With the trade deadline looming Thursday and the Heat on a four-game losing skid, Miami is actively looking for roster help but also faces impediments.
Teams that aren’t in contention typically covet first-round draft picks, expiring contracts or quality young talent in exchange for veterans.
The Heat doesn’t realistically have the first two to offer and its young talent either cannot be dealt (Josh Richardson), has an onerous contract (Tyler Johnson) or has debatable trade value (Justise Winslow).
Two of the top players available via trade — Memphis’ Tyreke Evans and the Clippers’ Lou Williams — figure to net a first-round pick this year or next.
Because of the Goran Dragic trade, the Heat isn’t even permitted, by league rule, to trade a first-round pick before 2023. And the Heat doesn’t even have a second-round pick until 2022.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski identified Boston, Denver and Philadelphia as front-runners for Evans, with Miami staying “engaged” with Memphis.
Beyond not having an available first-round pick to trade in the next five drafts, the Heat has no expiring contract (at more than a minimum salary) to offer beyond Wayne Ellington, and the Heat clearly wants to keep Ellington, one of its most important pieces this season.
But here’s where the Heat might be able to get something done: By packaging Tyler Johnson with Winslow for a wing player with an expiring contract or a year left on his contract.
Johnson is considered available, because the Heat would gain flexibility by dumping the last two-plus years of his contract, which will pay him $19.2 million next season and the year after.
Winslow is affordable at $2.7 million this season and $3.4 million next season, but the Heat (or any team that acquires him) must decide by October whether to extend a $4.7 million qualifying offer to retain right of first refusal for him for 2019-20.
So the question then becomes: Is it worth trading Winslow if the Heat can also dump Johnson for a starting wing player whose deal expires this summer or the summer of 2019? And is there a team willing to take Johnson?
A strong case could be made to do that if the player is starter caliber and has only one full season left on his contract.
One option reportedly would be Brooklyn’s DeMarre Carroll, who is due $15.4 million next season while making $14.8 million this season. Remember, the Nets were the team that gave Johnson that four-year, $50 million offer sheet two summers ago. But an additional Heat piece would be needed to make a Winslow and Johnson-for-Carroll deal work within salary cap parameters.
But would it be worth trading Winslow alone for the services of a scoring wing that your team would have for only three months, especially when Evans wouldn’t even have Bird rights this summer? Not sure it would be.
Richardson is not permitted to be traded this season, and Dion Waiters and James Johnson would be difficult to move.
And while the Heat has a $5.5 million disabled player’s exception, it cannot be aggregated with another player to acquire a player earning more than $5.5 million.
Besides Evans, Williams and Carroll, Orlando’s Mario Hezonja (who scored 20 against the Heat on Monday) and Utah’s Rodney Hood are among other wings reportedly available.
If Whiteside is dealt — which seems more like an offseason discussion than an in-season one — it likely would be for another high-end player in return.
Keep in mind that the outside teams that most vigorously pursued Whiteside in free agency in the summer of 2016 – Dallas and Portland – have high-scoring wings that would help the Heat (Harrison Barnes, C.J. McCollum).
Memphis’ James Ennis, on a cheap expiring contract, would be a useful depth pickup at the trade deadline, but the Heat doesn’t even have a 2018 through 2021 second-rounder to offer in a trade.
If the Heat doesn’t make a move before Thursday’s deadline, it likely will be in good position to add a bought-out wing player later this month or early March, because of its $5.5 million disabled player’s exception.
Wing players who might become available at that point include Utah’s Joe Johnson, Atlanta’s Marco Belinelli, Dallas’ Devin Harris or Orlando’s Arron Afflalo. And there are invariably deadline surprises every year.
Players who have appeared in the NBA this season must be bought out by March 1 to be playoff eligible elsewhere. But they aren’t required to sign with their new team until, technically, the last day of the season to be playoff eligible. In other words, they could join their new team anytime in March or the first week of April.
A couple of notes:
▪ Spoelstra said he doesn’t expect to discuss the trade deadline with his players. But he noted “business is always open” in the NBA.
▪ Forward Okaro White, out since mid-November with a broken foot, is expected to play again this season, at some point after the All-Star break, barring a setback.
▪ Whether Waiters will be ready to open training camp in September is in question, depending on how his rehab goes from ankle surgery.
Waiters earlier spoke of a recovery timetable of 8 to 10 months, and 10 months would be Nov. 23, a month into the season. The hope is he would be ready long before that.