In a vacuum, Markieff Morris’ move this week to the Brooklyn Nets in NBA free agency is just another case of a Miami Heat roulette at power forward.
Since center Bam Adebayo became a Heat starter in 2019-20, starting every appearance since, the Heat at power forward have gone through James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, KZ Okpala, Chris Silva, Precious Achiuwa, P.J. Tucker and Morris.
But while the departure of Tucker this summer stung, there was no virtually no chance of a Morris return once Dewayne Dedmon and Victor Oladipo were retained in July at the start of free agency.
So now, all six Heat players who stood as free agents on July 1 have been accounted for, with four retained, and no outsiders added from the NBA’s offseason pool.
P.J. Tucker: This likely will go down as one of the oddest free-agency negotiations in the Heat’s 35 seasons.
Initially, the Heat balked at a three-year fully guaranteed contract for the 37-year-old forward, but eventually relented.
At that point, the Heat put forward a three-year, $27 million deal, the most they could offer while retaining flexibility with their mid-level exception and avoiding being hard capped for the entire 2022-23 season.
Tucker, though, was insistent on the full $10.5 million mid-level exception as a 2022-23 salary, insistent on his first career $10 million annual salary, not the $8.4 million the Heat offered for the coming season (the most they could offer without utilizing exception money).
Through creative strategizing with 76ers free agent James Harden, Philadelphia was able to come up with that starting point for a three-year, $33.2 million Tucker contract, built off the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception.
Heat teammates tried to implore Tucker to stay, noting that the lack of Florida income tax made the offers practically identical. Tucker would not relent.
Caleb Martin: This was another free-agency negotiation that came with a ticking clock.
With Martin a restricted free agent, the Heat were aware of an outside team that was on the verge of extending an offer sheet to the versatile forward, which would have forced the Heat to match that team’s terms or lose Martin.
So, instead, the Heat proactively offered their entire full taxpayer mid-level exception, a 2022-23 salary of $6.5 million, as part of a three-year, $20.4 million contract.
Had the Heat offered the mid-level exception to Tucker, they then would have been limited to a starting point of the $4.1 million bi-annual exception to Martin, one a contract that would have been limited by league rule to two years at $8.4 million total.
Victor Oladipo: This turned into a tale of two contracts.
Oladipo, who had Bird Rights with the Heat, allowing for a starting point up to the maximum, initially was linked to a one-year, $11 million Heat agreement.
The contract then was reworked to a two-year, $18.2 million deal, with an $8.7 million salary for the upcoming season, one that helped the Heat stay below the punitive luxury tax, and includes a player option in the second year.
By taking a two-year deal instead of a one-year deal, Oladipo ceded veto power on a trade. He instead becomes trade eligible on Jan. 15.
Dewayne Dedmon: Dedmon doubled last season’s minimum salary to a somewhat surprising $4.7 million for 2022-23 (secured through Bird Rights) as part of a two-year contract that also has elements favorable to the Heat.
Because it is a two-year deal, Dedmon ceded the veto power on a trade he would have had on a one-year deal, eligible to be dealt starting Jan. 15. In addition, his entire $4.3 million salary in the 2023-24 second year of the deal is non-guaranteed, with a Heat deadline for a decision in July.
Udonis Haslem: While it wasn’t until last week when the Heat and Haslem announced the agreement on another one-year contract at the $2.9 million veteran minimum, the Heat had been operating since the start of free agency in July under the expectation that the 42-year-old was returning for a 20th season.
Despite Haslem’s 2022-23 contract counting at $1.8 million against the salary cap (the NBA pays the difference, as part of the minimum-salary program), it leaves the Heat without ample funds below the luxury tax to add a 15th and final player to the standard roster.
Markieff Morris: So, in essence, once the Heat became aware that Haslem was returning, there was no room for an additional player after the Martin, Oladipo and Dedmon agreements.
The only pathway for a Morris return likely would have been if the Heat turned in his direction instead of bringing back Dedmon as insurance at center in case second-year Omer Yurtseven struggles.
Instead, Morris winds up on a non-guaranteed tryout deal with the Nets after a lone Heat season limited by his early-season run-in with Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic to 17 regular-season appearances and one in the playoffs.