After Pat Riley whiffed on Gordon Hayward this offseason, he decided to double down on a mercurial 2016-2017 team that finished the season going 30-11. That was, of course, after they started the season 11-30.
The players praised the chemistry of that team, with several calling it the closest team they ever played on. Per the Sun Sentinel:
Shortly after their playoff fate was learned, Whiteside shared a conversation with guard Wayne Ellington in the locker room. Whiteside began naming the teams he’s played for during his path from playing overseas to the NBDL to potential All-NBA player. He called the Heat the closest team he’s played for.
Riley bet that the chemistry they developed during that incredible run would carry over into the 2017-2018 season. In turn, he handed James Johnson, Dion Waiters, and Kelly Olynyk $60 million, $52 million, and $50 million contracts, respectively.
So far the Heat haven't gotten the return on those investments they had hoped, at least not in the win column. JJ and KO are having excellent seasons, both improving their efficiency, while Dion has struggled immensely.
Even after winning four of their last five games (immediately after losing four of their previous five games), the Heat sits at 15-14, looking every bit the average team last season’s 41-41 record suggested they were.
Mediocrity isn't going to satisfy Pat Riley, and starting December 15th, most players signed in the offseason became eligible to be traded. Pat might be thinking its time to cash in his chips.
Riley even discussed this possibility last offseason. Per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
Heat president Pat Riley, while noting his team “deserves a chance to grow organically,” added: “Even though we have some long-term contracts, they are assets…. If something comes along somewhere along the way, there are opportunities to do other things. I don't have plans to do that, but you need those kinds of assets."
With the Heat mired in a holding pattern of mediocrity, those contracts might start looking more like assets than long-term pieces. Capped out this summer, the Heat will need to use those trade pieces if they want to improve their roster.
Unfortunately for the Heat, the market for disgruntled stars has dwindled after the going-out-of-business firesale last summer. Amongst others, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe have all changed teams in the past year. Of those players, George and Cousins may soon become available again. Paul George hasn't resigned with the Thunder, and those pesky trade rumors have started to 'swirl' as they so often do.
Cousins is the more likely target of the two. Paul George's affection for the Lakers has been the worst-kept secret in basketball for a while now. The Cavs could also be in the mix with their prized Net's 1st rounder in the chamber and a non-commital LeBron James to please. It's unlikely the Heat, devoid of draft picks, could come up with a more palatable offer than the Cavaliers.
Cousins, for his part, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but perhaps the sunny charm and the lack of state income tax could persuade him to commit to Miami. Should the Heat manage to snag Cousins, they would be far-and-away the most stable organization he's ever played for. He spent his first six and a half years with the dumpster fire that calls itself the Kings before being traded to the slightly less volatile dumpster fire in New Orleans.
A cursory bit of tinkering with the NBA trade machine gets at least one trade that checks out. It's unclear how much interest either team would have in a Cousins-Whiteside swap, with Bam as a sweetener, but the Heat could be tempted to consolidate its center assets into a superstar.
Julius Randle is another potential target. The Lakers seem dead-set on creating two max slots for free agency this summer, which means they need to shed some salary. Any trade for Randle would probably require the Heat to take on Luol Deng's albatross of a salary, but the Heat have the tradeable contracts to make it work with a third team.
Pat Riley is anything but gun-shy and this team is reminiscent of another fun, but mediocre, Heat team from 2003-2004. The assets on that team ultimately landed Shaquille O'Neal. Maybe Riley has one more big trade up his sleeve before he rides off into the sunset.