For the first time during the LeBron James Era, the Heat generated a groundswell of excitement with a draft pick.
And the Heat did it by procuring a player, Shabazz Napier, that James on Thursday called “my favorite player in the draft.”
By trading up two spots with Charlotte, the Heat landed the player it targeted: the Connecticut point guard who developed into an outstanding long-range shooter, leader and passer while winning two national titles.
In return, the Heat dealt its two draft picks — 26th and 55th — as well as a future second-round selection.
“It’s a blessing,” Napier told ESPN about landing with the Heat. “The first thing that jumps off is the winning attitude. On the first day you arrive to that organization, you want to work. … I’m very excited. I’m going to compete my tail off and always have a chip on my shoulder.”
Napier, who is 6-1, averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists for Connecticut last season, while shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 40.5 percent on three-point attempts. He helped lead Connecticut to the national championship last season and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
The Heat made several attempts to trade up to land Napier and ultimately found a partner in Charlotte, which dealt the 24th pick to Miami.
James was a strong supporter of Napier, and his selection could only help the Heat’s already solid chances of retaining James.
“No way you take another point guard in the lottery before Napier,” James tweeted during the NCAA Tournament.
On Thursday, after the Heat drafted Napier, James tweeted that “my favorite player in the draft” comment about Napier.
“I don’t know if I’m bringing him back [to Miami],” Napier said. “I would love it. Me and LeBron’s relationship, he’s a great guy. I’ve been to his camps. Me and him chatted a few times at his camps.”
Napier’s scoring average and shooting percentage — overall and on threes — increased every season at Connecticut. He impressed the Heat during a workout after the Finals.
His selection likely portends the departure of point guard Mario Chalmers, who’s an unrestricted free agent. If the Heat decides to keep Norris Cole, who’s due $2.15 million next season, then selecting Napier eliminates the need to spend anything significant on a veteran point guard.
But if the Heat decides to pair Napier with a more seasoned point guard than Cole, the Heat would save $1.6 million against the cap by trading Cole for a draft pick and signing a veteran at the league minimum.
Former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, who coached Napier his first two seasons, in April called Napier one of the “greatest players in college basketball in the last 10 to 12 years” and told The New York Times that “his swagger, his positive arrogance about how good we are translates to every single guy. He’s just a very special player.”
Napier, who was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, was named American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a first team All-American as a senior. He was All Big East first team as a junior.
• Heat president Pat Riley addressed the Napier acquisition in a late-night news conference. Here’s what Riley had to say.
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Continuing on together in Miami holds appeal to James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and the odds of that happening are better than odds of any of them leaving, with the Heat remaining the front-runner for James.
But there still is some uncertainty and a lot that needs to be resolved.
The meeting of the Big 3 over salads Wednesday did not result in anything definitive as far as the amount of money any or all of them would be willing to sacrifice to give the Heat more cap space, according to a Big 3 associate.
With regard to Wade and Bosh, all of that needs to be sorted out during ongoing discussions among the Heat and Henry Thomas.
Thomas represents Wade, Bosh and Udonis Haslem, whose willingness to opt out of the one-year and $4.6 million remaining on his contract — in exchange for a longer deal with a lower annual salary — also would give the Heat added flexibility.
As of Thursday afternoon, Wade and Bosh had not opted out of their contracts, which many expect will happen before Monday’s deadline. Before opting out, which could happen at any time, Wade and Bosh need to be comfortable with how much money the Heat expects them to sacrifice in the short-term.
• Knicks free agent forward Carmelo Anthony isn’t considering the Heat, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, who said the idea of Anthony joining Miami has not been discussed. Anthony will visit the Rockets, Mavericks and Bulls next week.
For Bosh and Wade — or even James, for that matter — sacrificing a significant amount of money in the short term likely would be needed for Miami to make a competitive offer for the likes of point guard Kyle Lowry (the Heat likes him), centers Pau Gasol or Marcin Gortat or forward Trevor Ariza.
• Associates expect James to listen to the pitches of select suitors next week. Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, the Clippers and Lakers are among numerous teams expected to reach out to him when free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
• Forward Chris Andersen, who is opting out of a Heat contract that would have paid him $1.4 million next season, said Thursday he would love to stay with the Heat but will not decide until James, Bosh and Wade determine their futures. “Big money goes first,” he said.
The Heat ideally would like him to accept the $1.4 million minimum that he opted out of, while potentially adding a second year to the deal. “I got a tan, so it’s growing on me pretty good now,” Andersen said of Miami.
• Wade indicated on social media that he’s on “Day 1 of the new challenge” — a healthy-eating program that Ray Allen recommended to him.
• With Philadelphia selecting one player who is injured (Joel Embiid) and acquiring another who will play overseas next season (Dario Saric), the 76ers will not be expected to make the playoffs next season, which would reduce second-guessing of the Heat’s decision in January to trade the 76ers’ lottery-protected first-round pick to Boston for the purpose of dumping Joel Anthony’s contract. If the 76ers miss the playoffs next season, that first-rounder turns into two second-rounders. The Heat’s 2015 first-rounder belongs to Cleveland.
Miami Herald sportswriter Joseph Goodman contributed to this report.