Could Strus/Vincent situation play out with Martin/Highsmith? Front office folks weigh in

Even before then-impending free agents Max Strus and Gabe Vincent contributed mightily to the Heat’s improbable run to the NBA Finals last year, it had already become clear that Strus probably had surpassed Miami’s realistic price point and Vincent might have done the same.

A similar situation, albeit at somewhat lower dollar figures, seemingly is unfolding again.

Even before Caleb Martin scored 21 points in the Heat’s Game 2 first-round playoff win in Boston on Wednesday, the chances of him returning next season seemed dubious, based on Miami’s position above the luxury tax line and the growth in Martin’s game (and value) over the past two years.

Meanwhile, Highsmith continued to help his stock with a nine-point, three-rebound, one-steal effort on Wednesday in Boston, while continuing to play with his usual defensive verve.

Re-signing Highsmith remains more realistic for Miami than re-signing Martin, but even that’s not a sure thing by any means.

A quick synopsis of the financials:

Based on players under contract for next season, the Heat will have a payroll of $172.9 million if Kevin Love, Thomas Bryant and Josh Richardson opt into modest deals, as expected, and Martin opts out of a contract that would pay him $7.1 million next season.

That number would grow to $175 million if Orlando Robinson’s team option is exercised. Add a few million dollars for cap holds and Tyler Herro incentives, and that puts Miami over the first apron, which is projected to be $178.7 million. That first apron is $7.4 million above the projected $171.3 luxury tax line for next season.

The more punitive second apron is projected to be $189.5 million.

Re-signing both Martin and Highsmith would put Miami over the second apron, and it’s unlikely that the Heat will be willing to be a second apron team unless it has an opportunity to acquire a superstar player.

Miami might be able to re-sign Highsmith without being a second apron team, but that’s not a sure thing. Re-signing Martin likely would put Miami above the second apron.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks, a former Nets front office executive, said via text message on Thursday that he expects Martin to receive the full projected $12.8 million non taxpayer midlevel exception.

A front office official who works for another team concurred: “He’s got midlevel value,” the official said. “He can defend, he’s a winning player. He’s a solid rotation guy on a good team.”

Erik Spoelstra on Wednesday called Martin “the X factor of X factors. He’s going to put his imprint on the game, he’s always going to bring that competitive spirit, leadership, his voice, that edginess.”

What about Highsmith’s market value this summer?

“Highsmith I could see in the $8 to $10 million range,” Marks said, noting it’s “not a great free agent class.”

The official with another team put Highsmith’s annual value in the $5 million to $7 million range but wants to see how the playoffs play out.

“The rest of the playoffs will determine that to some extent,” the official said. “He’s shot the three well, had a good game last night. If he bombs out in the playoffs, people will remember that. He’s gotten better. Is the three-point shooting sustainable and real?”

Highsmith shot 39.6 percent on threes this season (76 for 192) after shooting 33.9 percent on threes last season.

The Heat has multiple avenues to re-sign Highsmith, including using his full Bird Rights or giving him the $5.2 million taxpayer mid-level salary in the first year of a multiyear deal. But using the taxpayer mid-level hard-caps a team at the second apron, and Marks believes Highsmith has exceeded that number, anyway.

The Heat also has Martin’s Bird Rights. The issue with keeping him is it likely would put the Heat’s payroll above the second apron, a threshold which handicaps teams’ ability to make trades, among other punitive consequences.

Highsmith’s salary might also put Miami perilously close to the second apron, if the open market proves lucrative.

The Heat – which is paying a luxury tax topping $15 million this season - did not attempt to counter Cleveland’s four-year, $64 million offer to Max Strus, who joined the Cavaliers last July. Miami made a four-year offer for $34 million for Vincent, who instead opted for a three-year, $33 million deal with the Lakers.


The Heat’s Game 2 win drew admiration from national pundits.

“Tyler Herro played the point guard position [in Game 2]; he was amazing,” TNT’s Charles Barkley said. “That was impressive. They never looked like they were forcing [threes]. They got them inside their offense.

“You got to give coach Spo [Erik Spoelstra] a lot of credit. They’ve got these guys believing they can win. He’s a great coach. The No. 1 thing a coach does for you is put them in position to be successful. That’s the second thing [actually]. The No. 1 thing is he gives you confidence: ‘Hey, if we do this, we’re going to win the game’. He said, after the game, the stuff we went over, it worked.”

TNT’s Kenny Smith said: “The one thing about the Heat regardless of the talent or who’s on the floor, they play extremely hard. Effort. They follow the details and play with effort. They stay in games they shouldn’t be in.”

ESPN’s Tim Legler said: “I’m going to give credit to the Heat. It’s more about what they did than what the Celtics didn’t do.” But…

Boston has “got to do something with Kristaps Porzingis to take advantage of these switches. He was a complete non factor in this game. If the Heat is going to switch all these ball screens, you have to take advantage of it by taking them into the mid-post and make them pay for playing smaller guys on them.”