In wake of Lowry-Rozier trade, Heat face intriguing decision with Caleb Martin

MIAMI — NBA trades rarely happen in a vacuum. Now, in the wake of the Miami Heat trading Kyle Lowry for Terry Rozier, the question becomes whether Caleb Martin gets caught in the vortex.

While the Rozier-Lowry trade distances the Heat substantially against the second, most-punitive apron of the NBA luxury tax — with more salary going out than coming in — it also lowered the Heat payroll to the point that with one more trade the team could move below the first apron of the tax, as well.

That, in turn, would allow the Heat to sign any player from the NBA buyout market, where remaining above the first apron would limit the Heat to bought-out players earning no more than the $12.4 million league-average salary.

Had the new buyout limitations been in place last season, it would have left the Heat unable to add Kevin Love.

The simplest way for the Heat to duck below the first luxury-tax apron would be to offload Martin’s $6.8 million salary.

From a competitive aspect, it would cost the Heat a solid, two-way contributor who in the past week has been in the starting lineup.

But there also is the reality that Martin can opt into free agency this summer, creating the possibility of the Heat losing Martin for nothing in return, as happened last summer in similar situations with Max Strus and Gabe Vincent.

Had the Heat offloaded Lowry’s contract for a player on an expiring contract or for draft picks, the Heat would have been positioned to offer Martin a contract commensurate with the play he offered during last season’s playoff run. Instead, Rozier is on the books next season at $24.9 million.

The Heat had a similar decision last year ahead of the trading deadline with Strus, opting to allow the situation to play out in hopes of the very type of deep playoff run the Heat made to the 2023 NBA Finals.

The difference is the Heat now have emerging Haywood Highsmith, who plays a similar role to Martin and figures to be a more cost-efficient option in free agency.

Should the Heat move Martin ahead of the Feb. 8 NBA trading deadline for draft picks, it would position the Heat to sign two players to minimum contracts from the buyout market, regardless of such players’ current salaries. Such players must be waived by their current teams by March 1 for playoff eligibility.

Among potential buyout candidates after the Feb. 8 trading deadline are Alec Burks, Danilo Gallinari, Joe Harris, Gordon Hayward, Doug McDermott, Patty Mills, Delon Wright, Thaddeus Young, P.J. Tucker and Evan Fournier.

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Based on such a list, unless an A-list player in the final year of a contract should shake free, an argument could be made that an additional three-plus months of Martin would be preferable to even a pair of players from the buyout market.

While the Heat seem positioned to move below the first luxury-tax apron with a smaller move than dealing Martin, the actual math is more complicated because Tyler Herro’s $2.5 million in bonuses still count against the in-season tax calculation even though he no longer is capable of earning them.

Herro has bonuses for Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA, but to be eligible for any of those designations a player can miss no more than 17 games, a threshold of missed time Herro already has surpassed.

Martin, who holds a $7.1 million player option for next season, spoke earlier this season about his unique situation, appreciating that he could potentially price himself from the team that gave him his first significant NBA contract (three years, $20.4 million).

“I mean, you keep stuff in mind,” Martin said of how this could play out. “But with me, I do a much better job and stay more focused when that’s not what I’m worried about. At the end of the day, technically I’m not on a contract year. I’m really not. I have the option.

“But I don’t play like that, I don’t play for that. Obviously, you know it’s there, but that’s not my focus.”

The outside perspective could come down to whether the real Caleb Martin is the player who helped power the Heat past the Boston Celtics in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, or the player who has dealt with injuries and been uneven this season.

“To me, it was a fun series and it shows myself and other people what I’m capable of,” Martin said of the Celtics series. “But hype goes up and down, so I don’t get caught up in the hype. You have hype for one game, and then the next game people will be (ripping) on you. To me, I’m more worried about consistency. I’m not worried about contracts.”