Heat save a mint from player discounts

MIAMI -- The Miami Heat seem to have mastered the concept of paying their employees in sunshine. The currency doesn't spend so well yet its value still appears to be on a rapid rise.

Newly signed guard Mike Bibby is guaranteed to fit right in with most
of the rest of his new teammates on this front. He walked away from
$6.2 million the Washington Wizards were obligated to pay him next
season before he voluntarily gave it up to pack his bags for South
Florida and a league-minimum salary this week.

The team-wide numbers are so remarkable that the Heat have actually
become a paradox: The players are probably hurting their own union by giving the owners proof that a hard salary cap can work, but at the same time actually doing something fans have wished athletes would do -- put winning ahead of the last dime.

Not counting Bibby -- the depth of his monetary sacrifice won't be
clear until he finds a (likely much lesser-paying) contract for next
season -- the Heat's top-five-earning players decided to leave more
than $61 million in guaranteed money on the table over the full term of their contracts.

It is a professional sports phenomenon, even if the breath of it is
barely getting recognition compared to the rest of the Heat's actions.

The NBA owners have floated the idea of contracting a team as part of
the new collective bargaining agreement. But the Heat's self-inflicted
deflation effectively eliminated the one-season salary of an entire
team considering the current salary cap is "only" $58 million.

Choosing to accept less than full maximum-level contracts last summer
so the Heat could sign some other free agents, LeBron James, Chris
Bosh and Dwyane Wade collectively left nearly $44 million on the
table over the lives of their deals. All three also took pay cuts from last season. While it is true there
are some unseen savings because Florida doesn't have a state income
tax, that fact barely makes a dent.

The three superstars came together to do it to make room for Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, who themselves took less than their market
value to fit under the salary cap.

Both players had offers for the full midlevel exception, worth $33
million over five years, elsewhere. Combined, Miller and Haslem left
$17.5 million out of their paychecks over the next five years so they could play in Miami.

It is intra-team revenue sharing, players dividing up the limited pie
among themselves. Effectively, Wade, Bosh and James are writing Miller
and Haslem's paychecks. Because of it, the Heat's salary sheet will
surely find its way into the argument owners will use to attempt to
get concessions this summer.

After all, if the two-time defending Most Valuable Player is taking a
paycut in the middle of his prime to help his team afford to pay
lesser teammates under the salary cap, shouldn't everyone else?

Over the previous two years, Heat president Pat Riley showed
remarkable fortitude by staunchly refusing to spend future salary-cap space to clear the most spending money for one summer. Then, starting in July, Riley was repeatedly able to convince all the hugely
in-demand players that he didn't really have that much to spend and
that they needed to practice a little NBA socialism. Over and over, it

The Heat are still a long way from reaching their full potential on
the court, but on the balance sheet they have proved to be a
juggernaut. Team owner Micky Arison will likely sell out his entire
season and have three All-Stars, despite having a payroll in the lower
half of the league.

As Bibby is proving, players are still lining up to take the discount
because of the appeal of living in Miami and playing with James, Wade
and Bosh. Depending on the new CBA, there doesn't seem to be evidence
they will stop in the near future.

The Heat's deals on their top players are so good right now that
they're just tossing money to players who don't even play. The team
committed to pay more than $2.5 million to five players who haven't
even been active for a game. Dexter Pittman (still on the roster),
Patrick Beverley, Da'Sean Butler, Shavlik Randolph and Kenny Hasbrouck
all are on the books in some form this season. That does not include
Carlos Arroyo, who will continue to be paid for the rest of the season
after he was waived to make room for Bibby.

In total, the Heat have paid 20 different players this season, which
is saying something considering they haven't made a trade. That also
doesn't include the two paychecks for James Jones, who took a buyout last summer for the last three seasons at a $1 million discount on his contract, and then turned around and re-signed to get the money right back.
It turned out there was no need for Jones to take a real discount with all his teammates doing so for him.

Simply put, the Heat's payroll is both fascinating and unprecedented.

The players deserve credit, as do Riley and Arison. But the Heat's MVP
this season might really be the city of Miami.