NBA free-agency countdown: Landing spots for Lowry, Robinson? The Harden-Heat talk

MIAMI – With the NBA free-agency negotiation period opening at 6 p.m. Friday, a cold, hard reality faces the Miami Heat when it comes to the cap-space race:

Not only are the Heat operating in such a void, but there is precious little available throughout the league.

For the Heat, that means the ability to trim salary, and therefore ease the team’s luxury-tax pinch, through selling off contracts is limited if not impossible.

Exhibit A is guard Kyle Lowry, who is due $29.7 million this coming season, on the final year of the three-year, $85 million contract he signed with the Heat in 2021 free agency.

Exhibit B is guard Duncan Robinson, who is due $18.2 million this coming season on the five-year, $90 million free-agency contract he signed in that same 2021 offseason.

As a matter of perspective, entering the start of free agency, only the Houston Rockets ($60.4 million), San Antonio Spurs ($30.9 million) and Indiana Pacers ($30.4 million) have enough available cap space to absorb Lowry’s contract, not that there is any specific interest.

In addition to those three teams, only the Detroit Pistons ($26.3 million) and Orlando Magic ($21.8 million) have the available cap space to take in Robinson.

For the Heat, trimming payroll through moves with Lowry or Robinson therefore likely would require taking back salary, instead of the clean excising of contracts.

The benefit of patience with Lowry and Robinson, beyond possible on-court contributions in 2023-24, would be holding on to such contracts to package in a mega-trade, with Damian Lillard and James Harden the biggest names being floated in that regard.

With Harden, who opted into the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia 76ers to grease the skids for a trade, the resolution should come quickly, due to salary-cap timing mechanisms.

With Lillard, it could come down to how proactive the Portland Trail Blazers stand in acquiring supporting veteran talent at the start of free agency.

While free-agency negotiations can begin at 6 p.m. Friday, agreements cannot be formalized until the July 6 end of the NBA transaction moratorium period.

The Heat completed their bookkeeping in advance of free agency by bypassing a qualifying offer to second-year center Omer Yurtseven, making him an unrestricted free agent.

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While Harden increasingly has been linked to a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers, former NBA executive John Hollinger at The Athletic offered the framework of a package that could work in such a Heat-76ers deal.

Wrote Hollinger:

“The Heat can present by far the simplest deal for Philadelphia by sending Kyle Lowry’s expiring deal and one other pint-sized contract (either Haywood Highsmith or Nikola Jović) for Harden. Obviously Miami would have to include additional assets — possibly including first-rounder Jaime Jacquez and/or a lightly protected first-round pick in 2028 or 2030. In the wake of such a trade, the Sixers could stretch Lowry’s $29.7 million salary for 2023-24 and end up well below the tax apron.”

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As for projected price points for the Heat’s impending free agents, ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the former Brooklyn Nets executive, on Friday offered his thoughts.

Gabe Vincent: First-year salary on free-agent deal of $12 million to $14 million. (Heat hold Bird Rights and can match outside offers, but with significant luxury-tax penalty).

Max Strus: First-year salary on free-agent deal of $12 million to $14 million. (Heat hold Bird Rights and can match outside offers, but with significant luxury-tax penalty).

Jamal Cain: Veteran minimum. (Heat have two-way qualifying offer in place in order to match such outside offers.)

Orlando Robinson: Veteran minimum. (Heat have two-way qualifying offer in place in order to match such outside offers.)

Kevin Love: Veteran minimum. (Heat can offer up to $3.2 million, due to salary-cap exception.)

Cody Zeller: Veteran minimum.

Omer Yurtseven: Veteran minimum.

(The Heat’s other impending free agent, 43-year-old captain Udonis Haslem, has announced his retirement.)

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Check back throughout the day for updates leading to and through the 6 p.m. start of the free-agency negotiation period.