After the Brooklyn Nets bought out the rest of Joe Johnson’s contract, the Miami Heat quickly moved to sign him. While Johnson will probably help the Heat out on the court, signing him barely put the Heat over the luxury tax threshold.
Well now they’ve managed to scoot back under, agreeing to a contract buyout with the injured Beno Udrih that will save the team just enough money to scoot under the threshold by a few thousand dollars. And according to Brian Windhorst, a number of other NBA teams are pissed about it.
By ending the season just a few thousand dollars under the luxury tax threshold instead of a few thousand dollars over the luxury tax threshold, the Heat achieve three things:
- Most obviously, they don’t have to pay the luxury tax, though the amount of money would’ve been trivial.
- More importantly, now that the Heat aren’t a tax-paying team, they’ll actually get their share of the proceeds from the teams that are, estimated to be $2.7 million.
- And most importantly, the clock won’t start ticking on becoming a repeat luxury tax payer, a designation which triggers even more punitive luxury tax payments.
So why are other teams so angry with the Heat? Because it sure looks like they got the kind of deal you can get only by slipping something under the table.
Players get bought out all the time. Usually the team has no use for the player any longer, and he wants to go to another team. In exchange for being let out of his contract, the player gives back some money. That’s just what happened with Joe Johnson: he gave back $3 million to the Nets to be bought out of his contract, and signed with a new team of his choosing. Both sides get what they want.
But that’s not what is happening with Udrih. He had surgery on his foot a few days ago, and is out for the rest of the season. The Heat have waived him, and assuming nobody claims him (nobody will), he’ll give back just enough to put the Heat under the luxury tax threshold and be bought out. He’ll go off on his own somewhere and rehab his foot.
It’s quite clear how the Heat benefit from this arrangement, but it seems like Udrih doesn’t at all. Nobody is going to claim him or sign him just to pay him to rehab in their facility for the rest of the year, and thus he is almost assuredly voluntarily giving up money with no possible gain.
Windhorst winks at the likely motivation here:
In several cases, players who have opted out of contracts, taken pay cuts or turned down the chances at raises have ended up re-signing with the team at later dates. It is also something the San Antonio Spurs franchise, among others, has been known to do.
Udrih is a sub-replacement player, and nearing the end of his NBA lifespan. It’s quite possible that nobody is willing to sign him to another contract in the offseason. But by helping the Heat out, he is building goodwill for the team to re-sign him as their third point guard. Or, if you tend towards the more cynical and conspiratorial side of things, he has a handshake deal with the Heat to re-sign him in exchange for helping them out.