Pat Riley has until 3 p.m. on Thursday to try and beef up this Miami Heat roster for a playoff run.
With Knicks All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis sustaining a season-ending torn ACL Tuesday night and the Hornets (23-30) still floundering, the Heat’s primary competition to make the playoffs after the All-Star break figures to be Detroit, Philadelphia, Indiana and Milwaukee. Five teams will essentially be battling for the final four playoff spots in the East.
Although the Heat (29-25) sits in seventh place heading into Wednesday’s game against Houston (39-13), Miami is only two games out of the third seed in the East including two games behind division-leading Washington.
It’s been well documented the three-time defending conference champion Cavaliers are vulnerable. The vibe coming out of Cleveland is LeBron James is already looking ahead to a fresh start somewhere else next season.
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Could Riley, 72, make a surprising move to try and put the Heat in serious contention right now seeing the Cavs wobble? Don’t put anything past him.
But the odds are very slim Riley will be able to accomplish that because the Heat is not in a good position to significantly upgrade its roster. There are several factors: competition from other teams who have more to offer, a handful of Miami’s own players are underperforming their contracts, and the only draft picks the Heat can offer up to potential trade partners aren’t available for to use 2022.
The Heat also has salary cap concerns Riley has to take into account. Miami already has all of its salary cap space tied up for the next two summers (unless Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside or Tyler Johnson opt out of the final year of their contracts following the 2018-19 season) and the team could fall into the luxury tax if it resigns Wayne Ellington this summer without trading one of the nine players already under contract for next season.
In the end, there’s a good chance Riley will look ahead to this summer and beyond so he can get the best value for the Heat’s assets. A strong finish to the season will help underperforming players draw more interest.
With that said, here’s how we see the Heat’s roster from the standpoint of trade value based on age, contract and player performance thus far:
1. Josh Richardson: The Heat can’t trade Richardson, 24, until the summer at the earliest because he signed a four-year, $42 million extension this summer and there is an NBA rule which prohibits Miami from moving him. But it’s clear nobody on the roster would likely fetch more than J-Rich (6-6, 200) in a trade. He is not only having an All-NBA Defensive Team type season (he ranks third among starting forwards in opposing field goal percentage at 38.3 percent), but his offensive game has really started to flourish over the last few months.
Since Dec. 1, he’s been the Heat’s second-leading scorer (15.8 points per game) behind Dragic while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 44.5 percent from beyond the three-point line. He’s also averaged 3.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists (1.7 turnovers), 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks. There are only three other players in the league shooting better than 40 percent from three and averaging 15 points, three rebounds, three assists and a steal over that same stretch: Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Jamal Murray.
None of those three is also averaging at least a block a game like Richardson is. If you were wondering, the list of those who have done what Richardson has been doing since Dec. 1 over the course of an entire season is impressive.
2. Bam Adebayo: The 6-10, 255-pound first round pick out of Kentucky didn’t get an invite to the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star weekend even though he ranks third in player impact estimate rating (11.9) among rookies. Only Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Atlanta’s John Collins were ranked higher. On the other side of the court, Adebayo ranks second only to Utah’s Donovan Mitchell when it comes to defensive field goal differential (-4.9 percent) among rookies.
Since Dec. 1, Adebayo has averaged 7.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and posted four double-doubles while averaging 22.6 minutes per game. If the offense continues to come around, he and Richardson could form a dangerous tandem on both sides of the court for the Heat for years to come.
3. Hassan Whiteside: He’s missed 19 games this season (18 for a bone bruise in his left knee), had his effort and maturity questioned at different points throughout his career, and isn’t having a great statistical season, but the Heat are clearly better when Whiteside plays (certainly defensively) at a high level. The issues for Whiteside are his contract (he’s due to make $24.4 million next season and $27 million in 2019-20) and the fact the value of the center position has been deemphasized.
Next season Whiteside is due to make nearly as much money as Anthony Davis, the best player in the league at the position according to most, and the same as Detroit’s Andre Drummond, who earned an All-Star appearance this season with better numbers and play than Whiteside. For the amount of money he’s making, the Heat badly needs Whiteside to get back to leading the league in something at that position. Miami is 20-15 when he’s played this season and 9-10 when he hasn’t. If Whiteside can prove he’s worth the value of his contract the rest of the way and then follows it up with a series of strong playoff performances, the Heat could trade him this summer for something of real value. Until then, the market for Whiteside isn’t strong.
4. Goran Dragic: The 31-year-old point guard earned his first All-Star appearance this season, but his numbers (17.1 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, 4.8 assists per game, 43.8 percent shooting, 35.3 percent three-point shooting) aren’t nearly as good they were last season (20.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, 47.5 percent shooting, 40.5 percent three-point shooting).
One thing that makes Dragic valuable as a trade chip is the fact there are only four other point guards in the league – Paul, Curry, James Harden and Damian Lillard – averaging at least 17 points, four reboumds, four assists and shooting 35 percent from three this season. His contract is also relatively cheap. Dragic is due to make $18.1 million next season and $19.2 in 2019-20 if he picks up his player option (which he probably will). There are not many other point guards in the league putting up those kind of numbers, and many others are slated to make more money than he is next season. The group includes: Kyle Lowry ($31 million), Mike Conley ($30.5M), Jrue Holiday ($26.1M), Jeff Teague ($19M) and George Hill ($19M).
