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Two years out, it’s clear: Heat should’ve traded for Chris Paul

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Paul has shown he still has plenty left in the tank the last two seasons.

NBA: Miami Heat at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Riley says that there’s winning and there’s misery. As the Heat wallow in the latter after a first-round sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks, Riley may look back at the trades he didn’t make.

Should he have given Danilo Gallinari the extension he wanted in February 2020? Jae Crowder left after one playoff run, and Trevor Ariza may also be headed out the door after a poor playoff performance. Should he have relented and traded Tyler Herro for Kyle Lowry?

But he should be kicking himself for the move that, with two years of hindsight, looks like a big mistake — trading for Chris Paul.

After the Heat executed the sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler in July 2019, rumors linked Miami to two players — Paul and Russell Westbrook. Both were on bloated contracts — but Westbrook was perceived as the better player. Paul had struggled with injuries and missed the All-Star team in the last three seasons. Though coming off a year in which he shot 29 percent from 3, Westbrook was still a triple-double machine and a perennial All-Star.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder asked for two of Miami’s three young players — Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro — in a deal for Westbrook. The Heat held firm.

In the end, Paul and Westbrook switched teams. Because Houston was getting the “better player” in the deal, the Rockets also gave the Oklahoma City Thunder first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 and pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.

Paul’s trade value was low, and many didn’t think the Heat needed to trade Winslow, Adebayo or Herro for the 2006 Rookie of the Year. The Heat and Thunder had talks about trading Paul to the Heat, but ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the Thunder already owning Miami’s 2021 and 2023 first-round picks complicated a deal.

We know what happened after that. Paul surpassed anyone’s expectations with a return to the All-Star team and a selection to the All-NBA Second Team. The Thunder sold high on Paul’s career renaissance, acquiring yet another draft pick in the November 2020 trade of him to the Phoenix Suns. And Paul had another stellar year with the Suns, now on the verge of knocking off the Los Angeles Lakers.

I also have to admit that I was wrong. Two years ago, I wrote a piece saying that the Heat shouldn’t trade for Paul, who was on a “steady decline.” I also said a 34-year-old Paul wasn’t worth giving up the flexibility of having cap space in 2021.

Two years out — seeing Paul play as one of the best players in the NBA for two straight seasons and GIannis Antetokounmpo sign a supermax extension with the Bucks — it’s clear. The Heat missed an opportunity to pair an elite point guard with Butler and not give up significant assets.