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Ira Winderman: Heat’s actions to show if Tyler Herro is trade bait or franchise’s future

In July, the concern was premature. In August, urgency was misplaced. Even earlier this month, patience remained prudent.

But now, a month before NBA teams play games for real, it is not hyperbole to say the clock is ticking on Tyler Herro and the Miami Heat when it comes to a potential rookie-scale extension for the 2019 first-round pick.

The deadline is Oct. 17.

The impact transcends salary.

And, to a degree, the playing field has changed since the extension window opened July 1.

Foremost, the least impactful element of the decision process from the Heat perspective is the degree to which Herro merits the extension, which assuredly, based on the rest of the NBA market this offseason, would exceed an average of $25 million per season, an extension that would begin in 2023-24.

With Herro the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year, such is the market price. He will get at least that money, be it in the coming month or next summer when he otherwise would stand as a restricted free agent.

Instead, the primary component weighing on the decision from the perspective of the Heat front office has to be this: Is there a possibility, or even more to the point, the probability, of a franchise-altering trade between now and next summer?

Because once Herro is extended, he ostensibly is removed from the trade market until the 2023 offseason, due to what would be the “poison pill” element of that extension.

While arcane (and we hate doing math here), the “poison pill” provision does not allow a team to sign a player for a huge raise and then immediately turn around and trade him at the higher salary. Instead, an extended Herro would go out at the average of his extension plus his already locked-in $5.7 million 2022-23 salary, but could be replaced only at his current salary. And in trades involving teams operating above the salary cap (which, at the moment, is just about every NBA team), that math becomes practically impossible.

So it’s not about whether Herro can claim a starting position. It’s not about whether he can show in camp upgraded defense from what was offered last postseason. And it’s not about staying healthy over the next month, after being lost for crucial stages last postseason.

From the Herro side, being forced to wait to facilitate the team’s greater good might seem a bit fishy, considering the sacrifices he already has made by remaining in a reserve role. But Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and the Heat front office need bait in order to cast the widest possible trade net. That makes a non-extended Herro chum.

Not only does deferring a decision allow the Heat to play the market until the Feb. 9 NBA trading deadline, but it would allow an acquiring team to set the terms of Herro’s next contract, as they acquire right-of-first-refusal for 2023 restricted free agency.

At the moment, the NBA market has grown practically silent since the Kevin Durant (staying) and Donovan Mitchell (traded) situations were settled.

But that doesn’t mean that the Indiana Pacers don’t continue the rebuild at some point and move off of Myles Turner, or that John Collins doesn’t come to an even greater realization that the Atlanta Hawks offense is becoming even more backcourt driven behind Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. And Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal can say all the right things, but what happens when the losing ensues?

On the other hand, with the NBA recently announcing a significant jump in next summer’s salary cap, it will mean teams will be flush with cap cash come July. That could leave the Heat negotiating against more than themselves should Herro be allowed to enter restricted free agency. Phoenix Suns restricted free agent Deandre Ayton got an offer sheet in July from the Pacers, so Herro assuredly would find one of his own next summer.

Since Herro’s selection out of Kentucky at No. 14 in 2019, the thought was that he could serve as a part of a Heat bridge to the future alongside fellow former Wildcat Bam Adebayo, who swiftly received his Heat five-year, $163 million rookie-scale extension during the compressed 2020 offseason. Herro turns 23 in January; Adebayo turned 25 in July.

But with Jimmy Butler having turned 33 this past week, and with Kyle Lowry 36, this also is a team living in the moment. Extend Herro now, and the moment possibly would be gone to augment that Butler-Lowry base.

The one element that tends to be overstated is the emotional aspect of being forced to wait. That was the storyline throughout last season with Ayton and the Suns. Now Ayton said the concern is a nonstarter. The money will come for Herro, with the only question of when. (Although the potential injury element is not as easily put aside.)

So with each day, now that the clock is ticking, that a Herro extension is tabled, consider instead the trade possibilities.

Because the Heat certainly are weighing just that.

IN THE LANE

FIRE STOPPER: Before all heck broke loose with his team over the Robert Sarver report and ensuing NBA suspension of his team’s owner, former Heat forward James Jones, now the Phoenix Suns’ general manager, found himself having to deal with a smaller fire in the form of the social media of former Heat forward Jae Crowder. Amid the possibility of losing playing time the final season of his Suns contract, Crowder has been posting of seeming interest in a trade back to the Heat. That led to Jones offering his thoughts on NBA social media. “It’s noise. It’s noise, I don’t read into people’s actions. I don’t read to their actions, their words,” Jones told the Arizona Republic. “Like there’s so much noise. So much lack of context that goes with conversations. You get into this rabbit hole of trying to decipher and filter out the noise and figure out what’s real and what’s true and what context and what setting. It’s just a fruitless exercise. To me, it’s all noise. And when you can eliminate the noise, you get back down to what we’re doing. Playing basketball. Competing. Most of that stuff becomes irrelevant. I don’t pay attention to it, to be honest with you.”

THE REAL DEAL: Jones also offered clarity in his interview regarding the Suns and Heat being listed as preferred trade destinations this summer by Durant, who instead was pulled from the trade market by the Brooklyn Nets. “Brooklyn wanted to keep Kevin Durant in Brooklyn,” Jones said. “And that’s why he’s in Brooklyn and not on some other team. But as far as with us, I get it. It’s always a great topic of discussion, but the one thing people forget is that when you’re talking about trades, or any player acquisition, the team that has the player has to be willing to move the player. And so, if they’re not moving the player, which they didn’t, it’s just conversation and it’s great discussion. Great interest for the NBA fan base and the team fan base.” One has to wonder, in light of the Sarver situation, whether Jones will be commenting much going forward about the Suns being a preferred trade destination.

FULL CIRCLE: Speaking of the Heat as a trade partner, while much of the follow-up to Mitchell being acquired by the Cleveland Cavaliers has been about the New York Knicks losing out on the former Utah Jazz guard, there also had been considerable Heat speculation as part of the process. It turns out that Mitchell was golfing in Miami Beach when he was informed of the trade. During his Cleveland introductory media session, Mitchell revealed his reaction in that moment when informed by agent Austin Brown, “I was like, ‘Wow, we’ve got a talented group that was third in the East and then obviously injuries came about and that’s before I got here. Now we can only look to do more and better and just continue to win and build. We’re young, but we’re hungry. We’re ready.”

SUMMER DAYS: In addition to Jamal Cain, Jamaree Bouya and Orlando Robinson making it to the Heat camp roster, two others from the Heat summer roster have found NBA camp landing sports, Javonte Smart with the New Orleans Pelicans and Jaden Adaway with the San Antonio Spurs, with Kyle Allman listed as returning to France.

NUMBER

$4 million. Maximum James Johnson has earned in any of his 12 NBA seasons other than the four-year, $60 million contract he signed with the Heat in 2017. Johnson this past week agreed to a minimum-scale non-guaranteed tryout contract with the Pacers, after being waived ahead of last season’s playoffs by the Nets.

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