5. Kelly Olynyk: The 7-foot Canadian has lived up to the four-year, $50 million deal he signed last summer thus far, averaging career highs in points (11.0 per game), rebounds (5.5 per game) and assists (2.3 per game) in only 23.4 minutes per game while also shooting 49.5 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range.
There are only three other centers in the league averaging at least 11 points, 5.5 rebounds, two assists and shooting better than 35-percent from beyond the arc: Karl-Anthony Towns, Pau Gasol and Al Horford.
Olynyk, 26, obviously isn’t on that level yet, but he’s proven to be an extremely effective scorer in spurts who can help stretch the floor and also rebound and create offense for others. In today’s NBA teams are looking for that. A strong finish to this season and in the playoffs would only strengthen his trade value.
6. Justise Winslow: The 6-7 forward, who turns 22 on March 26, came in with plenty of hype as the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft. He’s shooting 41.3 percent from the field and defenses still really aren’t running out aren’t to guard him on the perimeter. But there’s reason for optimism. Winslow’s three-point touch has improved this season (he’s 23 of 57, 40.4 percent) and his defensive metrics over the last 12 games (he ranks third in defensive field goal differential on the team at minus-5.5 percent) have started to resemble more of the player he was as a rookie.
The reason Winslow could still net something decent in a trade – aside from the fact he’s due to make just $3.4 million next season in the fourth year of his rookie deal – is that he missed 64 games last season because of shoulder surgery. He’s hardly a finished product and there’s likely a few teams out there willing to take a chance on him with the belief he could sprout into the player many scouts believed he could when he was drafted. And, it wouldn’t cost them much against the cap.
7. Wayne Ellington: Up until about a week ago, Ellington was ripping through nets with ease. Now, opposing teams are game-planning for him and taking him out. He’s still having a career season, averaging 11.2 points while ranking fifth in three-pointers made (159). The Heat love the 30-year-old veteran, his work ethic and its unlikely Riley would trade him before the deadline since he’s such an integral part of the offense.
But the fact Ellington is a free agent next season and the Heat would have to go into the luxury tax to keep him barring another move to clear cap space makes things mildly interesting especially in light of the team’s four-game losing streak and the recent slide down the standings. Still, a trade of Ellington (for at most a second round pick or late first rounder from a contender) doesn’t make sense at this point. It would be waving the white flag on this season. The Heat are never about that.
8. Dion Waiters: Before he opted to have season-ending ankle surgery last month, Waiters, 26, had a rough 30 game stretch. He shot 39.8 percent from the field, 30.6 percent from three-point range and averaged fewer points (14.3 per game), rebounds (2.6 per game) and assists (3.8) than he did last season when he parlayed a strong second half finish into a four-year, $52 million deal to stay in Miami last summer.
It doesn’t make any sense for a team to trade for Waiters at the deadline – or at least until he steps back on a court and resembles the player we saw the second half of last season. But the fact he’s cheaper than Tyler Johson (Waiters is due to make $12.7 million next season) makes him easier to move, and thus it is why he’s ranked higher on this list of Heat assets.
9. Tyler Johnson: Johnson’s numbers have gone down across the board this season. He’s averaging fewer points (11.6), rebounds (3.5), assists (2.2) and is shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three-point range. His defensive metrics have also slid with opponents shooting 2.5 percent better when he’s guarding him rather than someone else. Last year, he was holding them slightly below average.
The real albatross, though, for Johnson, 25, is that he’s due to make $19.2 million each of the next two seasons because of the offer sheet he signed with the Brooklyn Nets two summers ago. That puts his salary next season at 37th in the league overall – more than Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall. At this point, the Heat need Johnson to finish the year strong if they’re going to be able to move his contract this summer without adding a sweetner like Winslow or some draft pick in 2022 or 2023. Even then, that’s what it still would likely take.
10. James Johnson: One of three captains on the roster, Johnson, who turns 31 on Feb. 20, has been valuable in a lot of ways. But he’s not taken the next step forward in terms of on-court performance after signing a four-year, $60 million deal this past summer.
He’s made fewer starts (22) than he has made appearances coming off the bench (24). The most troubling thing is that at times he’s been invisible on the court, taking very few shots and not being as aggressive going to the rim as he was during the second half of last season. Defensively, he’s gone from ranking No. 1 on the team in field goal differential (-4.8) last season to fifth (-0.6) this season.
Johnson isn’t a bad player. It’s just hard to see another team trade for a 31-year-old making $14.4 million next season, $15.1 million in 2019-20 and $15.7 million in 2020-2021 – especially when he’s producing what he’s producing (10.2 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game, 4.0 assists per game) and shooting only 29.8 percent from three-point range.
11. Rodney McGruder: He’s missed the entire regular season thus far recovering from surgery on his left tibia, but McGruder, 26, is set to return soon. Last season as a rookie he started 65 games, shot 33.2 percent from three-point range and played plenty of good defense down the stretch of the Heat’s 30-11 finish.
He’s got a partially guaranteed contract for next season and is set to make $1.5 million. Nobody would trade for McGruder at this point, but they could covet him this summer if he comes back this season and proves even more valuable than he did last season. The Heat, though, need affordable, quality players on the roster. So McGruder wouldn’t go anywhere unless he’s demanded to complete a deal.
▪ Okaro White, Jordan Mickey, Derrick Jones Jr., Derrick Walton Jr. and Udonis Haslem are not under contract next season.