonio Spurs. From the deal, the Heat will realize a $7.3 million trade exception, equal to half of Strus’ first-year salary on his four-year, $63 million deal with the Cavaliers, as well as a second-round pick.

In order to make the salary-cap math work, the Cavaliers sent Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens to the Spurs, who had the requisite salary-cap space to take in those contracts.

The Heat on Friday lost Vincent to the Lakers on a three-year, $33 million offer. The Heat, according to a source familiar with the Vincent negotiations, had offered Vincent a four-year, $34 million deal.

Unlike with Vincent, the Heat did not counter on Strus with an offer competitive with what the former undrafted free agent received from the Cavaliers.

For the Heat, the Strus sign-and-trade is the latest reshaping of a roster that stands hard up against the most punitive elements of the NBA’s restrictive new luxury tax.

Since Friday’s start of free agency, the Heat have:

– Lost Vincent to the Lakers.

– Agreed to terms with former Heat guard Josh Richardson from the New Orleans Pelicans in free agency to a two-year, $5.9 million contract at the NBA veteran minimum, with the second year a player option.

– Agree to terms with veteran power forward Kevin Love to a two-year contract starting at $3.7 million next season, with the second year a player option.

– Traded guard Victor Oladipo and two second-round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a means of removing from their books the final season on Oladipo’s contract, at $9.5 million for 2023-24.

– Lost Strus in free agency to the Cavaliers.

– Agreed to terms with Bryant.

Without a Lillard trade, in the wake of the losses of Vincent and Strus, the Heat are positioned with a potential starting backcourt of Lowry and Herro, in a starting lineup rounded out by Adebayo at center, Love at power forward and Butler at small forward.

Such a rotation, based on the Heat’s current roster mix, could be rounded out with a reserve rotation of Martin, Richardson, Robinson, Haywood Highsmith, Bryant, Jaquez and Jovic.

The Heat still have three open spots on their 15-player, regular-season standard roster, spots that likely will be filled with contracts at the NBA minimum.

In addition, the Heat can carry up to three players on two-way contracts, with 2022-23 two-way players Jamal Cain and Orlando Robinson currently working with the team at summer league.

With the losses of Vincent and Strus, 3-point shooting figures to be a priority going forward for the Heat.

Strus, 27, who went undrafted out of DePaul in 2019 and joined the Heat at the start of 2020-21, started all 23 of the Heat’s playoff games in their run to the NBA Finals, after starting all 18 games in the Heat’s 2022 postseason run to within one game of the NBA Finals.

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