The NBA playoffs have been underway for a couple of weeks now, which means that at the time of writing we are down to fewer teams in the league that are still trying to keep their championship hopes alive. One team that was able to make it to the playoffs only to fall short, is the Miami Heat. The Heat managed to catch fire near the end of the season behind the play of former UNC player and 2009 national champion Wayne Ellington. Unfortunately, that fire fizzled out during the playoffs, and now Miami is in offseason mode trying to figure out who they are able to keep, and who they have to set free.
When referring to Wayne Ellington’s case specifically, it is a tricky one that may take some maneuvering for the organization. Ellington will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st after having completed his second season with the Miami Heat. This past season, he managed to set a franchise record by draining 227 three-pointers. Those who follow the NBA closely know just how impressive that is, as likely future Hall of Famer Ray Allen spent a decent amount of time in Miami during the Lebron James / Dwyane Wade years. Ellington finished the season averaging a career-high 11.2 points per game, making 39% of his shots from three-point range in 72 games.
So what are the barriers keeping Ellington from re-signing with the Heat? If you care for the simple answer, it is the salary cap. The Heat as of right now will owe 11 players in 2018-19 a total of $120 million, which is way over their projected salary cap of $101 million, and dangerously close to the $123 million luxury tax line. The good news for Miami, however, is that they have early bird rights to Ellington, meaning they can exceed the cap to pay him 175% of his current $6.3 million salary. They would still have a bit of a problem if they did this, and so what would likely need to happen is Miami would have to get rid of some of the money owed via trades. Whichever way they decide to attempt this, it will be tough to lock down a deal that is good for both parties.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra spoke with the Palm Beach Post about Ellington’s free agency, and is optimistic that a deal will get done:
“I love Wayne and we’re all hopeful of it. And I’m sure Wayne wants to be back,” Spoelstra said Friday. “Usually when that happens, regardless of whatever scenarios people could have right now at the end of April. First, I know the visions of my boss [Heat president Pat Riley]. Anything in this league, he can get done. So people are saying can you contend for a title with this team? I know who I work for. And then, secondly, I know the creativity of [general manager] Andy Elisburg. But none of it has to be decided right now. Wayne knows that we love him.
“It was a unified symbiotic relationship where I think he really benefited from our culture. We benefited from his commitment to become the player that was transformational, his ability to come off screens. I think all of us, it’s just right that he is our franchise leader in 3-point shots. It’s the way it should be, and he can keep on going. If it means I’ve got to recruit him and tell him he can shoot 20 threes next year, quote me on that right now.”
With Ellington now getting close to the 10 year mark in his NBA career, he has finally managed to find his footing on a team that is willing to put in the time and energy to keep him around. With Dwyane Wade getting closer to his retirement, Ellington could become one of the main focal points on a team that has all the potential in the world to get back to the playoffs next year and make a deeper run. Hopefully Ellington’s journeyman days are over, and he can find some stability and success in South Beach, Florida.