Winners of 10 out of their last 15 games, the Miami Heat are one of six teams in the Eastern Conference with a record of .500 or better. With the Heat now in the thick of the playoff race in the East and the trade deadline quietly approaching, most would expect Pat Riley to do what he always does, be active.
Improving this Heat roster is a tall task even for Miami’s legendary executive. A myriad of questionable decisions and bad luck have set Miami up with one of the more unique roster situations in the NBA. The Heat are as deep as almost any team in the NBA, maybe too deep if you believe that is possible. Erik Spoelstra has been given the nearly incredibly difficult task of handling the Heat’s logjam at the shooting guard and small forward spots. Spoelstra only has 48 minutes to allocate between: Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Dion Waiters, Derrick Jones Jr., and Wayne Ellington and that is not considering he will decide to do with the emergent Justise Winslow at point guard when Goran Dragic returns.
If you ask ten Heat writers and fans they will probably give you ten different ways they would allocate the minutes among the aforementioned guards and small forwards, but they might say one thing in common: a couple players should be left out of the rotation. For coach Erik Spoelstra, the odd man out is Wayne Ellington who had not seen the court in nine games before playing several minutes in their loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday. In fact, the situation has been so difficult for Spoelstra he said that not playing Ellington has made him “sick to his stomach”, which poses the question: Can the logjam be fixed while improving the team? That might be where things get even more complicated.
A unique combination of “untouchable” players and virtually un-tradable contracts mixed with fringe competitiveness puts Riley in a position where he has to decide what the future of the Miami Heat looks like.
Riley has always been a win-now type of president, which was easy when the Big Three led the charge in Miami, but as the Heat have personified the word “average” over the last few seasons, the team has been searching for an identity. Far from a rebuild, but far from contention, where do you go?
Miami was in on the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes as much as any team, but a deal reportedly fell through when the Heat refused to part with their untouchable young players: Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson, and Justise Winslow, which points towards the Heat catering towards the future. But the very fact that the Heat were in on bidding for the 29-year-old small forward shows a desire to win now.
As the trade deadline approaches so does the imaginary deadline for the Heat to decide what direction they are going in. It is difficult for the Heat to improve its roster when essentially every valuable player is off-limits and the players that the team would like to move are anchored down by egregious contracts (Tyler Johnson, Waiters, Hassan Whiteside).
Whether you think the Heat should try to add or collect assets for the future is up to you, but what shouldn’t be up for debate is whether Miami should pick a direction.
The emergence of Justise Winslow at point guard has been among the most pleasant surprises for the Heat this season amid the extended absence of All-Star point guard Goran Dragic. Miami boasts an 11-7 record since officially naming Winslow the point guard and it is no coincidence. Winslow’s assist-to-turnover ratio is an impressive 2.65 and the Heat are 6th in the NBA in net rating since the switch.
Winslow’s breakout could make Dragic expendable for the Heat in an effort to avoid feeding the monster that is the Heat logjam. As most things are for the Heat, moving Dragic for another asset would not be easy. Though not a serious injury, Dragic is likely out until after the deadline so hypothetically a team would be acquiring an injured player. Dragic being 32-years-old limits his market as well, with suitors likely to be in contention. When you look at playoff-bound teams it’s difficult to find a team in need of Dragic’s services, as most successful teams have a talented point guard of their own.
However, the Pacers are a team that could use Dragic. Despite using a tandem of Darren Collison and Corey Joseph, the Pacers find themselves 14 games over .500 and just 3.5 games behind the first place Raptors.
A hypothetical Dragic-centered swap with the Pacers would be a move that points more toward the future without necessarily compromising the present. Should the Pacers be interested in a trade, it would likely offer the Heat its late first-round pick for Dragic, something the Heat should absolutely consider if the future were to be a priority.
Riley has never shown attachment to draft picks, so it wouldn’t be far fetched that if the Heat were able to secure an additional pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, one or both picks could be used in a deadline trade.
Any move the Heat make at the deadline would like be for a somewhat affordable piece as the team’s best shot to bring in a major free agent is in the 2020 offseason, when over $70 million in annual salary is slated to come off of the books.
Jabari Parker could make sense for the Heat, as the Bulls are in full throttle tank mode and Jabari is not part of the team’s longterm plans. Jabari would help the Heat at the four spot and comes with an affordable contract that does not hinder the Heat’s quest for a max contract superstar in the upcoming off-seasons. The hypothetical Pacers pick and Wayne Ellington could get the deal done, but should the Heat be looking to add without parting with Dragic, things may be more difficult.
The Heat do have a first round pick in the upcoming draft that it could part with, though the three most valuable players on the Heat were acquired via the draft. A competitive West limits the market of teams looking to dump players for picks and is something the Heat could decide to do if they are keen on staying put.
Ellington has consistently been among the league’s best sharpshooters and should undoubtedly have a market. Rodney McGruder, who has seen his minutes consistently dwindle is an effective two way player who could pack a punch off the bench for a team fighting for a playoff spot.
Should the Heat decide to stay put with Dragic, it would make no sense to hold onto either of the aforementioned two players, though whatever the Heat get in return (likely a couple second round picks), will not have much impact on the future, but will aid in the minutes dilemma and could possibly be flipped for a player with an expiring contract that could help the Heat. Zach Randolph is a name that comes to mind if the price is right. Randolph has yet to play this season, but was very effective last season with the Kings and could be a buy out candidate should the Kings not reach a deal with any teams.
With Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, and Justise Winslow being untouchable, and Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson’s trade value sapped by bad contracts, any addition the Heat may make will not be very exciting unless it parts with its first-round pick. But is mortgaging the future worth a half-hearted run at the East?
A trade of Dragic hedges the impact of trading away the Heat’s most movable asset that is available, its draft pick. Otherwise it is hard to find a legitimate way to improve the Miami Heat without continuing to surrender the future for perpetual mediocrity.