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Charlotte continues to sit in an unenviable situation. Avoiding the tax while re-upping Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker is out of the question without a serious salary trim. Keeping Walker alone will be a chore.
Assuming the Hornets finagle his return without dipping into the tax, their reward will be…a bloated salary sheet and no significant change. That’s not really a “Hooray!” moment.
The upshot: Charlotte doesn’t have a viable alternative. Letting Walker leave for nothing is a no-go. The Hornets have to re-sign him if they’re to save any face. From there, they’ll need to hope an All-Star becomes available—Blake Griffin, maybe?—for the assets they can offer or cross their fingers that whatever contract Walker signs remains a net-neutral asset until his trade restriction lifts ahead of next year’s deadline.
Turning Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson into more cost-effective players were smart financial moves by the Pistons. Thon Maker and Svi Mykhailiuk will be under first-contract salaries next season, and re-signing the other two—specifically Bullock—would have made it harder for them to duck the luxury tax while adding any meaningful contributors.
Detroit now has a chance to keep Ish Smith, keep its draft pick, use the full non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception ($9.2 million) over the summer and perhaps make some trades. That’s not nothing when most signs point to the Pistons preferring to stay intact.
At the same time, Langston Galloway, Reggie Jackson and Jon Leuer have one year left on their deals, and Andre Drummond has a player option for 2020-21. If Blake Griffin plays at an All-NBA level for the rest of the season, Detroit won’t have trouble moving him for assets and decongesting its books in advance of the following summer.
And unless the Pistons are certain they can swing a blockbuster trade for a co-headliner (Mike Conley?), abandoning the Eastern Conference’s middle-tier rat race for a clean slate isn’t nothing, either.
Conventional rebuilds aren’t the Heat’s speed. It would be one thing if they enjoyed access to cap space and could overturn the roster in free agency. They can’t. That makes it less likely they embrace anything drastic before 2020-21, when Ryan Anderson, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside will be off the books and James Johnson (player option), Kelly Olynyk (player option) and Dion Waiters transition into expiring contracts.
Jettisoning Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson at the trade deadline only helped the Heat tread water. They’ll have a chance to duck the tax this season if Olynyk doesn’t hit his playing-time bonus, as Heat Hoops’ Albert Nahmad noted, and the money they save next year with Anderson’s partial guarantee ($15.6 million) will leave them a waive-and-stretch or smaller-time salary dump away from staying under it in 2019-20.
Except, in that scenario, Miami would mirror Charlotte, traveling great lengths to keep an underwhelming core together without the capacity to make any consequential alterations. Re-signing Rodney McGruder (restricted) could even prove too rich for their blood.
Dragic would help the cause if he declines his player option this summer, but that’s a pipe dream. He turns 33 in May and is coming off knee surgery. Nor does it help that the Heat are light on desirable assets. They don’t have the tantalizing equity to swing a blockbuster trade, and offloading bad money requires sweeteners they don’t have or shouldn’t be giving up.
Bottoming out this season or getting steamrolled in the playoffs could change the Heat’s calculus. They can use Anderson and Whiteside to take on 2020-21 money in exchange for draft compensation and wait out the rest of their crummy deals. But going that route would be tough to stomach without their 2021 first-rounder—particularly when they’ll have to start thinking about new deals for Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow by the time they’re ready to get after it again.