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The Miami Heat’s prolonged inactivity continues to raise more questions than it answers

Previous asset mismanagement is coming back to haunt Pat Riley at the worst times.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Similar to the proverbial coin, there’s two sides to everything.

The weeks leading up to the NBA Trade Deadline is oftentimes one of, if not the most chaotic time of the year for NBA Front offices, from a negotiation and scouting perspective.

Fans, nor the media have direct access to every minute detail that’s being discussed or observed, but it’s easy to imagine most teams have likely outlined at least two-to-three dozen separate scenarios, dissecting the good, bad and ugly for all of the above while planning what course of action to take. And whether these scenarios that front offices draw up succeed or fail as the clock ticks, they have backup plans and backups to those backup plans, so on and so forth.

Depending on the trades that do happen can easily change the plan for any franchise’s direction, too; offers change from month-to-month, week-to-week, day-to-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute and second-by-second leading up until the deadline. It’s hard for everyone to keep tabs on everything, but it’s a remarkably fluid process that each and every team experiences every season up until the deadline officially passes.

The most many of us can do — in reality — is patiently wait for the Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski notifications to pop up on our technological devices. Reports get leaked, rumors roam (whether true or not true), but nothing is official until it officially becomes official.

And when these transactions occur, fan bases erupt in joy, shudder in fear, let out a sigh in sadness or disappointment, scramble in confusion, laugh or rush to appoint blame/praise. It’s not dissimilar to a reaction from a simple game being played, or drastic change occurring in everyday life. And even when moves aren’t made, these emotions can oftentimes be evoked.

The Miami Heat fell into the latter yet again on Thursday, failing to acquire anyone or any draft picks ahead of the 3 p.m. Feb. 9 trade deadline.

In fact, they were one of three teams — joining Eastern Conference foes, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls — to not have acquired a pick or player. Zoom out to a larger scale, and the Heat are the only NBA franchise who hasn’t acquired a new player or pick — excluding the draft — since Aug. of 2021, when they sign-and-traded for Kyle Lowry while also nabbing P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Caleb Martin.

The only two trades Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg have made over that span were:

  1. Feb. 9, 2022: Flipping K.Z. Okpala to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 2026 second-round pick, plus to amend the first-round pick protection; Heat freed up their 2023 and 2024 first-round picks, pushing the protections back to 2025 (lottery protected in 2025, unprotected in ‘2026 if it does not convey in ‘25); they also created a $1.7 million trade exception that expired Thursday.
  2. Feb. 7, 2023: Trading Dewayne Dedmon plus a 2028 second-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for cash considerations; Miami created a $4.7 million trade exception plus placed it ~$5 million below the luxury tax.

That’s it. From the 2021 offseason to now, they didn’t ink or trade for any new players.

Instead, they bet on their own chips while subsequently letting Tucker and Morris walk for nothing.

Among the players they did re-sign were: Dedmon to a two-year, $9 million deal; Victor Oladipo to a two-year, $18.2 million deal; Caleb Martin to a three-year, $20.4 million deal; Tyler Herro to a four-year, $120 million max; and Mr. 305 Udonis Haslem to a one-year minimum for his final season.

For the most part, they’ve kept the same roster in-tact for the last two years, minus Tucker and Morris. Last year, they won 53 games, clinched the No. 1 seed in the East, made the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics and practically came one shot away from clinching a berth to the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons.

This year has been a different story — a much different story.

Miami, the No. 6 seed, is currently 30-25 and sitting one ahead in the loss column to the 7th-seeded New York Knicks and two back in the loss column to the 5th-seeded Brooklyn Nets, who unloaded both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to the Western Conference this week.

I was bullish on the Heat heading into the season, but the product hasn’t matched the expectations. Even at five games above .500, they’ve played mediocre ball (0.0 NET Rating). Its offense has been a bottom-five unit in basketball. Its elite-shooting from a year ago fell off Mount Everest; it’s still without a true starting 4 — disclaimer: I’m probably higher on Caleb Martin than most, but even he looks outmatched physically at times, playing out of his normal position — and is still without a reliable backup big.

