Last season, the Miami Heat had a bunch of key players who left after spending what amounted to a long vacation down in South Beach: Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Gerald Green, Beno Udrih and Luol Deng. Besides Deng, who was here for two full seasons, the rest were only here for a single season. Amar'e retired, Beno was waived and the rest left for greener pastures, especially Deng who got a 4-year, $72 million deal from the Lakers. Johnson had a good summer as well, getting 2 years and $22 million from Utah. Both Deng and Johnson got more than the Heat could offer. Green's greener pastures was the green logo of the Boston Celtics.
In the summer of 2016, Heat President Pat Riley and GM Andy Elisburg got to work and signed several new players to replace the guys who left, including long-time Heat legend Dwyane Wade. First, they locked in 25-year-old rookie Rodney McGruder with a 3-year deal. After securing newly minted franchise star center Hassan Whiteside to a 4-year, $98 million deal and matching the Nets offer to Tyler Johnson for 4 years and $50 million, the Heat signed James Johnson (1 year), Derrick Williams (1 year), Wayne Ellington (2 years), Willie Reed (2 years, player option 2nd year) and Dion Waiters (2 years, player option 2nd year). Luke Babbitt, who was acquired in a trade from New Orleans, is on the 2nd year of a 2 year deal. These guys on the 1 and 2 year deals were the Heat's new "rentals".
Due to injuries, the current Heat rotation is made up of 12 active players. This rotation is the one responsible for the Heat’s turnaround in the 2nd half of the season, going 21-4 since the 41st game. Out of the Heat’s current 12 man rotation, 6 of them are both new to the team this season and on short deals. If you count Heat lifer Udonis Haslem who is on a one year deal (but expected to play for Miami next season), Josh Richardson who is on the 2nd year of a 3 year deal and Josh McRoberts who is out indefinitely and is likely to exercise his player option for next season, that is 9 players with 2 years or less left on their deals. The only Heat players who will probably be here in 2019 are Whiteside, Dragic, Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow.
Looking at this roster last summer, almost everyone covering the NBA saw the Heat as an almost guaranteed lottery team. The only piece left over from the Big 3 era was Haslem after the team decided it was best if they didn't work on bringing Chris Bosh back after he failed his physical. These rental players were expected to be one or two year fill-ins during a rebuilding phase. Their main goals were to increase their own value so that they might get better contracts when they become free agents in a year or two and get the Heat a lottery pick in the process. The Heat were expected to join the ranks of the Sixers, Wolves and Lakers as cellar dwellers, losing to get better.
For the first 41 games, exactly a half a season, everything was going as everyone expected. The losses piled up and the rentals were adding value to their names. The Heat were expected to finish in the bottom 3 and have an excellent chance at winning the first overall pick in the 2017 draft. The tank was on. Injuries to key players started to mount. Josh McRoberts injured his foot and was done for the season by the end of December. The Heat's star of the future, Justise Winslow, had shoulder surgery and was done for the season by New Year's day. Key players such as Josh Richardson and Dion Waiters were missing significant time with injuries as well. The tank was rolling through Dade county at a furious pace. By the end of those first 41 games, the Heat were 11-30 and considered one of the 5 worst teams in the league.
On January 17th, the Heat called up Okaro White from their D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. If Johnson, Williams, Ellington, Reed, Waiters and Babbitt were yearly 'rentals', then White was a motel room that you got for a couple nights so you weren't sleeping in your car. The Heat signed him to a 10-day contract. In those 10 days, he played in 4 of the Heat's 5 games. Miami went 5-0 in that span. White wasn't just a good luck charm, though, he was contributing off the bench with big minutes at key points in those games. The Heat then signed him to a 2nd 10-day deal. The Heat went 5-0 again with Okaro being a key contributor in those wins as well. The Heat then made the decision to keep White and waive Derrick Williams. White signed a 2-year deal on February 6th and another Heat 'rental' was born.
The Snipers Luke Babbitt and Wayne Ellington
Babbitt got off to a slow start in the first half of the season. He was brought in to play the 4 and spread the floor with his 3-point shooting. In the first half of the season, Luke was averaging 4.6 ppg on .371 shooting and .359 from three. Over the last 24 games, his scoring has improved a bit to 5.3 ppg but he is a much more efficient shooter now with a .457 FG% and .506 3P% during the 2nd half of the season. His 3-point shooting has been a big part of the Heat's success, especially early in games. When he's hitting threes in the 1st and 2nd quarters, it creates space for everyone else and helps set the tone for Miami’s offense. Babbitt has played in and started every game during Miami's 20-4 run. He's usually not in for long, averaging around 15 minutes per game, but when he's in the game, he's good for 2 or 3 big ka-booms.
