The 2015-2016 season was ultimately a step forward for the Miami Heat franchise. They overcame the loss of LeBron James, the second best player in the world, after he left the Heat in the 2014. They overcame the loss of star forward Chris Bosh for the second straight season due to blood clots. In the second round of the playoffs they lost big man Hassan Whiteside to a sprained MCL in his right knee and still forced a game seven against the Toronto Raptors. Overall, it was largely a successful season in many people eyes, and arguably the Heat overachieved considering the circumstances.
Now with the Heat's biggest offseason since LeBron James left to return home to Cleveland coming up they have to go from good team to a great team. Enter Kevin Durant.
Durant is in his ninth NBA season coming out of the University of Texas as the second pick in the NBA draft. He was the 2014 Most Valuable Player of the NBA and is the best pure scorer in the league today. Durant has been a seven time All-Star, four time scoring champion, and five time All NBA first team selection during his incredible nine year NBA career.
With all the accolades and accomplishments that Durant has achieved in his career he still has not won a NBA championship. He was close going against the Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals, losing in five games to the LeBron-led team. Since then many blame the injuries to Russell Westbrook in 2013, Serge Ibaka in 2014, and even Durant himself in 2015 as the reasons why he hasn't won a title. Durant's relationship with Westbrook on the court has been in question for years even though they have played particularly well so far this season together. The lack of a reliable third option behind Durant and Westbrook hasn't been there since the team traded perennial NBA All-Star James Harden to the Houston Rockets in 2012.
After their latest crushing loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, their third straight in a bid to reach the NBA Finals for the second time in his career, does Durant consider leaving the team? Many speculate he will take his talents to a bigger market franchise while Heat team president Pat Riley has been saying since the Heat lost James in 2014 that he wants to be a huge player in the 2016 free agency. Riley wants to be able to have the cap space to sit down with Durant and convince him why he can help him win a championship. With Durant falling short again in a bid to win his first championship, it could open the door for Riley and the Heat to go out and get him.
Riley will get a meeting with him because he's Pat Riley but how he can sell Miami to Durant is the question. Riley of course has South Beach, no state tax, and warm weather all year round as a recruiting tool but he needs to sell Durant that winning championships in Miami is possible. Riley has history on his side and his resume is incredible. He is a five time NBA champion coach and a three time NBA champion executive. No other executive on any team in the league has those credentials.
He needs to remind Durant that six years ago LeBron was walking through those same doors a non-champion and frustrated by the lack of help he had in pursuing a ring. Riley promised James in 2010 that he will have an opportunity to win a ring every year. That came to fruition because the Heat went to four consecutive NBA finals from 2011-2014. No other team has done that since Larry Bird and the Celtics from 1984 to 1987.
Most importantly he has to sell the team around Durant. Dwyane Wade showed this season two things: when healthy he is still a superstar and secondly that he is still one of the game's best closers. Goran Dragic is a point guard that can push the pace, put pressure on the defense and can have big games in the playoffs. Hassan Whiteside is a shot blocking machine averaging 3.7 blocks per game and averaging a double double this season. The rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson are young, fearless, and stout defensive players. If Chris Bosh can return and play basketball he is a top 5 big man in the NBA. His shooting and pick and roll defense is essential in today's NBA game. Durant on this team can automatically turn the Heat into championship contenders, especially in the weak East.
Now with the salary cap going to $92 million the Heat have cap space to be able to sign Durant and key players this offseason. Riley was masterful with trying to be able to have a lot of cap space to sign free agents this off season. Most of the contracts on this team is off the books this summer. Only Dragic, Bosh, Winslow, and McRoberts combined are roughly $50 million are on the books for the 2016-2017 season which means they have about $40 million dollars left for free agents. Riley could trade McRoberts and his $5 million a year to help him get additional cap space.
To be able to sign Durant to a max deal while also retaining Whiteside and Wade would be a difficult undertaking and one that could possibly mean trading prized young talent such as Tyler Johnson or even Winslow. But if there's one team that can do it, and has proved in the past they can wheel and deal to acquire star talent, it's the Heat with Riley and Andy Elisburg, Senior VP of Basketball Operations. For a more detailed analysis on how it is theoretically possible, be sure to read Albert Nahmad's post on Heat Hoops.
Hopefully Riley can assemble a team that Durant sees fit to help him achieve his first championship. Pat Riley, a first class organization, Dwyane Wade, and a strong supporting cast can be an automatic championship contender.
So Kevin Durant, why not Miami?