How will NBA’s new salary-cap rules affect Heat this offseason? A look at the limitations

The last thing change-craving Miami Heat fans want to hear about this summer are aprons and luxury tax lines.

But the NBA’s two aprons will heavily impact what the Heat and most teams around the league can do this summer.

For the uninitiated: The “aprons” are team salary thresholds set by the NBA as part of the league’s new labor deal, which further complicates what high-payroll teams like the Heat can do.

The first apron for next season is projected to be $178.7 million, which is about $7 million above the luxury tax line. The second apron is projected to be $189.5 million.

Where does the Heat stand entering the offseason?

The only players on the Heat’s season-ending 15-man standard roster with guaranteed salaries for next season are Jimmy Butler ($48.8 million), Bam Adebayo ($34.8 million), Tyler Herro ($29 million), Terry Rozier ($24.9 million), Duncan Robinson ($19.4 million), Jaime Jaquez Jr. ($3.7 million) and Nikola Jovic ($2.5 million).

Assuming Caleb Martin doesn’t opt in to his $7.1 million player option for next season while Kevin Love ($4 million), Josh Richardson ($3.1 million) and Thomas Bryant ($2.8 million) all opt in to modest deals to return next season, the Heat has about $173 million in salaries committed to 10 players for next season.

When adding the projected cap hit of $4.2 million for the No. 15 overall pick, Orlando Robinson’s $2.1 million nonguaranteed salary and the $2.5 million in unlikely bonuses for Herro that need to be included for apron calculations, that number grows to about $181.8 million committed in salaries for 12 players next season.

With the projected salary cap for the 2024-25 season set at $141 million and the projected luxury tax set at $171.3 million, that means the Heat is already a luxury tax team, above the punitive first apron of $178.7 million and not far from crossing the ultra-punitive second apron of $189.5 million with a few roster spots to fill for next season.

Unless salary is shed, the Heat will almost definitely cross the second apron if it re-signs Martin and Haywood Highsmith this summer. Even bringing one of them back could push the Heat above the second apron.

“You got to put a pencil to the bottom line, too,” Heat president Pat Riley said Monday during his season-ending news conference. “Then also, you have to put a pencil to what the cost is going to be in the collateral damage of going over the first and second apron and then repeater tax. This is a business as well as it is anything else.”

The Heat’s salary-cap situation will also limit its trade options this offseason.

Among the trade restrictions that the Heat faces as a team above the first apron: Miami can’t take back more money in a trade than it sends out and it won’t be allowed to use a preexisting trade exception. But the Heat will still be able to aggregate salaries in a trade.

So as a team above the first apron, the Heat could not hypothetically trade Herro and his $29 million salary for a player earning $31 million — something that would have been permitted under the old rules.

Pulling off a trade would be even tougher for the Heat if it crosses the second apron. Among the trade restrictions that come with being above the second apron: Miami would not be permitted to take back more money in a trade than it sends out, aggregate salaries in a trade or send out cash in a trade. The Heat also wouldn’t be able to use a preexisting trade exception.

In addition, the Heat won’t have the full projected $12.9 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception this summer unless it sheds enough salary to get under the first apron.

If the Heat is above the first apron but below the second apron, it would have the projected $5.2 million taxpayer midlevel exception to add to its roster this offseason. But using it could significantly increase the Heat’s tax bill and would hard cap the Heat at the second apron of $189.5 million for all of next season.

If the Heat is above the second apron, it would no longer have access to the $5.2 million taxpayer midlevel exception. The Heat would essentially only have minimum contracts to offer outside free agents during the 2024-25 NBA calendar (begins July 1) as a second-apron team.

If Butler remains on the roster, the Heat’s 2024-25 payroll would not be affected by whether Miami gives him an extension. Butler would like an extension, which would begin in the 2025-26 season, when he becomes eligible for one on July 7. But Riley was noncommittal this week when asked if the Heat would give him that extension.

The Heat is allowed to begin negotiating with its own impending free agents on the day after the last game of the NBA Finals in June. Free agent negotiations around the league begin on June 30, and free agents can begin signing their new contracts on July 6.

The Heat is also dealing with the looming threat of the onerous repeater tax that’s triggered when a team crosses the luxury tax threshold in four consecutive seasons or four times during a five-season period. The Heat was a luxury tax team this season and is on track to be a luxury tax team again next season.

“There were eight teams in the tax this year, six of them are home,” Riley said, with the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets the only two luxury tax teams from this season still alive in the playoffs. “So going into the tax and going way into the tax to win a championship, you have to be damn right about the guy you’re going to get and what you’re going to give up for him.”

In other words, there’s a lot for the Heat to consider when building its roster this summer.

“It’s like a moving target,” Riley said of the challenges that come with projecting its salary-cap situation this early in the offseason. “You don’t know. When you start putting things up on the board and how it impacts your payroll and tax and all of that stuff, what it would cost to bring somebody in, who’s going to leave, who’s going to stay. We don’t even know.”