The Miami Heat went into Thursday’s NBA Draft without any picks and even though team president Pat Riley said he explored some options – including in the first round – the roster remains the same.
Here’s the part Heat fans might not like: it could remain that way all summer.
Speaking shortly after midnight Friday morning inside AmericanAirlines Arena, Riley said it’s looking more and more like the Heat is going to be bringing back the same team that is coming off a 44-38 regular season and a quick first round playoff series against the young-and-rising Philadelphia 76ers.
The major facelift Heat fans are hoping for? That could end up being something they have to wait for longer than they want to.
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“Aggressive summers are free agent summers, room summers, summers when you know you have either cap space or tax space to be able to really pursue somebody,” said Riley, whose team is clearly not in that situation this summer already $19 million over the league's projected $101 million salary cap (and just under the $123 million tax threshold) with 10 players under contract.
“We’re up against the tax," Riley continued. "We all know what the accounting situation is with us. When you’re a free agent player like we were in 2006, 2010, you go after Kevin Durant… you go after [Gordon] Hayward. We’ve always thought big. As soon as it didn’t happen with Hayward, we went right to Plan B, and I think that’s where we are.
“We look at this as maybe a two-year run. We’re a playoff team, we’re a playoff contender. How are we going to improve? It’s going to be from within or the possibility of some transaction that might happen. It’s not going to be easy. But to answer your question, I think yes this could be – not a passive summer – but it might not be the kind of summer that you may think that something big can happen from that standpoint. And I think that’s the same way for a lot of teams, I really do. A lot of those teams, [seeded] four through eight [in the playoffs], they may come back again next year with some minor adjustments and try to do a better job. That includes us.”
Riley, 73, said after the season ended in late April no one on Miami's roster was untouchable via trade in his quest to land a transformative player.
There are a few out there including Spurs star forward Kawhi Leonard, who is heading into the final year of his contract in San Antonio and is likely to be dealt at some point this summer, and four-time MVP LeBron James, who could leave Cleveland either in free agency or in a sign-and-trade.
James, 33, has until June 29 to decide if he's going to walk away from his $35.6 million player option for next season and enter free agency. Miami would only be able to realistically acquire James in a sign-and-trade.
Riley said there’s been an unwillingness by teams league-wide thus far to trade away stars.
“There has been a lot of discussion with a lot of teams about a lot of players. I just feel that there’s a restlessness on the part of the teams and also there’s a reluctance to do things,” he said. “Teams that there was a high expectation level, maybe even higher than ours, that the season didn’t end up well for them and they have very good players — maybe even All-Stars players — there’s been some contemplation. But it’s pretty hard to pull the trigger on that kind of thing. That might be something that happens more in free agency... because when you’re talking transformative players you’re going to have to get something back in return. There’s been a lot of discussion, but there’s nobody really interested in doing something like that. At least not now.”
With little cap space to play with, Riley said he will not be meeting with free agents at the stroke of midnight July 1.
"This might not be the year for us to do that," Riley said. "But we will plan. We're already planning for the future like we did in 2006, 2010 and 2014. As soon as LeBron left, we were in it with Durant, we were in it for Hayward. I don't think we're going to be in it that way [now] because we can't. We don't have the cap space and we're up against the tax. So we have to do some other things in reversing that direction, and some times you have to go through that. And at the same time you go through it, we believe that we're a playoff team and that we can get better. And, so, I think there are other teams that feel the same way.
"If you look at all the teams that have room out there, a lot of those teams obviously are not the teams that are in contention. There's only two teams that could really be players, Philadelphia and maybe L.A. But there's a lot of other teams out there that I'm not so sure they want to spend the kind of dollars right now that they spent in 2016."
▪ Although Sports Illustrated reported Miami was dangling Justise Winslow in trade discussions Thursday, Riley denied it through a Heat spokesman. The spokesman said the Heat hasn’t offered up any players in trades – even center Hassan Whiteside, who ended the season disgruntled and frustrated with his playing time.
“Contrary to what people might think about us trading him, we haven’t offered him to anybody really, to be honest with you,” said Riley, who said there has been movement to get Whiteside and coach Erik Spoelstra to sit down for a conversation to mend their relationship.
“You go through an emotional period with a player and you deal with it and you come back and you work things out. I’ve been through this for 50 years. This is like walking into my house and [my wife] Chris is yelling and screaming at me and I don’t talk to her for two weeks and we get together and carry on for another four years.”
▪ So how close were the Heat to actually making a trade for a pick Thursday?
“There were some opportunities, but because of our situation we felt it was best to pass,” Riley said. “The second-round pick costs two second round picks or a future second round pick and cash or something. So, you know, when you get into the second round it’s like a lottery, it’s like a game of Monopoly, it’s not worth it.
“Roster spots are tight. So what we want to do is fill out our summer roster with two-way contracts and also affiliate contracts, our summer league team and go from there.”
▪ ESPN reported Michigan 6-8 guard Duncan Robinson as the first player the Heat added to its summer league roster. Others who have reportedly been added since include Georgia forward Yante Maten, Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell and University of Illinois at Chicago forward Dikembe Dixson.
▪ The Miami Herald learned one player the Heat liked was Boise State's Chandler Hutchison, a 6-7, 197-pound guard who averaged 20 points and 7.7 rebounds per game his senior season. Hutchison, the Mountain West Player of the Year, went 22nd overall to the Chicago Bulls.
▪ Barring trades the most likely scenario in which the franchise will upgrade the roster is with the addition of veteran free agents for the league minimum and the use of the $5.4 million taxpayer midlevel exception.
The Heat does not need to use its exception to re-sign three-point specialist Wayne Ellington because he has Early Bird rights, allowing Miami to exceed the cap to sign him to a contract starting at as much as $10.9 million. Riley remains steadfast in saying the team is interested in bringing Ellington back.
“There's no doubt that we want to keep him," Riley said. "We're going to try to find a way to do that. But we're up against the tax. I think if you add up the numbers, you know what that means. But we're going to do everything we can do to try to keep him. I know he likes to be here. I know we'd like to have him back. But we really can't discuss it until after July 1. But we do have that kind of relationship. He's here every day, working out, making threes. I have a video screen in my office, so I can watch him every day. He's still putting the same kind of work in now that he did last year. So, that is something we're going to have to be very creative with.”
▪ Dwyane Wade, 36, has said if he chooses to return for a 16th NBA season he would like to play for the Heat. Wade, who was arguably the team's best player in its first round playoff series, is unlikely to accept less than the team's $5.4 million midlevel exception according to the Associated Press.
Riley said he’s only had discussions with Wade’s agent thus far about Wade’s future.
“We’ve shared texts,” Riley said. “He’s communicated on a regular basis with a lot of people in the organization but nothing has been decided with Dwyane. We want to have Dwyane back obviously but there’s been no discussion about next year.”