Issues needed to be addressed by Thursday afternoon, but weren’t. The same needs before the deadline are now only augmented. This front office’s prolonged inactivity — not inactivity in the context of attempting to do something, rather inactivity in failing to accomplish something — to improve the roster externally over the last year raises even more questions than it answers, subsequently highlighting its recent asset mismanagement that’s coming back to bite Pat Riley at the most dire opportunties to improve the roster.

Let’s start with the Dedmon trade, since it was the only move they made: In a vacuum, trading a player who might be viewed as a negative asset can be looked at as addition by subtraction.

But after what transpired, you could argue otherwise with Miami’s process needing to be addressed.

When it signed the then-31-year-old Dedmon off the streets in April of 2021, his last resort was in mid-March of 2020 with the Atlanta Hawks before COVID-19 shut down the league. Thus, Dedmon, looking refreshed, provided a spark for a Heat squad that needed him more than ever. For 16 regular season games, he averaged 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds on 70.8 percent shooting and was one of their best players when they got swept by the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

Last year, you could visibly see the wear-and-tear on Dedmon, who played 67 games for the first time since 2016-17 (he played 62 in ‘17-18, 64 in ‘18-19) with his highest workload in three years. With an opening at the backup-5, there was serious question whether Miami would re-sign Dedmon to the minimum this last season. Well, they signed to 3x that, ultimately signing him to the two-year, $9 million deal that was expected to be used as a potential salary filler for a bigger trade at the deadline or this upcoming offseason.

Dedmon wasn’t expected to have much of a role regardless. Though with Omer Yurtseven’s preseason ankle injury coupled with Orlando Robinson still developing in the G-League, he became the de-facto backup behind Adebayo, again. The 33-year-old played through injury, wasn’t impactful and tanked his value — forcing Miami to attach the second-rounder onto his $4.7 million contract to get off him.

Did it create an extra roster spot for a buyout player? Yes, though that’s poor asset management.

Is this the first time Miami’s done this? No. It’s similar to when it inked Meyers Leonard — a player that was all but out of the rotation in its bubble run — to a two-year, $19.5 million deal ahead of 2020-21. They ultimately attached Leonard (after his antisemitic remarks) plus its 2027 second-round pick landed Trevor Ariza — who was sitting out with the Oklahoma City Thunder at the time — so they got some value back, but the return on investment wasn’t anything to ride home about.

What else has (potentially) hamstrung them?

1. Are other front offices catching up on to a key trend?

It’s no longer a secret. The Miami Heat are one of the top organizations in basketball at finding and developing talent. There’s countless examples of veterans who had the best seasons of their career with the Heat organization: Tucker, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Wayne Ellington, Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters being a few. You could even include Jimmy Butler — who’s played the best basketball of his life with Miami, even as he’s approaching his mid-30s.

The holy trinity of Erik Spoelstra’s wizardry, his assistant coaching/scouting staff’s prowess and Andy Elisburg’s god-like cap manipulation has helped unlock what many others haven’t. There’s never been a 100 percent success rate, but it’s sure as heck higher than most organizations.

In the current age, it’s done a remarkable job unlocking undrafted talent, whether it’s Tyler Johnson, Kendrick Nunn, Derrick Jones Jr. or even current Heatles — Duncan Robinson, Gabe Vincent or Max Strus. They have found a way to maximize their on-court abilities, which is something very few organizations — such as the Thunder, Toronto Raptors or Memphis Grizzlies — can perform adeptly.

But that blessing, comes with a curse: Elsewhere, there’s a trend where there’s been a drop-off in production — all for different reasons.

Tyler Johnson couldn’t necessarily find his footing, bouncing around four separate organizations and is currently playing in Australia; Whiteside was apart of three organizations in three years and is still a free agent; James Johnson’s bounced around as a veteran presence and was waived at the deadline by the Indiana Pacers; Nunn departed to the Lakers and was hardly in the rotation after battling knee injuries; DJJ’s had an inconsistent role in Chicago’s rotation this year, but was granted playing time in lieu of other Bull injuries.

Again, it’s not everyone (i.e. Kelly Olynyk). Each circumstance is different. But when Riley’s fishing for the whale or a bigger name, it’s harder to convince other organizations to take on your assets that you’ve squeezed every last bit of juice out of. Miami — like other organizations — likely value (most of) their players more than other teams do, hence why they’ve retained most of them. And that’s reasonable, because if other organizations are openly willing to trade a player to you, it’s more than fair if you’re first instinct is, “Why?”

