Before we get into the transactions, let’s get something out of the way. Trades are painful. Miami Heat fans in particular recognize how hard every player on the roster has worked to extract every ounce of value out of his talent. A small part of me wants to keep the current Heat team together forever — yes, including Hassan Whiteside — and see how far internal growth and #HeatCulture can take this ragtag group.
But a much larger part of me recognizes that talent is all that matters in the playoffs. If we want to see meaningful summer basketball played at AmericanAirlines Arena in the near future, we’ve got to be ready to take out our Danny Ainge-brand backstabbing knives and part with some fan favorites.
Here are four ways the Heat could improve via the trade market this offseason.
1. Let’s get Kawhi Leonard.
The trade: Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic and a 2019 first round pick for Kawhi.
This may not be enough to land The Claw. If either Boston or Philadelphia decides to go all-in for Kawhi, Miami doesn’t have the assets to compete. But if either of those mediocre food cities decide Leonard is too big a risk given his injury history or his clashes with the San Antonio Spurs front office — and the Spurs get sort of desperate — Miami could step in.
No part of me wants to see Justise Winslow traded. Ever. He’s my favorite NBA player, a Shane Battier-on-steroids who annoys the crap out of the other team with his physicality. He’s also got untapped offensive potential that could one day land him on an All-NBA team. I love him like a member of my family. (Also, I shared a year with him at Duke, where he won a national championship *ducks dozens of pieces of rotten fruit*.)
But if it means landing even one year of Kawhi Leonard, a perennial MVP candidate who would instantly catapult the Heat into championship contention, Pat Riley would have to pull the trigger. Even if the Spurs ask for Winslow, Josh Richardson and Dragic, as this ESPN piece more or less suggested, Riley would have to think about it.
And let’s be honest, Goran Dragic was always meant to be a Spur, right?
2. Let’s get C.J. McCollum.
The trade: McCollum for Josh Richardson, James Johnson and an unprotected first rounder.
The Portland Trail Blazers would likely hang up the phone approximately two seconds after the Heat call with this trade offer. They shouldn’t. As this year’s New Orleans series showed, the Blazers badly need perimeter defense if they want to seriously compete in the brutal, guard-heavy Western Conference. Richardson, on one of the NBA’s best contracts, could give them that. Taking on the last three years of James Johnson’s contract would be a major risk for Portland, but they’re capped out for the next zillion years anyhow. Why not add a rangy veteran with three-point upside who never needs the ball?
McCollum is a brilliant scorer, but his skills are somewhat redundant with Damian Lillard’s. Portland could trade C.J., hand the car keys to Dame — and give Miami the perimeter scoring punch it badly needs.
3. Let’s clear cap space.
The trade: Hassan Whiteside for Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi
I think the Hassan Whiteside hate has gone too far. The big man was massively underpaid in 2015-2016, when he led a team that damn near made the Eastern Conference Finals in win shares. He’s overpaid now, but Whiteside’s story is a remarkable one. I’m proud of the role the Heat played in his development.
Now let’s buy Whiteside a one-way ticket out of Miami. Plenty of people have made the “only Washington is stupid enough to trade for Whiteside” joke. That joke needs to become reality.
Gortat is a serviceable center. He’d give the Heat some decent minutes as a third big man. Ian Mahinmi is not, and he’s on a truly horrible contract. (He’s owed about $16 million each of the next two seasons. I think my eyes are bleeding.) Still, Miami would save some $22 million in salary by swapping Whiteside’s bad contract with Mahinmi’s. And with Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk on the team, not playing Mahinmi would be much less awkward than not playing Whiteside was all season.
Best of luck in the chocolate city, Hassan. Thanks for the memories.
4. Let’s clear cap space and get a great 2019 draft pick.
The trade: The Brothers Johnson for Carmelo Anthony and future pick.
Ok, fine, I didn’t come up with this one on my own. Hat tip to Tom D’Angelo of the Palm Beach Post for this one. This trade makes all kinds of sense for both teams. The Thunder, short on serviceable rotation players, would get two for the price of the decomposing corpse of Anthony’s basketball career.
What do the Heat get out of it? The chance to sell high on James, a somewhat valuable but volatile asset on the wrong side of 30, and to move Tyler’s execrable contract. (Love you, Tyler. Sending you flowers after your dental surgery.)
The biggest downside to this deal: Miami might be throwing away next season. The last time Carmelo Anthony gave any indication that he’s a useful player on a winning basketball team was half a decade ago. Paying him nearly $25 million to brick open jumpers and jab step his way out of the league isn’t the prettiest picture. But it might be worth it if it means the Heat can clear enough space to be a major player in the summer of 2019.
Hello, Klay Thompson?