LeBron James fell in love with Shabazz Napier during Connecticut’s run through the Final Four. Now the Heat might be hoping to land the guard Thursday night in the 2014 NBA Draft.
The Heat enters the draft with the No. 26 overall selection but could be looking to make some moves in order to better position itself to draft Napier or a player equally ready to help make a difference on a championship-contending team. The Heat’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals exposed several weaknesses in the former back-to-back champions’ roster, and the draft is the first opportunity for the Heat to add depth around its core.
Napier might be a perfect fit for the Heat if the team can maneuver itself into position to draft the two-time NCAA champion. Earlier in the week, Heat vice president of player personnel Chet Kammerer indicated that the Heat was interested in Napier, and James has publicly endorsed the prospect.
In April, James commented on Twitter during the NCAA championship game that, “No way [you] take a PG in the lottery before Napier.”
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Celebrated for toughness, skill, poise under pressure and smarts, Napier helped the Huskies win national championships in 2011 and 2014. He made the Big East All Rookie Team as a freshman and was an Associated Press First Team All-American as a senior. He also was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2014 Final Four.
Like James, Heat president Pat Riley also is a fan. Riley worked out Napier after the NBA Finals, and according to a report by ESPN, Riley asked Napier not to work out for any other teams. The Heat called that report bogus Wednesday, but there’s no denying the Heat would like Napier, who isn’t expected to fall to No. 26.
“Obviously, there’s a potential we could trade up,” Kammerer said. “There’s usually opportunities to do that. Whether that will happen, I don’t know.”
Kammerer said the Heat also could move down in the draft, but that seems unlikely considering the Heat’s goal of adding a player who can help immediately. Riley said last week that it is his preference to draft mature players with multiple years of college experience. Napier certainly fits that bill.
On Wednesday, he told reporters in New York that he stayed in school for four years to earn his degree.
“My mother told me education stays with you forever,” Napier told the New York Post. Of course, plans usually change on draft day out of necessity.
In other words, the Heat might not have the assets to move up high enough to draft Napier. Several teams are interested in the guard, including division rivals Orlando and Atlanta. The Magic has the 12th pick in the draft.
To move up, the Heat probably would have to package guard Norris Cole with a future first-round draft pick. The Heat would lose its 2016 first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers if the pick falls to Nos. 11-30. Packaging Cole with the Heat’s 2017 first-round pick could be an option.
“Hopefully we get a break or two and we get someone that we really want, and someone who can contribute,” Kammerer said.
As much as James likes Napier’s game, the Connecticut draft prospect probably wasn’t the focus of James’ conversation Wednesday night with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. James, who recently opted out of his contract with the Heat, met Wade and Bosh at SoHo Beach House for dinner.
Wade and Bosh have until Monday to exercise the early termination options on their contracts. If all three opt out, the Heat would have more financial flexibility to strengthen the team. Or, maybe, it was just a last supper before parting ways forever.