All that said, is it crazy to believe that some of the other front offices are catching on to Miami’s track record of developing talent with drop-offs appearing elsewhere? No, it’s not. It all depends on the situations the players fall into, but there’s certainly a track record there.

When you’re top player chips — outside of Butler and Adebayo — are Tyler Herro (on a poison-pill, making it 100x harder to trade), Victor Oladipo (no-trade clause) and Caleb Martin, it’s difficult to work around financially. That doesn’t include Strus — who’s regressed back towards the mean as a shooter — and Vincent, both on minimum contracts.

In conjunction, that’s difficult for any front office to work around — especially if you have to profusely convince other teams about those players if other front offices might be somewhat weary of them if they’re the “return” of any deal.

2. The Kyle Lowry/Duncan Robinson debacles.

The two biggest question marks heading into the deadline were Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson.

Lowry, making $28.3 million this year, is having one of the worst seasons of his career. He’s averaging 12.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game, shooting 39.6 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from 3-point range.

It’s very easy to look what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in hindsight. What have I been doing up to this point? Running a professional basketball organization is way harder than any of us can imagine it being.

And Butler isn’t completely absolved from criticism here: Jimmy recruited him here. They’re best friends. The Heat brain trust might not have gone out of their way to sign Lowry to a three-year, $85 million deal if Butler — ahem, the franchise player — didn’t convince that it was the best move for the team. And, to be fair to Butler: An overwhelming majority of fans/media (like myself) approved of the idea at the time, with Lowry one year removed from his sixth-straight All-Star appearance.

But it hasn’t worked according to plan. At Lowry’s age, asking for three good years is best case scenario, but that was always the risk. Lowry made it one before 1.) battling multiple lower body injuries and 2.) looking completely uncomfortable in a role unfamiliar to him. The ball isn’t in his hands much anymore, and when it is, he looks reluctant to do.....anything. And he’s been a disaster defensively at the point-of-attack, even if he offers versatility on switches in the post.

Ahead of the deadline, reports surfaced from the Miami Herald that Miami was “very open” to moving Lowry, with subsequent reporting from Greg Sylvander of Five Reasons Sports Network that Miami was “motivated” to moving Lowry.

This dates back to my original point: It’s not that the front office wasn’t trying to move Lowry, but they couldn’t. Maybe it was because of his (bad) contract, maybe it was because of his recent play, maybe it was because of the knee injury or maybe it was a combination of various unknown factors.

Though for an organization who’s typically tighter than tight-lipped on in-house details, that was telling about the direction this train was directed. It braced the fans, players and everyone in-between what could happen.

And yet, he’s still on the roster.

Robinson, who’s bounced around the rotation before breaking his finger (in his jersey) in mid-December, falls under the same umbrella.

He’s presumably been on the trade block for the last 2-3 seasons with a varying offensive roles and a very short leash when a mistake or two is made. The five-year, $90 million contract looks like one of the worst contracts in the sport and now their hands are tied together (in quadruple knots) without an escape route that’s easy to stomach.

3. Pick mismanagement.

If you couldn’t tell already: Miami’s past mistakes are coming back to bite.

With how they’ve managed picks, it’s the same dilemma.

If there’s one area where Riley’s fallen short of acquiring his whale, it’s with draft compensation. It happened with Donovan Mitchell — although Riley’s longtime best friend sworn enemy, Danny Ainge, would’ve tried to ask for every ownership share of the franchise before giving Riley his most valuable asset — and with Kevin Durant. Now both are new teams, but draft picks will be needed to land O.G. Anunoby or Mikal Bridges, for example, or another disgruntled star if one becomes available.

Players and pick inflation is a real thing. Miami trading two first-round picks for Dragic in 2015 or one for Butler in ‘19 would’ve been different today. Picks are coveted more than ever nowadays — Thursday’s a prime example.