Wayne Ellington, aka "The Man With The Golden Arm", missed the first 16 games of the season because of a bruised thigh injury. Once he got healthy, though, his impact was almost immediately felt. In his 2nd game as a Heat, the former Heat-killer scored 22 points on 5 of 9 from three. Since then, he's been one of the Heat's most consistent producers off the bench. He leads the Heat in 3-point attempts and makes this season despite missing 20 games and coming off the bench for the majority of his appearances.
Big Willie Style
Second year big man Willie Reed has been a solid backup behind Whiteside this season. The tall, lean 6 foot 10, 220 lbs. center does many of the same things that Whiteside does to help the team such as protecting the rim, grabbing rebounds, setting screens, catching lobs and cleaning up the offensive glass to turn misses into buckets. He is a vital part of the Heat bench and has stepped up on several occasions when Whiteside was struggling or not playing due to an injury.
A few examples: In January, when Whiteside was out for 4 games, Reed had two stellar games. In a loss to the Suns, he scored 22 points on 11 of 16 shooting, grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked 2 shots. 3 days later against the Lakers, he scored 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked 3 shots. In those 4 starts, he averaged 13.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 2.0 bpg on .650 shooting proving that he was more than capable of filling in as a starter. A couple of weeks later in a win against the Bulls, he again started at center while Whiteside nursed a sprained ankle and showed off his offensive game with 20 points on 9 of 11 shooting to go with 5 boards. In a game against big man Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks on February 24th, Whiteside struggled going 1 of 9 and scored only 2 points. But Reed was there to help pick up the slack and even things out by scoring 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting and grabbing 5 offensive boards and 10 overall in that win.
One half of the Johnson Brothers duo off the Heat bench, James "Bloodsport" Johnson is probably the 2nd most important rental. Among healthy players in the current Heat rotation, the point-forward and sometimes point-center is currently 5th on the team in scoring with 12.1 per game, 3rd in assists with 3.5 per game, 2nd in rebounds with 4.9 per game, 3rd in steals (0.9), 2nd in blocks (1.2) and has hit 66 threes this season — good for 6th on the team. He's also 4th on the team in minutes played with 1.564 despite coming off the bench in every appearance this season. He's been one of this team's best and most consistent players and has been the best performing forward for Miami.
The most important rental of them all, though, has been Dion Waiters. He wasn't even projected to be the Heat's starting 2-guard before the season started. Riley was able to sign him for what now looks like a steal: 2 years and $6 million - $2.9 million this season and a player option for just over $3 million next season. Compare that to what Miami offered the now 35 year old Wade to stay: 2 years and $40 million or 6.7 times more than what the 25-year old Waiters is making. If you compare Wade's production this season for the Bulls to Waiters', Dion is giving the Heat about 80% of what Wade is giving the Bulls for far less money.
Wade - 54 games, 18.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, .435 FG%, .321 3P%
Waiters - 42 games, 15.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.4 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.5 bpg, .419 FG%, .391 3P%
But, if you compare what they've been doing since January 17th, the midway point of the season...
2nd Half of the season
Wade - 17 games, 19.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.8 bpg, .448 FG%, .290 3P%
Waiters - 21 games, 19.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.9 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.4 bpg, .464 FG%, .445 3P%
...they are about even in scoring. Wade has missed more games (6) than Waiters (3) and Dion has been shooting the ball much better. Wade still tops him in rebounds, steals and blocks, though, being the excellent and underrated defender that he is. However, Waiters has been nailing some clutch daggers 3-pointers late in games and has his shooting percentages way up from the first half of the season.
Over the course of the season, the popularity of these so-called rentals has grown after each game. They've helped us accept the loss of Wade and Bosh as well as the old 'rentals' Joe Johnson, Luol Deng, Gerald Green, Amar'e Stoudemire and Beno Udrih who all left for different reasons.
After Riley stood pat and didn't make any "stupid" moves during the trade deadline, they made us realize that they might not be rentals after all, at least not all of them. Their chapter in Heat history might actually last longer than one season. But, even if it doesn't, that chapter is still being written.
There are still 17 games left on the schedule. All 17 of them are vital to this team's hopes of making the playoffs. Let's sit back and enjoy the ride, Heat fans, and worry about possibly turning these 'rentals' into 'lifers' this summer.