It could be argued that on the quietest of NBA trade deadlines for the Miami Heat that they actually pushed all of their chips to the middle of the table.
It also came to be realized that those chips, at least at the moment, have no value.
The Heat in recent years have re-signed or signed players to deals that often include a degree of future thought when it comes to the ability to utilize such salaries down the road as trade chips.
The team, for example, brought Goran Dragic back on a two-year contract in November 2020, coming off a significant foot injury in that season’s NBA Finals, seemingly with the perspective of having that second season as a potential cap filler in a trade. That proved to be the case, with Dragic’s 2021-22 salary facilitating the sign-and-trade deal for Kyle Lowry (more on him later).
The Heat also re-signed Meyers Leonard on a similar deal in the 2020 offseason also with an eye on a potential trade. Four months later, that contract was put into play for the acquisition of Trevor Ariza.
The approach however crashed and burned this season with Dewayne Dedmon, because Dedmon crashed and burned, his output plummeting to the degree that the Heat had to pay the San Antonio Spurs a second-round pick just to get Dedmon’s $4.7 million for this season off their payroll.
Now the only way for the Heat to salvage anything from the 2022 Dedmon free-agency experience would be to find a pair of buyout options who become playoff-race contributors after slotting into Dedmon’s vacated cap space.
Which brings us back to Lowry, as well as to Duncan Robinson.
When it came to salaries as trade assets, Lowry and Robinson proved to be net negatives at the deadline.
With Lowry, the expectation never was to have to dangle his deal, brought in instead to spearhead a move toward greater contention. Then his play cratered.
So now the Heat will be left to see if the final year on his three-year, $85 million contract can be utilized in the offseason or at next year’s trade deadline as a salary-cap chip.
And even then, expiring contracts do not get you what they once did, with Kevin Love’s $28.9 million final season simply to expire without a trade, despite having been shuffled out of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ rotation. Like the Heat, the Cavaliers did not make an acquisition at the deadline.
At this stage, Lowry is more of an accounting element than a contention contributor, as he works through knee pain. That yet could change, but this more and more is feeling like the final Heat days of Tim Hardaway.
Had the Heat not extended Tyler Herro on the eve of the season, a Lowry-Herro package potentially could have hit a sweet spot at the deadline, with Herro only on the books this season at $5.7 million.
But once Herro was extended, he basically could not be dealt until July 1.
Of course, come July 1, Lowry’s $29 million for 2023-24 and Herro’s $27 million for next season would put the Heat in position to match even the highest of NBA salaries.
As for Robinson, the thought all along was the mid-tier salaries in his five-year, $90 million deal could hit a sweet spot in potential deals.
Then he stopped making shots.
So the next question for the Heat becomes can they afford to hold onto the Robinson deal if they plan to retain Max Strus in free agency. That would be a significant outlay for one to play and one to sit. (Strus is on a minimum deal at the moment.)
The Dedmon deal ultimately became weighty ballast, as Dedmon bottomed out.
The Lowry money might still be salvaged as a plus-one expiring salary in an eventual mega deal come July or beyond.
The Robinson contract, with three additional seasons to play out, yet could factor in a tangible trade, as was the case with the final seasons of the Dion Waiters and James Johnson contracts.
But the immediate lesson at the deadline was it takes more than a contract or a salary to close a deal.
It takes something of substance.
Something not the case in 2022-23 for the Heat with Dedmon, Lowry and Robinson.