A total of 44 draft-picks — seven first-rounders and 37 (yes, THIRTY SEVEN) second-rounders — were swapped on Thursday alone. That doesn’t include the three second-round picks the Lakers traded (along with Nunn) for Rui Hachimura, or the three total picks (one first, two seconds) for Kyrie Irving in that four-player swap. Three players — Jae Crowder (who’s sat out this whole season), Saddiq Bey and Gary Payton II — were all dealt for FIVE second-round picks. And Kevin Durant, one of the league’s top stars, went for four unprotected first-rounders plus a pick swap.

If it’s not KD, with the Stepien Rule, teams are 1.) more reluctant or 2.) are unable to trade their first-round picks, especially if they moved theirs for separate deals in the past. As an alternative, teams were handing out second-rounders like candy on Halloween. Miami? They attached one to a depreciated asset on a contract that should’ve never been given out (in hindsight). In the end, it doesn’t make much sense, logically.

Previously, Miami dealt three second-rounders — in 2022, 2025 and 2026 — in a multi-team deal to land Okpala in the 2019 draft, a deal that — again, in hindsight — they would’ve liked to have back. (In an alternate universe, those picks could’ve been really useful Thursday.)

The lack of first-round equity — placing four years worth of protections in the 2023 first-rounder that they traded for Butler — also hurt, preventing them from being able to flip additional first-rounders at multiple points. They’ve softened the blow slightly, but the Heat — on the brink of contention — have been in an arms race with other teams for quality talent and have lost. And it’s been, in-part, because of their lack of draft equity.

It’s easy to say in hindsight, but these are costly errors they need to learn from.

So, what now?

They’re #RunningItBack™ with the additional roster spot, for now.

1. Is Miami going to convert Orlando Robinson to a standard contract?

That’s the expectation. If they don’t, why trade Dedmon plus the extra pick?

Robinson has been Miami’s best backup big this season, averaging 4.2 points and 4.1 rebounds. With the extra $4.7 million in flexibility, Miami can afford to convert Robinson for the rest of the season without exceeding the luxury tax.

2. The pressure’s on for Yurtseven and Robinson, right?

As of right now, yes.

Currently, Yurtseven is Miami’s only backup big that’s playoff-eligible — unless they go #UltraSmallBall and play Butler or Martin at the 5 for some reason. That obviously changes if Robinson converts to a standard contract or they sign another backup big on the buyout market, which is possible, too.

Though still plenty of question marks lay ahead.

Yurtseven’s ankle injury has prevented him from playing a full NBA basketball game for the last 10 months. Coming off such an injury, how’s he going to look? What will his impact be? How quickly will it be before he acclimates himself into the rotation part-time, let alone full-time? In regards to Robinson: He’s fundamentally sound, but there’s still points where it shows he’s a rookie. Will he still be as impactful as the sample continues to increases or at least until Yurtseven returns?

If Yurtseven or Robinson aren’t the answers, then who is? Adebayo can’t play 48 minutes every night. He carries enough of a burden in the 35 minutes he does play. So these questions need to be answered sooner rather than later, especially as we’re heading into the final stretch.

3. So, uh, what happens with Lowry/Robinson?

I’m not sure how salvageable either situation is, but the answer is that both should at least get run when both are healthy.

Lowry’s currently sidelined with a knee injury and it remains unclear how healthy he actually is. Robinson’s also out with his finger injury. It’d be the definition of insanity to keep running Lowry out with the starters and expecting different results.

Vincent adds an extra jolt with the starters and takes the pressure off Martin/Butler defensively at the point-of-attack. Lowry, with the ball in his hands more, is more than capable of operating a bench unit. It’s just a matter of him willing to do it, should he be healthy. And Robinson is one of the best movement shooters in the sport when he has a defined role and ample playing time.

If Riley plans to move either, he may as well play them because neither of their values are very high. There’s ways to work around everything, all parties just need to buy in.

4. Do they plan on paying the tax next year, even if it’s a non-contender?

The Miami Heat front office was reportedly “reluctant” to pay the luxury tax unless there was a “significant upgrade” per the Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang.

“The Heat is only about $200,000 away the luxury tax threshold that it has been reluctant to cross this season unless it’s for a significant upgrade,” the Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang wrote. “Even with one open spot on its 15-man roster, Miami would enter the tax if it signed a free agent any time soon for an extended period of time.”

