NBA imposes penalty on Heat for ‘early free agency discussions’ during Kyle Lowry pursuit

·4 min read

The result from the NBA investigation into the Miami Heat’s sign-and-trade acquisition of Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors is finally in.

The NBA announced Wednesday that the Heat will need to give up its next available second-round draft pick because of “early free agency discussions” that violated league rules. The Heat was not fined.

If the Heat makes the playoffs this season, as expected, its next available second-round pick would come in the 2022 draft as the lesser of the Denver Nuggets or Philadelphia 76ers’ second-round selection. If the Heat doesn’t make the playoffs this season, its second-round pick payment could come as late as 2028 because of its lack of second-round draft capital moving forward.

The league’s investigation, which was launched nearly four months ago in August, focused on whether the Heat made contact with Lowry or a Lowry representative regarding the trade and a contract prior to the Aug. 2 start of free agency. The NBA ruled that the team made contact with a representative of Lowry before free-agent negotiations were allowed to begin, according to a league source.

“While we disagree, we accept the league’s decision. We are moving on with our season,” the Heat said in a statement in reaction to the NBA’s ruling.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the NBA announced that the “Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat each violated league rules governing the timing of this season’s free agency discussions and that the league has directed that each team’s next available second-round draft pick be forfeited.”

The Bulls also need to give up their next available second-round pick after the NBA investigated the timing surrounding their sign-and-trade acquisition of Lonzo Ball this past offseason from the New Orleans Pelicans.

Two years ago, the NBA raised the maximum tampering fine to $10 million and also said that tampering could result in forfeiture of draft picks, suspension of team executives or even voiding of contracts.

But the NBA did not find that the Heat tampered since the team didn’t make early contact with Lowry himself.

The deal that landed Lowry with the Heat and sent Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa to the Raptors was agreed to shortly after free-agent negotiations were permitted to begin Aug. 2 at 6 p.m., as Lowry announced his decision to join Miami with a post on his Twitter account at 6:38 p.m that day.

The Heat was allowed to speak with the Raptors about the parameters of a trade before the start of free agency. But to complete a sign-and-trade, a team also must negotiate a new contract with the free agent it’s acquiring in the deal.

By league rule, the team must not make contact with the free agent involved in the sign-and-trade transaction or their agent until the start of free agency.

Lowry signed a three-year contract worth $85 million with Miami to complete the move. The Heat exercised Dragic’s $19.4 million team option for this season on the eve of free agency on Aug. 1, which allowed Miami to use him in the sign-and-trade deal with Toronto.

At least one NBA team issued a complaint about the Heat potentially violating league rules during its pursuit of Lowry, with the league then opening an investigation. Multiple Western Conference teams expressed interest in Lowry ahead of free agency, including the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans, but teams reportedly shifted their focus elsewhere when the Heat established itself as the front-runner.

An important layer in the Heat’s case is it also pursued Lowry at the March trade deadline, and the interest between the Heat and Lowry was mutual at that time. The Raptors kept Lowry at the deadline in part because of the Heat’s reluctance to include Tyler Herro in offers, but that negotiation process allowed Miami to get a read on who Toronto would be interested in from its roster and confirmed that Lowry had interest in joining the Heat.

It doesn’t hurt that Heat star Jimmy Butler is close friends with Lowry, who is the godfather of Butler’s daughter Rylee.

In the 2020 offseason, the Milwaukee Bucks were forced by the NBA to give up a 2022 second-round draft pick after an investigation conducted by the league found that the Bucks had discussions with restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic prior to the start of free-agent negotiations. The Bucks decided not to pursue Bogdanovic at that point, and he instead signed with the Atlanta Hawks.

In 2000, the Minnesota Timberwolves were fined $3.5 million for signing an illegal secret agreement with Joe Smith that manipulated the salary cap. The Timberwolves were also forced to forfeit five first-round picks, but some were eventually restored.

Lowry entered Wednesday’s home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers averaging 12.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists in his first season with the Heat.

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