Before the season, I said that Caleb Martin, who is on a two-way contract, “could become a consistent rotation player.” But I didn’t see how quickly Erik Spoelstra would come to rely on the 6-foot-5 swingman. Martin played the entire fourth quarter of Tuesday’s comeback win over the Detroit Pistons.
Players on two-way contracts are only allowed to play 50 games with their NBA team. Martin has already played in 15 games — all but three early-season games in October. He’s played at least 14 minutes in each game since Markieff Morris suffered neck whiplash after Nikola Jokic’s flagrant foul in Miami’s Nov. 8 loss to the Denver Nuggets. Instead of using KZ Okpala or Omer Yurtseven as the Morris replacement, Spoelstra has gone small and played Martin.
You probably don't want to have to bust the 2-3 zone out against Detroit in the 1st half because you've given up 74 points. But. Miami can casually just bust the swarming zone out, look at the activity. pic.twitter.com/cNVfCcVV5m— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) November 24, 2021
And though he’s not quite the high-flying dunker that Jones is, Martin is an athletic player who can finish at the rim.
It seems likely that the Heat will convert Martin’s two-way deal into a standard contract. Miami did that to Chris Silva in January 2020 after the then-rookie big man played as a backup to Meyers Leonard early in the 2019-20 season. And Matt Pineda mentioned before the season that the Heat could convert Martin’s deal to a standard contract and then add Micah Potter, who played well in the preseason, to that second two-way roster spot.
The complicating factor for the Heat is that they are just $400,000 from the luxury tax threshold. Some may have thought the Heat could wait until March — when the prorated minimum salary will be around $400,000 — to convert Martin’s contract to a standard deal. But Martin’s emergence as a consistent rotation piece may lead to some tough decisions. The Heat will play their 50th game Jan. 28 against the Los Angeles Clippers. As mentioned earlier, Martin has played in all but three games so far.
Maybe the Heat can avoid this issue, instead relying on Max Strus and Morris when he returns. (Strus, by the way, had his first “Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision” of the season last night at Detroit. Is Spoelstra giving Gabe Vincent his minutes for now?) Maybe Victor Oladipo returns. Or maybe the Heat can’t avoid this issue and will have to find a taker for KZ Okapala and his $1.8 million salary to avoid the luxury tax and sign Martin.
With Oladipo out and Morris injured, Martin has emerged as a big part of the Heat’s bench unit. But the team’s flirtation with the luxury tax may require Andy Elisburg to get creative once again.