Now, we’re here. Roughly $5M below the luxury tax and no significant upgrade was made. The real question is: Is Micky Arison ready to bow down to the tax for a potential non-contender next year, assuming the roster stays the same?

Over seven separate seasons, the Miami Heat have paid $52.9 million in luxury tax penalties, the 11th-highest in basketball sandwiched in-between the Thunder and Boston, per Forbes.

Miami hasn’t been in the luxury tax since Butler’s first season, when it paid roughly $2.5 million in luxury tax penalties. So the franchise wouldn’t be in repeater tax territory if it were a taxpayer next season. But they certainly look like they will be if the roster remains the same.

They have north of $150 million committed to Jimmy Butler (first year of extension), Tyler Herro (first year of extension), Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson and Bam Adebayo alone next season. That’s not counting Caleb Martin’s $6.8 million, Victor Oladipo’s $9.5 million player option (if he opts in). Those seven contracts alone puts the organization roughly $7 million over the projected $162 million tax bill, equating to roughly $10.8 million in pure tax dollars with a luxury tax penalty of about $17.6 million as a non-repeater.

That doesn’t account for having to possibly having to pay Vincent and Strus as unrestricted free agents plus Yurtseven as a restricted free-agent. And if Oladipo opts out in an attempt to try to make more, then that even causes a possibly bigger issue.

These are the ripple effects of Thursday’s inaction: Miami’s now at a crossroads with Strus and Vincent specifically — do you possibly overpay them above market value (aka: the same mistake they’ve made in the past) or let them walk for nothing? What if Yurtseven looks great? Would you match another team’s bloated offer (MLE territory)? Are you going to re-sign Oladipo with your bird rights if he opts out?

Again, these questions that need to be answered. With a better sense of direction at the deadline, some — not all — could’ve been easier to answer. Instead, none of them were.

This upcoming offseason could be a franchise-defining one with extensions kicking in, Butler being 34-years-old and entering the fifth year in Miami, Lowry becoming an expiring and Robinson with three more years left on his deal. At what point do moves start being made? And for what, exactly?

O.K., but what’s the other side of the token?

Let’s end this how I started.

If I were to play my own devil’s advocate for a second: The Heat could’ve perhaps made the safest bet they could’ve made heading into the summer: Don’t forgo assets irresponsibly in a win-now move when you aren’t a win-now team. Wait until the summer to do that if more appeasing offers might be on the table.

Was there a big ripple effect leaguewide between the KD trade? The Kyrie Irving trade? On one hand, a window opened to seriously compete for a top-four seed that wasn’t there a couple of weeks ago. On another, the price for certain players they were targeting could’ve skyrocketed, depending on what the original offers were. There’s a lot of gray area there.

The Heat didn’t go out of their way to spend either one of their 2023 or 2029 first-round picks — or two tradeable second-round picks, to fit the #2023TradeDeadlineAgenda™ — along with Lowry/Robinson/Martin/others in desperation.

Even though the assets look bleaker than they did, say, last offseason — Riley can still flip their 2023, 2028 and 2030 first-round picks this upcoming summer if they want to flip for the next big star because, you know, that’s ultimately what they want to wait for if one becomes available. If not the next star, then they have three FRP’s — plus three seconds — to wheel-and-deal for capable rotation players that fits needs.

Once again, a lot of this nit-picking a lot of previous mistakes — nobody’s perfect. Though the last few seasons came back and bit them on Thursday, a prime time to build or shift around Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, your two franchise cornerstones, when your franchise is middling with clear holes.

For a regime that’s preached, “There’s winning, and then there’s misery,” Thursday did not resonate well for most. And I’m sure it didn’t for the front office, either. Lessons should be learned: Miami can’t keep punting these opportunities to build around Bam and Jimmy and expect to walk away unscathed. It bit them Thursday. And now it’s time to turn to the buyout market.

Some — or most — of this week might’ve been out of their control. They probably had a flurry of different scenarios and the execution went poorly. But part of that was their own undoing; there were improvements to make, holes to shore, directions to take.

And, yet, everything in the end still feels as wobbly and as uncertain as it did before this uneven, roller coaster campaign even set foot.