Deep down, you just know that Heat guard Max Strus loves this. He had intended, after all, to be a member of the Boston Celtics to open his career, as Boston’s then-president Danny Ainge rushed to sign him to a two-way deal immediately after the 2019 draft passed without Strus being picked.
The Celtics also added Javonte Green after that draft, as well as Central Florida center Tacko Fall on an Exhibit-10 deal. And when Boston fans fell in love with the 7-foot-6 Fall, first during Summer League, then during the preseason, Strus’s fate was sealed. The Celtics hung onto Green, moved Fall into Strus’s two-way spot and sent Strus packing.
That had to be in the back of his mind on Wednesday when Strus knocked down three key 3-pointers and two layups in a 46-point third-quarter explosion that spurred an impressive Game 1 win for Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
When Strus was asked recently by Heavy Sports about whether he thought he was going to be a Celtic four years ago, he confessed, “I did. Obviously, I got a two-way (with Boston) on draft night so I thought they thought very highly of me. I had a good camp and Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens said it was one of the hardest decisions they had to make but at the end of the day it is a business and I understand that.”
Strus Heading Into Free Agency
It has been an up-and-down year for Strus, who moved back and forth from the bench to the starting lineup 22 times during the season. He averaged a career-high 11.5 points, but saw his 3-point shooting drop from 41.0% last year to 35.0% this year. He closed the season strong, though, making 41.7% of his 3s in the final 19 games.
He carried that into the postseason, making 38.6% of his shots from the arc—and that does not include his 7-for-12 showing in the play-in win over Chicago that rescued the Heat’s postseason hopes.
Facing the Celtics, the team that eliminated Miami in seven games in the East finals last year, may be personal to Strus, but he knows that the teams’ recent histories matter to everyone with the Heat.
“It’s personal to everybody now,” Strus said. “Everybody was here last year. The guys that weren’t have taken that on and they know what happened last year and we take that personally.”
What’s especially personal for Strus is that his recent play has resurrected his reputation somewhat around the league. That is good news for him because he will be a free agent this summer, and he was not making an especially compelling case for himself.
Projections around the league had Strus commanding a contract similar to what Caleb Martin got last year for the Heat—three years, $20 million. But Strus’ early inconsistency had some questioning just how much Miami would want him back, and how much of a market there would be for him.
Strus Could Be Bolstering his Value
The longer the Heat’s playoff run goes, though, the stronger is Strus’ case for $20 million (over three years) or even more.
“It does not happen much that guys get paid off playoff runs, like it used to 20 years ago,” one Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports. “But what he is doing is making a point to the Heat that they should bring him back. They are looking at some pretty big tax problems, and that makes it tough. But he has been showing how valuable he is to what they do.
“He is going to have teams willing to pay him the tax exception (starting at about $7 million) but maybe that goes higher, maybe to the full MLE ($11.4 million). He is not all that young (27 years old) but he does not have a lot of wear and tear and he probably has another 10 years in the league, so some of these rebuilding teams like Orlando or San Antonio, they’d have to take a good look at him as a polished guy who can spread the floor.”
Indeed, assuming injured guard Victor Oladipo exercises his $9.5 million option for next season, the Heat will be well into the luxury tax, and re-signing Strus would get exponentially more expensive.
If the Heat were to give Strus a three-year deal in the $25 million range, with the first season starting around $8 million, the team would wind up giving out about $24 million total for that first year. If Strus gets something more like three years and $35 million, that could get to $40 million.
Getting Kyle Lowry’s $30 million off the books after next season would mitigate that starting in 2024, though.
It would be expensive but surely the Heat do not want to lose Strus. It could come back to haunt them. Ask the Celtics.