Before the Miami Heat sent shockwaves through South Florida by trading a second round pick to Cleveland for Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley’s first move before the NBA trade deadline on Thursday was reacquiring another former Heat player, forward and three-point specialist Luke Babbitt.
Babbitt, 28, started 55 games for the Heat last season at power forward and shot 41.4 percent from three-point range while averaging 4.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 15.7 minutes per game. This season in Atlanta, where he signed a one-year, league-minimum deal for $1.9 million, Babbitt was averaging 6.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 44.1 percent from three-point range.
“We liked Luke,” Heat team president Pat Riley said. “We wanted to sign Luke again last summer but really ran out of roster spots. Spo loves Luke and loved the fact that he spaces the floor. He’s a no nonsense player. When you take a look at his numbers from his three-point range this year even though it’s a small sample size or a smaller sample size, from all areas of the court he’s above average and I think way above average. Of a lot of the guys that were traded today, he was the very best three-point shooter out there. So we’ve been talking about Luke and others for a while.”
To get Babbitt the Heat sent the Hawks injured forward Okaro White, who is recovering from a broken left foot. Atlanta waived White shortly thereafter. By rule, he’s not allowed to be resigned by the Heat until this offseason.
White, an undrafted forward out of Florida State, played in 41 games over the last two seasons for the Heat and averaged 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds primarily off the bench.
“I mean it’s always tough at this time to see one of your brothers go like Okaro, but we understand it’s a part of the business,” point guard Goran Dragic said. “In the end, it’s nice to have our captain, a Heat lifer, D-Wade back – and also Luke too.
“We were just talking about Luke a little bit and how he’s always quiet, how he shoots three-pointers. He doesn’t jump from the three-point line, but when he’s shooting midrange he jumps so high.”
Dragic said there a lot of benefits to having Babbitt back with the Heat – especially his familiarity with the team’s offense.
“Luke is a player that gives you that outside shooting and it affects the other team especially the defense,” Dragic said. “They cannot shrink for him so much. If they do you have a really good three-point shooter who is knocking down those shots. He kind of gives us the spacing on offense, for us attackers we can get inside the paint and make plays.”
Babbitt’s addition could be a sign forward Kelly Olynyk, who strained his left shoulder and missed his first game of the season on Wednesday, could be out for a while. Olynyk did not practice on Thursday.
“We’re not looking at it long term, but we want him feeling right and feeling healthy,” Spoelstra said. “He is feeling slightly better. So that’s progress. We don’t have a timetable on him.”
The Heat also played Wednesday’s game without leading three-point shooter Wayne Ellington, who also has a shoulder injury. Ellington, though, said after Wednesday’s loss he didn’t expect to be out long. He practiced with the team on Thursday.
“Wayne was able to do a lot more shooting today,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a good sign. He feels a lot better from yesterday. Don’t have a timetable on him. Everyone was able to do something today except for Kelly.”