There was white-knuckle tension in the Heat’s draft-night war room on Thursday moments before the team’s brain trust landed Shabazz Napier.
The Heat went into the pressure cooker hoping to acquire the Connecticut guard, but there were several factors working against Heat president Pat Riley and his lieutenants. For starters, the Heat had the 26th overall pick, and Napier wasn’t expected to fall that far in the draft. Then, much to Riley’s chagrin, news had already been leaked well in advance that the Heat wanted Napier badly.
“It’s very difficult when everyone knows you’re zeroing in on somebody,” Riley said.
Another major problem going into the draft: the Heat didn’t have many assets in which to maneuver its way up the draft board. All things considered, teams tried to draw as much blood as possible before Napier fell far enough for the Heat to seriously consider haggling for him.
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“It’s called extortion prior to that,” Riley said.
When the 24th pick fell to Charlotte, serious drama had already engulfed the Heat’s draft room inside AmericanAirlines Arena. The Memphis Grizzlies took a guard at 22, but not Napier. It was the same scenario for the Utah Jazz at 23.
“It’s moving quick and you got five guys moving the phones,” Riley said. “You feel like you’re on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at that particular time. We wanted this player, and the closer we go to this pick … I fell more in love with him the closer we got. You don’t want to get left at the altar.”
The Heat has been heartbroken before, of course. Everyone has. That’s the nature of the NBA Draft and what makes it a pulse-pounding ordeal even for the most veteran NBA executives. But sometimes the universe aligns in your favor. For the Heat, that’s happened a lot in the past five years.
The Hornets drafted Napier, and they were willing to make a deal. In the end, the Heat parted ways with its 26th and 55th picks of the 2014 draft, its 2019 second-round pick, plus some cash to sweeten the pot.
“We’re very fortunate to have drafted Shabazz, and we feel very excited about him and what he can bring,” Riley said. “He’s a two-time champion, high-motor guy, character guy, very quick, can shoot the ball, so he’s got a lot of qualities that fit with what [coach] Erik [Spoelstra] wants to do.”
Specifically, the Heat has been impressed with Napier’s aptitude for the pick-and-roll and how that might translate to Spoelstra’s space-the-floor offensive mentality. Riley observed one of Napier’s workouts after the NBA Finals, and came away impressed after a brief conversation.
“He’s a very bright kid,” Riley said.
Said Napier of the talk: “He was just giving me a lot of advice about the NBA, and adjustments and understanding that when you come into this league, you’ve got to work at this to be the best, and that’s exactly what I want to be. He never sugarcoated anything. He just said you have to be ready to work at every opportunity whether I was with them or not. It was definitely something I cherished and appreciated. It was kind of buzzing around that I wasn’t going to last that long [in the draft], but he wanted to tell me the right things, and I was really appreciative of that.”
Dealing on draft day with a rival from the same division is never ideal, but the Hornets wanted P.J. Hairston, and he was still on the board. In addition to drafting Hairston for the Hornets, the Heat also drafted point guard Semaj Christon at 55 for the Hornets. Charlotte later traded Christon to the Oklahoma City Thunder for cash.
“When you’re picking 26th, you never know what’s going to be there for that standpoint,” Riley said. “So from that standpoint, we feel very good about adding [Napier] to the roster.”
Napier will report to Miami on Monday with a burning desire to prove his doubters wrong and prove his worth to the Heat. An undersized point guard at 6-0, Riley and the Heat believe Napier has the internal makeup to overcome some physical limitations. Fans of the Huskies would agree. Napier led the team to the 2014 NCAA title and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. His performance in April caught the eye of Heat star LeBron James, who at the time lauded Napier as the best point guard in the country.
That James took to Twitter on Thursday night and openly celebrated the Heat drafting Napier is yet another sign that things are falling into place for the Heat this offseason.
“My favorite player in the draft! #Napier,” James tweeted.
James opted out of his contract Tuesday and is now waiting for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to decide on their contractual futures. Wade and Bosh are currently under contract for more than $20 million next season, but they could opt out of that deal, become free agents and then take less money to help the Heat restock its roster. Wade and Bosh have until Monday to opt out.
Drafting Napier is the Heat’s first bit of positive news since losing to San Antonio in the NBA Finals.
“If LeBron and I have the same taste in talent, so be it,” Riley said. “But he didn’t call me on the phone or he didn’t make a point to me about anything. He never has.”
The Heat now has two point guards locked in for next season, but no clear starter for the position. Norris Cole has been a backup for the first three seasons of his career, and Napier — despite his experience at the collegiate level — is a rookie on a championship contending team. Mario Chalmers is currently a free agent, but his future with the team is unclear.
“He’s going to compete just like Norris,” Riley said of Napier. “They’re both cut out of the same cloth. Mario is a free agent, so we’ve got to deal with that, so we’ll have some depth there at that position.”
The Heat was working to finalize its summer-league roster on Friday. The group’s core consists of Napier and former second-round draft picks Justin Hamilton and James Ennis along with point guard Langston Hall of Mercer, shooting guard Tyler Johnson of Fresno State, shooting guard Andre Dawkins of Duke, forward Ronald Roberts of St. Joe's and forward Jerrelle Benimon of Towson.