Erik Spoelstra Speaks on Lakers Guard who Left Heat Amid Controversy

Former Heat guard Kendrick Nunn, now a Laker

Getty Former Heat guard Kendrick Nunn, now a Laker

One of the unfortunate aspects of the knee injury suffered by guard Kendrick Nunn back in the NBA preseason—the Lakers have called it a bone bruise—is that the offseason free-agent signee won’t get to show off his new digs in front of his old team.

Nunn is a classic Miami Heat developmental project, having gone undrafted out of Oakland in 2018 and signing on first with the Warriors’ G League team, then with the Heat the following spring, where the team brought him along during summer league and training camp. In October 2019, Nunn made his NBA debut with Miami, scoring 24 points as the team’s starting point guard.

Nunn spent two seasons with Miami, averaging 15.0 points on 45.8% shooting and 36.4% 3-point shooting. And, as his team prepares to face Nunn’s Lakers, coach Erik Spoelstra remembered fondly Nunn’s time in Miami.

“He surprised everybody in the league,” Spoelstra said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “He really contributed and helped us win at a high level. And he got better as a basketball player. And he developed a relationship with some that I know will continue. I’m a big fan of K-Nunn.”

Heat Criticized After They Rescinded Nunn’s QO

This summer, the Heat had a difficult decision to make on Nunn, as the team was looking to bolster its roster with veterans at a variety of positions. Nunn was on the books with a qualifying offer of $4.7 million, which the Heat needed to keep in place if they wanted to retain Nunn’s rights as a restricted free agent.

But once the team landed Kyle Lowry, re-signed Duncan Robinson on a five-year, $90 million deal and started poking around for veterans like P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris, the Heat decided Nunn’s money could be better used elsewhere.

The team rescinded Nunn’s qualifying offer on August 3 and made him an unrestricted free agent, a move that upset many because it left Nunn at a disadvantage on the free-agent market—he was not unrestricted until after many teams that might have been interested in him had spent their free-agent money.

Players association president C.J. McCollum was not happy, and called out the Heat on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast.

“He was going to be a free agent,” McCollum said. “They basically waited until the money dried up, right? You correct me if I’m wrong. Have you seen this happening in the league and not being discussed at all, where they talk about players forcing their way out, player movement, but then what about the manipulation that goes into some of these situations where teams are waiting for the market to dry up before they release a player’s rights?”

Nunn wound up signing a two-year deal with the Lakers worth $10 million, with next season at a player option.

Spoelstra on Nunn: ‘He Left a Great Impression’

Still, despite the machinations of Nunn’s free agency, Spoelstra was very complementary of Nunn’s contributions in two years in Miami, noting that he does not much get involved with the salary side of the Heat’s equation. Here’s how Spo put it:

There’s a lot of different factors. I’ve put myself in a position where I can just focus on the team, who we have. Whatever decisions we’ve made, it’s our job to try to figure out how to put the puzzle together. This business is constantly changing. It seems like the turnover of rosters and teams is increasing every year. But you’re grateful for those opportunities to develop a relationship with somebody, particularly early on in their career. Hopefully we helped him establish some habits that he can carry on the rest of his career. And he left a great impression with us, where we’re big fans of him.

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