The Miami Heat plan to sign All-Star center Bam Adebayo to a maximum contract extension, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press first reported the impending deal.
The contract would pay Adebayo between $163 and $196 million over the next five years, depending on the 2021 salary cap and his All-NBA status. He would become the fourth member of the 2017 draft class to sign a max extension to his rookie contract, joining Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and De’Aaron Fox.
The timing of Adebayo’s extension comes as a surprise. Were the Heat to wait until next offseason to sign the 23-year-old, they could create enough cap space to pursue a max-salaried free agent, namely two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Offering Adebayo financial security now apparently took precedent.
Heat president of basketball operations Pat Riley has not let cap constraints prevent him from chasing big-name free agents. Just look to 2019, when he convinced Jimmy Butler to pursue a sign-and-trade deal from the Philadelphia 76ers. A pursuit of Antetokounmpo is not off the table, just a little more complicated.
Everything else Miami did in free agency seemed rooted in maintaining max cap flexibility in 2021. Riley signed Avery Bradley and retained both Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard on one-year deals with team options for a second season, just as he did with Andre Iguodala in February. The decisions not to re-sign Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. to multi-year deals is somewhat curious following the Adebayo news.
Regardless, Adebayo is worth the investment. He has improved each season since Miami selected 14th overall, earning the first All-Star and All-Defensive selections of his career this past season. His averages of 15.9 points (55.7 FG%, 69.1 FT%), 10.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 33.6 minutes per game made him one of three players to average a 15-10-5 in 2019-20, along with Antetokounmpo and Domantas Sabonis.
More vitally, he is the ideal modern defensive center, strong enough to protect the rim against anyone in the league and athletic enough to defend multiple positions in space on the perimeter. It was his game-saving block against Tatum that swung the Eastern Conference finals in Miami’s favor to open the series against the Boston Celtics. And it was his shoulder injury in Game 1 of the Finals that severely limited the Heat’s ability to counter Los Angeles Lakers superstar Anthony Davis. His absence was as telling as his presence.
The Heat were 6.2 points per 100 possessions better with Adebayo last season, operating like a top-seven outfit offensive and defensively with him on the floor. His versatility on both ends, which extends to running the offense through him at times, makes him one of the game’s most valuable weapons, and there is room for improvement. Adebayo did almost the entirety of his scoring damage at the rim last season, but the fast trajectory of his improvement over the past three years leaves open the possibility of an improved jumper.
That improvement is based in a work ethic that is foundational to the Heat’s success. Little was given to Adebayo, who was raised in a trailer by his mother in small-town North Carolina. He earned every bit of his success in the NBA, including this contract, with which he has pledged to buy his mother a new home. And the loyalty the Heat have shown him may ultimately be worth more than any cap space created by waiting.
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