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Have Heat locked up money in wrong players?

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Miami has now signed several good-but-not-great players to long contracts. Is that the path to championships?

NBA: Washington Wizards at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported and we covered, the Miami Heat signed Josh Richardson to a four-year, $42 million extension Wednesday. This agreement will kick in starting with the 2018-19 year — with Richardson still on his rookie-scale contract at a $1.5 million salary this year — so will last a year longer than four-year contracts James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk signed earlier this summer.

Some Heat fans have wondered — are the Heat tying up their money in the wrong players?

ESPN’s Zach Lowe felt this way in a post discussing the winners and losers of the NBA free agency period in July. While he conceded that the Heat should be a “solid playoff team,” he said they “face a clogged cap sheet with two future first-round picks out the window.”

In essence, Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Waiters, Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk might be good enough for the playoffs, but not much else. A roster of this sort won’t be bad enough to give the Heat a high lottery pick and a potential chance to draft a franchise player. And Miami won’t be good enough to entice a disgruntled star to take the Heat over the top, the thinking goes.

An optimist might say that the Heat may have signed these good-but-not-star-quality players to long-term contracts, but Miami can package them in a trade. Pat Riley alluded to this theory in July, when he said, “We don’t look at our players like assets, but they are assets. If something comes along somewhere along the way, there are opportunities to do other things.” In that press conference, Riley explicitly compared this team to the 2004-05 Heat, which finished 42-40, made it to the second-round of the playoffs and then traded Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant for Shaquille O’Neal.

But is a 30-year-old James Johnson as good as a 24-year-old Odom was in 2005? Will Dion Waiters play well enough to become a valuable asset who can bring a star back in a trade? Or will the Heat be locked into a middling playoff finish for the next few years, without a clear path back to championship dominance?

In the NBA, a lot changes over the course of one year or two years. We’ll have to wait until the players hit the hardwood to see if Pat Riley has a plan to take the Heat from good to great.