The scope of the NBA shifted when the Miami Heat’s “Big 3” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh joined forces in the summer of 2010. Since that summer, they’re the only team that has gotten out of the Eastern Conference and into the NBA Finals (although the Pacers are currently giving it their best shot).
But could that change next season? It all depends on how much Heat owner Mickey Arison’s willing to spend.
The new collective bargaining agreement, drafted during the 2011 lockout, implemented a harsher luxury tax system with the intent of curbing teams from spending past the luxury tax line with regularity. The new penalty is known as the “repeater tax,” and adds an extra dollar-for-dollar penalty a team spends over the luxury tax line above the original luxury tax. More on how it works can be found in Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ.
For example, if the Nets were in the repeater tax this season, they’d have spent close to $235 million in salary and tax alone.
Starting next season, teams who are over the tax line are forced to pay the repeater tax if they were a tax paying team in each of the previous three seasons.
The Heat fit this profile, and would pay the repeater rate if they exceed the projected $77 million tax line in the 2014-15 season — a fair possibility.
If Udonis Haslem picks up his player option as expected (worth $4.6 million) along with Chris Andersen (worth $1.4 million), and each of the Heat’s big three waive their early termination options (thus stay in Miami), the Heat has about $69.5 million committed to just six players. If avoiding the repeater tax is the goal, filling out the roster adequately could be a challenge as they’ll have just $7.5 million to spend on six to nine players.
Such a stance would make it near impossible to re-sign free agents Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, and Ray Allen, who may retire. Instead, they would have to fill out the roster with players on veteran’s minimum deals. That scenario could diminish their talent, and coupled with the aging core trio, could open the door for another team to make it out of the East for the first time in potentially four years.
There are scenarios that could allow Miami to retain their core pieces. As mentioned, the big three — James, Wade, and Bosh — all have early termination options for around $20 million. One possibility would be for each of them to exercise the option, enter free agency, and re-sign for less money.
That seems unlikely. Though you can’t underestimate the persuasive power of team president Pat Riley, it’s difficult to see LeBron James — already the NBA’s most underpaid player — take a pay cut at age 30, especially since the Big 3 each collectively took a pay cut in 2010.
Not every NBA owner has pockets as deep as Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov. If the Heat are truly conscious of the repeater tax, the king’s reign over the Eastern Conference could be coming to an end shortly, and the Nets hope they are right there for the taking when it does.