The Miami Heat have been one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises through the first third of the season. At 25-9, the Heat sit second in the Eastern Conference and five games behind the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks.
With the Heat not having lost consecutive games all season, there is no urgency for the team to make a major move, but with an Eastern Conference title within the realm of possibility, it is hard to imagine the ever-aggressive Pat Riley to stay put.
The Heat’s lack of size and consistent interior presence has been exposed on a few occasions this season, most recently when Ian Mahinmi dropped a season-high 25 points on 9/10 shooting in a Washington Wizards win. While interior defense has been an issue all year, the Heat’s perimeter defense has regressed as well.
While there should be a relatively busy trade market as the NBA trade deadline approaches, the Heat’s options may be limited.
There are a few trade obstacles that Heat fans have heard ad nauseam. The first and most obvious being Miami’s salary cap limitations. The Heat are roughly $3 million over the luxury tax and just under the luxury tax apron. In other words, for the Heat to acquire a big piece, roughly the same salary coming in must go out.
Miami has seven players who make over $10 million this season: Jimmy Butler (max), Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters and Meyers Leonard. Of the aforementioned seven, Butler is untouchable, Dragic is a huge part of Miami’s success and unlikely to move, the embattled Dion Waiters contract is immovable and James Johnson’s contract will not be easy to move either.
That leaves the Heat with only Winslow, Kelly Olynyk and Leonard as potential options to match a large incoming salary. Outside of the trio, the only other asset that is likely to be added to a package would be the high-flying Derrick Jones Jr. and a 2025 first round pick.
The team has made it clear that the youngsters on the roster are untouchable as well, that would include Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson.
Essentially, a trade target will come down to what the Heat can attain with a package derived of Winslow, Derrick Jones Jr., Kelly Olynyk, Leonard and a distant first.
The good news for the Heat is that after the 2021 season, the team will have the cap space for another max-contract player to pair with Jimmy Butler in what could be a historically loaded free-agent class led by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Whether you choose to buy the whispers of mutual interest between Miami and Giannis, it is doubtful that there is a free agent in the 2021 class that Riley does not think he has a good chance at.
The importance of future financial flexibility eliminates several trade targets including: Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Draymond Green. Though Miami is a bit handcuffed with ways to improve the team, there are some options that would help the Heat in the short term without compromising the future.
Jrue Holiday has been a high profile name linked to the Heat over the last few weeks. While Holiday would not improve the Heat’s interior issues, he is an elite perimeter defender and would instantly impact the team’s offense. The kicker is that Holiday has a $27 million player option for 2021/2022. While it is more likely that Holiday opts out of the contract going into his age 32 season, should he opt in, the Heat would not be able to offer a max contract to any free agent.
A trade for Holiday would give the Heat more star power and bolster the starting line-up for a playoff run. As good as Herro and Nunn have been, there is a value in not needing to lean on a pair of rookies for 30 plus minutes per game in the postseason. One difficult aspect in trading for Holiday is that an outgoing package for the Heat would likely include Winslow and Derrick Jones Jr. - two of the Heat’s best defenders.
While the Heat would be swapping a somewhat offensively challenged defensive-minded point guard for a more well rounded one, the Heat would lose one of the leagues longest, highest flying forwards in the league in Jones Jr. The 22 year-old has been used by coach Erik Spoelstra to offset the Heat’s size mismatches and would further deplete the team’s ability to combat length if dealt.
A potentially safer avenue for the Heat would be a trade for Spurs big man, LaMarcus Aldridge. The 6’11 center is under contract through next season, which would line up perfect with the Heat’s spending timeline. Though 34-years-old, Aldridge has been effective in the frontcourt of one of the league’s worst offenses and is owed $26 million this season and $24 million next year.
Given Aldridge’s age, the asking price for the former second overall pick should not be as steep as that of Jrue Holiday’s and his impact could be just as dramatic, if not more.
Aldridge would instantly bolster a struggling interior defense, offering a stronger presence down low to aid Bam Adebayo than Leonard or Olynyk could offer. As one of the league’s better offensive rebounders, Aldridge could help a Miami team that is in the bottom three of the league in that category.
The only question with Aldridge fitting in with the Heat is spacing. While spacing concerns with Aldridge and Adebayo are valid, Aldridge’s game has continued to evolve as he has aged. The “king of the mid-range” has expanded his shooting this season.
Through 31 games, he has already knocked down 28 triples on 44% shooting, on pace to more than double his career-high three point total. While Aldridge may not quite be the shooter from deep that Leonard is, the well rounded game that the seven-time All-Star offers paired with his interior ability on both ends could put the Heat over the top.
A package of Winslow, Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. (if necessary) should be enough to get it done for a struggling Spurs team that has no reason to hold onto the 34-year-old.
Another impact guy on both sides of the ball that could be on the move is Robert Covington. The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a tailspin, now sitting at 13-21 with rumors of their star player, Karl Anthony-Towns not being thrilled with his team.
Covington could be a poster boy for the NBA “Three and D” player that is so coveted in today’s game. The 6’9” forward who boasts a 7’2” wingspan is only 29 and is owed a modest $24 million over the next two seasons.
The All-Defensive first team winner would offer elite defensive support while making one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooting teams that much scarier. Covington would give Spoelstra a lot of line-up flexibility, which is valuable to a coach who likes to play position-less basketball.
Of all the trade targets the Heat could pursue, Covington may be the safest. A steady player who you can pencil in for 13 PPG and roughly 35% from deep to go with elite defense and an affordable contract is valuable. But how valuable?
Covington will not come cheap, and would the acquisition of the 29-year-old be worth the likely multiple rotation players it will cost? That will be the big question for the Heat. If there is a way Miami can get Jeff Teague into the deal to back up Dragic, that could help the loss of depth, but of course the Heat would half to match Teague’s $19 million contract for this season.
A Covington trade could be a little tricky, maybe even including a third team, but there is no question the Wolves forward would help the Heat line-up.
A move that helps in the short term while preserving long-term flexibility makes the most sense for the Heat, but with the NBA trade deadline just over a month away we will have to wait and see if the Heat will shake up its roster.
In what seems like a pretty open Eastern Conference for the Heat it is hard to imagine Pat Riley remaining stagnant. Let’s see what he might have up his sleeve.