For many in Miami, it was difficult to watch Shabazz Napier play basketball for the Heat and not think of LeBron James. That won’t be a problem anymore.
In an effort to clean up its offseason roster, the Heat traded Napier to the Orlando Magic on Sunday for almost nothing in return save closure.
It was James who wanted the Heat to draft Napier last year, but James never played with the point guard from the University of Connecticut. A few summer-league games into Napier’s stint with the Heat, James shocked the Heat’s front office with his move to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
By no fault of his own, Napier was the legacy made of an embarrassing time for the Heat, which felt duped by James. The team played in the cold shadow of a post-James pall last season, but much of that gloom is now gone.
In addition to being a constant reminder of how James disrupted the Heat’s 2014 offseason, Napier just wasn’t very good his rookie season. His transition from college to the NBA, both mentally and physically, wasn’t a smooth one last season, and that process was slowed further by an injury. Still mostly unproven after season-ending surgery for sports hernia, Napier now moves a few hours up Florida’s Turnpike to play for a team that mostly rebuilds through the draft.
That the Heat dumped Napier on a division rival speaks volumes. To put it tactfully, he certainly isn’t viewed as a threat.
In return for Napier, the Heat gained a future protected second-round draft pick. The Heat only will get the pick from the Magic if Orlando has one of the NBA’s five best records next season.
With a deadline approaching for partially guaranteed contracts on three other players, the bottom of the Heat’s roster for the 2015-16 season finally is taking shape.
The team has been working behind the scenes for several weeks to shed contracts, but trading Napier for virtually nothing in return is the first evidence of the Heat’s cost-cutting measures. Napier’s contract for next season was worth $1.35 million.
Dealing Napier could be a sign that the Heat is keeping guard Mario Chalmers, who has been the subject of trade speculation for weeks.
Moving Chalmers still can’t be ruled out, though. He is due $4.3 million next season, and the Heat has other, cheaper options at the guard positions if the team can find a trade partner.
On Saturday, the Heat will be locked into paying a portion of next season’s contracts for Henry Walker, Tyler Johnson and James Ennis. With the Heat’s roster currently at 16 players — or one over the limit — one or more of those players could be cut.
In addition to those decisions, the Heat might also be weighing whether or not to keep second-round draft pick Josh Richardson, who performed well in the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues.
Johnson, who fractured his jaw during summer league, could be the player most directly affected by the Napier trade. A rookie shooting guard last season, the Heat had hoped Johnson could transition into a combo guard by training camp. It appears now that Johnson will get that chance.