For a team that entered the offseason with nothing in-particular going on, the Miami Heat have somehow found themselves near the top of the NBA Free Agency heap only two weeks later.
Note the usage of the word “near”. That, kids, is a hedge. Remember that, because I do it a lot.
No, it might not be as franchise and league altering as the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers both adding generational stars in Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leanord, or as soul crushingly disappointing as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving electing to team up in New York….on the Brooklyn Nets (this Knicks fan is not mad, never was! Not I! This press conference is over!).
But it might be as miraculous as any move made by any team over the past two weeks… although you have to admit the Knicks signing 17 power forwards to fill out their roster was surprising (okay last Knicks thing, I’m upset).
To say the Heat didn’t have anything “in particular going on” headed into this offseason would probably be generous to describe their situation for the foreseeable future. It was so decidedly boring and ill-conceived, in fact, the only equally boring and ill-conceived way to describe it is through the old writing crutch of asking satirical self-answering questions.
Their cap space?
Jammed between Josh Richardson (4yrs/$41 million), Kelly Olynyk (4 yrs/$50 million), James Johnson (3 yrs/$43 million), the incomparable Dion Waiters (4 yrs/$52 million), Hassan Whiteside (4 yrs/$98 million) and Justise Winslow (3 yrs/$39 million, which is actually a good contract but another name really makes my point look good).
My favorite contract of that horrific bunch? Of course, it’s Dion, who was probably the main cog in the machine that led the Heat to that memorable 30-11 run to end the 2017 season and then immediately stopped working out forever. What a decision, and everyone was just like “yup, gotta do it.” Check out this HeatHoops blog written at the time of the signing that praised Pat Riley, the eternal patriarch of Miami basketball, for pivoting from losing out on Gordon Hayward to committing just south of $100 million to the combined powers of Dion Waiters and James Johnson. No wonder he sent his fax into the Knicks and headed to Miami, wouldn’t you for that kind of media treatment? (Okay so I lied about being done with the Knicks stuff what exactly are you going to do about it nerd).
Their future assets?
Due to the NBA rules about trading first-round draft picks in back-to-back years, the Miami Heat hold the rights to their 2020 and 2022 picks but can’t actually package them as assets because of the 2021 pick they gave up in the Goran Dragic deal (who signed a 5 yr/$85 million contract courtesy of the Kindest Man To Ever Live Pat Riley).
There actually is a decent group of intriguing young players spearheaded by Winslow and flanked by Bam Adebayo, maybe the most talented of the bunch, and recent first-round pick Tyler Herro, but if unprotected first-round picks are the hot ticket item in NBA trade deals, the Heat are shit out of luck.
The word no fanbase wants to hear and a sure sign your teams’ front office has messed up somewhere along the way: 2021.
The zombie horde of horrific contracts the team delved out in 2016 was set to get off the books in two years, setting the stage for the Heat and Riley, their eternal closer, to get in the room with the stacked 2021 free agents (Giannis, Kawhi, LeBron, etc — strictly one-name guys) and hopefully recreate some 2010 Big Three magic.
Pretty weak outlook!
No cap space, no tradable picks until 2023, no confirmed plan for the next two seasons, just a vague idea of maybe getting into the sweepstakes for a guy in 2021.
And yet just a couple of weeks later, Miami, led by Riley, has almost entirely reinvented itself as a basketball team.
For reasons that remain unclear, Jimmy Butler spurned not only the Philadelphia 76ers, who offered him the most money and years, but also both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard and their respective Los Angeles teams, and took his talents to South Beach.
How, you ask, does a team with no assets and no cap space land one of the top free agents available?
No real answer!
The trade is almost impossibly complicated, featuring four teams and five players, plus a pick. Here’s how it generally breaks down:
Miami Heat Receive: Jimmy Butler (woohoo) and Meyers Leonard (blehhh)
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: Josh Richardson
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Hassan Whiteside
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: Mo Harkless and a First Round Pick
You know a deal is complicated and pushes the boundaries of NBA laws when it is announced, then falls apart and is completely dead for a short time before both teams are like “well this is too awkward to just leave like this so let’s find a way to get it done.” There’s so much money being moved the deal has been official for over a week now and I’d still believe you 100 percent if you told me tomorrow the GM’s had messed up the cap rules and it was off again.
