Miami Heat: How the Heat could acquire Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler is willing to meet with the Miami Heat this summer, but how can the most expensive team to ever miss the playoffs possibly acquire him?

The Miami Heat have the attention of at least one premiere free agent as we near June 30th. Per Tim Reynolds of the AP, Jimmy Butler is more than willing to meet with the Heat once free agency begins.

The first step is to get the meeting, but the second step is to figure out how on earth the most expensive team to miss the playoffs in the history of the NBA can actually add a free agent who is likely to earn the max or close to it. Now that Goran Dragic has opted into his 2019-20 player option, and once Hassan Whiteside does the same as he’s almost certain to do, the Heat will have $141 million in salary on the books for next season.

In order to be able to offer Jimmy Butler a max contract (worth $32.7 million in the first year and up to $140 million over four seasons), which he’s likely to seek, and acquire him with their cap space, the Miami Heat would have to cut about $63 million off the books to clear sufficient space.

All the teams that have enough cap space to be able to acquire toxic assets from the Heat have grander designs for their space this summer, and each of those teams would surely be more eager to sign Butler themselves than to simply be facilitators and enable the Heat to make a big move.

So if the Miami Heat can’t clear space, is there actually any way for them to have a shot at the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes?

The NBA has a mechanism that allows for sign-and-trades, meaning the Philadelphia 76ers could re-sign Butler for the purposes of trading him to another team. In this case, the Sixers might be willing to oblige Butler if he does want to go to the Heat in order to ensure they don’t lose him for nothing. Considering the fact that if he does walk in free agency, it will likely leave the Sixers with nothing to replace him, this path might be appealing to them.

Before such a deal can even be considered, the Miami Heat need to cut about $3 million off the books to get under the $138 million luxury tax apron, or they would need to cut that amount off the books in whatever deal they cut with the Sixers. Whatever the case, as of the conclusion of the deal, the Heat would have to be under that apron in order for the trade to be valid.

They would become effectively hard-capped for the rest of the season if they conducted a sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler, meaning they couldn’t go back over the tax apron for any reason for the rest of the season. They would also be required to refrain from using the taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE) this summer, which is a $5.7 million exception they could offer possible free agents.

Almost certainly, the Sixers would require the Miami Heat to send back much of their young core, with some combination of Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow likely being centerpieces, along with perhaps Goran Dragic and multiple picks going back in return.

Jimmy Butler would immediately become the best player on the Heat roster, though, and Dragic, plus youth and draft picks might cause the Sixers to take some interest in a sign-and-trade package.