According to sources, the Heat this weekend has explored signing free agents who could be packaged in a deal for Barkley or another player already under contract. But the NBA recently has objected to such trading of free agents in certain cases.
Teams that are over the salary cap cannot sign expensive free agents on their own, but may trade with other teams if the salaries of the players involved are within 15 percent of each other.
But this summer, the NBA is not allowing teams over the cap to negotiate with free agents, then ask another team with cap space to sign that player, and immediately acquire him in a trade.
"NBA commissioner David Stern is making up rules as he goes along," an agent said yesterday.
The NBA has rejected two such proposed deals involving the Suns. One was a three-team deal in which Dikembe Mutombo would have re-signed with the Denver Nuggets, but then gone to Phoenix in a trade, with Barkley going to the Houston Rockets, and Robert Horry and Sam Cassell heading to Denver.
Last week, the NBA refused to allow the Milwaukee Bucks to sign free agent Dan Majerle with the intent of trading him to Phoenix for Elliot Perry.
Majerle, who had thought he would be returning to Phoenix, now is left looking for work. The Heat has expressed interest in him.
If the Heat signs a free agent and trades him in a package for Barkley or someone else, Pat Riley would have to prove to the league office that the team trading for the player did not have a role in negotiating his contract.
The Heat could avoid such potential problems by offering only players on its current roster in exchange for a forward to replace Juwan Howard, who was officially awarded to the Washington Bullets on Saturday.
A Phoenix source said the Suns might have interest in trading Barkley for a package including P. J. Brown, Sasha Danilovic and draft picks. Such a deal would fit within the salary cap.
But the source cautioned that the Suns are not eager to trade Barkley, 33, even though he has threatened to retire if not dealt.
Already, Phoenix has rejected several offers for him. The Atlanta Hawks offered Steve Smith and two No. 1 draft picks. Houston dangled Horry and Cassell. The Indiana Pacers offered Derrick McKey, Haywoode Workman and a No. 1 draft pick.
Barkley is set to earn $4.6 million next season, and could earn $4.5 million the following year with incentives.
The Heat, which has agreements in place with seven players, has less than $5 million available under the cap, according to a source involved in negotiating the settlement in the Howard situation. Riley continued to decline comment yesterday.
Pub Date: 8/12/96