And yet here we are, against all odds and seemingly against all NBA CBA regulations, Jimmy Butler is a member of the Miami Heat. Miraculous.
Riley deserves his credit, the Heat were pretty much locked in for at least two years of hoping Dion Waiters gets to the gym and he delivered them an at-worst top 15 player for what amounts to Josh Richardson and the corpse of Hassan Whiteside.
The move is, at its core, a good one. You were in cap hell for the next two years, and now you’re still in cap hell for the next two years, but you have a legit star to go through it with, and then eventually use to lure another guy once you get off the remaining Olynyk/Waiters/Johnson/Winslow contracts.
But, there is still so much risk, as is the case in any major trade.
Butler, at this point, is a serial trade demander. He burnt his bridges in Chicago, burnt the entire state of Minnesota down, and was having issues with coaches and players in Philadelphia roughly 15 minutes after getting there.
Yes, you can chalk it up to those not being the right fits. Chicago’s timeline hardly fit Butler by the end of his run there. Minnesota… I guess had a bunch of guys that didn’t care enough, and it seems like Philly had a similar vibe in the eyes of Butler.
Are those all pretty flimsy excuses, and is it maybe possible that Jimmy just isn’t necessarily the most spectacular guy to be around if he isn’t 100 percent in on a situation? Yeah, I think that’s fair to say.
And is it weird he has spent the better part of a year telling everyone who will listen that he cares exclusively about winning, then signed with a situation that doesn’t necessarily back-up that mindset in the immediate future? Also probably fair to say.
But… I’d still take Jimmy Butler into that Miami locker room in a heartbeat, maybe even quicker than that if all I had to give up was the Whiteside/Richardson combo, one of which has become fossilized and the other is fine, but just polished off a season where his play practically screamed “I am not The Guy Or Even A Top Three Guy on a team that wants to win anything of significance.”
Side Note: What a heist for Philly turning a rejected Jimmy Butler offer into some kind of an asset. I really like the Richardson fit for the Sixers, who haven’t had a true three and D player during the Simmons/Embiid era. Haters and Losers will point out that his 35.7 percent shooting mark from deep is a steep decline from JJ Reddick’s 39.7 percent and general havoc raising as an off-ball threat. That’s true but also hardly paints a fair picture of the situation Richardson was in last year, when he found himself as the number one scoring option for a team trying to contend (a wise man once said “I AM NOT THE GUY OR EVEN A TOP THREE GUY!!!”). His three-point attempts per game jumped from 4.1 in 2018 to 6.3 in 2019, and my guess would be that if you eliminate those two shots, or at least make them into open catch-and-shoots, which he shot 39.2 percent on last year, you’ll see a return to the high 30’s from deep for Richardson.
In the span of a couple weeks, Pat Riley turned no cap space, no assets and no plan into one of the 15 best players in the world, a star that can be used to attract other top players and an idea of how to go about actually adding him.
They’ve have already been in the sweepstakes for one of those stars in Russell Westbrook, eventually concluding that while they might take him on for nothing, they ultimately didn’t want to part with any legitimate assets on top of those necessary to make the cap stuff work to get a deal done (likely Goran and James Johnson, let the record show this was probably the right call).
They’re probably the clubhouse leader in the eventual Bradley Beal sweepstakes, and if you’re asking for a prediction I’d guess that Beal is a member of the Heat by the end of this season, or at the very latest the start of the 2020-2021 season (bringing it back to the hedge thing from earlier, that’s known as a callback kids).
And hey, if worst comes to worst, the original plan of “2021” can still be enacted while Butler gets to play the role of The Guy for a couple of seasons and probably put together some kind of playoff seasons with some really fun, memorable moments along the way.
Another version of the worst-case scenario: Jimmy does actually turn out to be a drama-filled disaster on every team he plays for, butts heads with Spoelstra and Riley and finds himself somehow demanding a trade six months into a four year contract because player empowerment and such (this scenario is actually going to happen eventually with a different player on a different team and I personally can’t wait to see where the court of public opinion settles on that one).
But hey we end on a high note here so let’s go with that other thing and get out of here early Miami Style.