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Basketball / Sports

Trade deadline secondary to buyout deadline

A year ago, Erik Spoelstra spent weeks stressing "we have enough." And then, in January, the Miami Heat got enough, when Chris Andersen was signed and the Heat took flight with the Birdman.

This season, Spoelstra hasn't had to answer personnel questions, because no one has been asking, the personnel fascination heightened by two months of waiting for and then one month of analyzing Greg Oden.

But the questions will return soon enough, because they have to.

Before the Heat return from this six-game trip, the NBA trading deadline will have come and gone, the deadline falling at 3 p.m. Thursday, hours before Spoelstra's team faces the Oklahoma City Thunder that night.

Nine days later comes a potentially even more significant date for the Heat, with players having to be waived by March 1 in order to be eligible for another team's playoff roster, a date informally known as the buyout deadline.

Of the two dates, figure on March 1 being more significant for the Heat.

When it comes to the fast-approaching trading deadline, the Heat simply don't have much to offer, especially since they packaged their lottery-protected draft pick from the Philadelphia 76ers in the deal with the Boston Celtics that shed the salary of center Joel Anthony.

Indeed, if anything, the trading deadline is more likely to be a time of additional salary dumping for the Heat, who still can trade off Toney Douglas' $1.6 million salary as long as he is not packaged with another player (an arcane trade rule that has to do with timing) or deal Roger Mason Jr., who has spent recent weeks inactive. The Heat, in fact, could trade Douglas or Mason for nothing in return to a team with cap space while also including as much or more cash than the amount Douglas or Mason are due for the balance of the season, just as cash was thrown into the Anthony deal with the Celtics.

(Want to make a few hundred thousand? Take my Toney Douglas or Roger Mason Jr., please. The Heat tossed $1 million into the Anthony trade, leaving them in position to toss in as much as $2.2 million in additional deals through the end of June, potentially enough to sell off both Mason Jr. and Douglas, if so desired.)

To a degree, the Heat also could be buyers at the deadline, if only because they do have what amounts to a pair of gift cards, a $865,000 trade exception from last season's deadline dump of Dexter Pittman that expires Feb. 22 and a $2.2 million exception realized from the Douglas-Anthony deal. In either case, the Heat could take on such a salary in a trade without sending out equal money.

But adding salary at anything above league minimum clearly is not the goal for a team in tax-avoidance mode.

Instead, it is the buyout deadline that could prove most appealing, when players in the final years of contracts might give up money to appease their current teams in order to gain the opportunity to make a playoff run.

Think of veterans getting on in years, receiving minimal playing time, stuck in no-win situations: Caron Butler, Keith Bogans, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Kaman.

And if nothing pans out there, there are the free agents who have slipped through the cracks. The rule for playoff eligibility is that a player must be off another team's roster by March 1. Such players then can be signed any time and have playoff eligibility up until the final game of the regular season.

So if the buyout list comes up short, there still are the likes of Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton, Mickael Pietrus, Josh Howard, Tyrus Thomas, Stephen Jackson, DeShawn Stevenson, Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, Marquis Daniels, Marcus Camby, Dahntay Jones, Jason Collins, Kwame Brown, Ryan Gomes and anyone returning from a season overseas whose rights are not currently held by an NBA team, such as Delonte West, who has been playing in China.

With such options there is time, time beyond the trading deadline, time beyond the buyout deadline, time for a team like the Heat still finding its way with Oden and Michael Beasley to defer such decisions, hardly with its back against the wall Thursday.

IN THE LANE

THE PRECEDENT: If history is an example, the precedent during the Big Three era is to not expect much at Thursday's trading deadline. The Heat's only deadline deal since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have been together was last year, when the team dumped Dexter Pittman's salary on the Memphis Grizzlies for a second-round pick and the since-relinquished rights to Ricky Sanchez. Instead, the major late-season personnel moves over the past three seasons have come at the buyout deadline, with Mike Bibby replacing Carlos Arroyo in March 2011 and Ronny Turiaf stepping in for Mickell Gladness in 2012 (yes, there also was the March 12 addition of Juwan Howard last year). Based on the Heat's tax concerns, buying late remains the most cost-effective means of roster renewal.

AT THE BREAK: Among the noteworthy numbers at the All-Star break for the Heat are that with Wednesday's 36 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists against the Golden State Warriors, James now has 25 career games when he has finished a single assist or rebound shy of a triple-double, still yet to record one this season. With that performance, James now has 129 career games of leading his team in the same game in points, rebounds and assists, most among active players. Also at the break: forward Shane Battier leads the Heat with 21 charges taken (with Udonis Haslem a distant second at seven taken); Erik Spoelstra is now three victories shy of 300 for his coaching career; and at 5-1 in February, the Heat are assured of their 26th consecutive month at .500 or better, extending the franchise record.

RUSHMORE/LOGO: There is a degree of silliness to the Mount Rushmore debate that started with James' NBA TV interview that airs Monday. A Mount Rushmore is the bedrock, the foundation of greatness. It's not as if Teddy Roosevelt was re-sculpted into F.D.R. So any NBA Mount Rushmore has to include George Mikan; that's where the notion of an NBA was solidified. Perhaps the real debate going forward should be Jerry West as the silhouette of the NBA logo, considering few if any have him placed on their NBA Rushmore.

D-TAILS: Spoelstra was asked during last weekend's stop in Utah about center Justin Hamilton, the Heat 2012 draft acquisition who was cut at the end of training camp and now is playing with the Heat-run NBA Development League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Of the Salt Lake City-area product, Spoelstra said: "We liked him. He's a skilled player. He's big, he's physical, he's smart. Those things tend to play well if it's in the right system." Hamilton was named a D-League All-Star. "That's what he needs to do, keep on playing well in the D-League and if it's with us, great. If it's somebody else, he just has to keep plugging away," Spoelstra said, with the Heat no longer in possession of Hamilton's NBA rights.

ONE MORE THING: Up next for the Heat is Tuesday's road game against the Dallas Mavericks. This past week, on his radio show on KTCK, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban offered another theory on why his team lost to the Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals: the dismissal of the team's psychologist. "I think one of the biggest mistakes I've made since I bought the Mavs was Avery (Johnson, then the Mavericks coach) didn't want him there, and we let him go," Cuban said. "I think that impacted 2006. He wanted that control. It was more of a control thing."

THE NUMBER

51-3

Heat record during the last 54 games that they've made at least 10 3-pointers (which they did Wednesday against the Warriors, shooting 10 of 22 from beyond the arc).

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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