Miami Heat

Has Pat Riley's approach with the Heat changed now that LeBron is headed out west?

Miami Heat’s Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat, talks with the media at a season-end press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena, April 30, 2018.
Miami Heat’s Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat, talks with the media at a season-end press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena, April 30, 2018. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

When is Pat Riley going to make his move?

Did he not just see LeBron James, King of the East for the last eight seasons, head West?

Is this not the time to pounce, trade whatever is necessary for a "transformative player" and give the rising Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers a real fight for the conference title now that Cleveland’s run is done?

If only it were that easy, Heat fans.

Kawhi Leonard is the kind of whale who could put the Heat in position to win the East. He's 27, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, a two-time All-NBA selection and looking badly to get out of San Antonio and a relationship that has gone sour.

The problem is Leonard is showing signs he only wants to be a Laker. According to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, Leonard may even be willing to sit out next season to prove his point.

Riley, a league source said, is unwilling to trade a king's ransom for a player entering the final season of his contract who will not commit to a long term deal to stay with the Heat.

Pat Riley explains why it’s been hard thus far to upgrade the Heat’s roster via trade and why it could be a quiet summer for Miami.

The asking price for Leonard in trade talks has also continued to escalate to the point of absurd. Yahoo Sports Insider Jordan Schultz reported Sunday the Spurs asked the 76ers for three future first round picks and two current players.

USA Today's Sam Amick said in a podcast for HoopsHype that the Lakers offered San Antonio former No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram, All-NBA Rookie Team first team selection Kyle Kuzma and 2017 first round pick Josh Hart along with two to three first round picks.

The Heat owns its first round pick in six of the next seven seasons (Philly now owns the Heat's valuable 2021 first rounder after a draft day swap with Phoenix) and has a combination of young, talented players it could conceivably offer up in a trade for Leonard.

But again, with Leonard's "focus unchanged that he wants to be a Laker," as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday, Riley will not risk the Heat's future for a player unwilling to commit long-term (even after seeing the Thunder successfully trade for Paul George last summer in a similar situation and then convince him to stay in Oklahoma City).

So where does that leave the Heat two days into the start of free agency? Still better than it was before James announced he was tying his future to the Lakers.

NBA superstar LeBron James is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year, $153.3 million deal. James aims to bring the Lakers their 17th NBA title in franchise history.

James' departure from Cleveland will likely send the Cavaliers, who finished with the fourth-best record in the East, into another tailspin and further open the door for the Heat, which finished 44-38 and sixth in the East, to compete for home court advantage in the playoffs and a top four seed along with Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Indiana, Milwaukee and Washington.

Only four of the 15 players who made the All-NBA team this past season still call the East home (Sixers center Joel Embiid, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan and Pacers guard Victor Oladipo).

The Sixers, who beat the Heat in a five-game first round playoff matchup, would clearly take a step up if Brett Brown, a former Spurs assistant and the team's coach and acting general manager, can land Leonard and put him out on the wing alongside Embiid and Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons.

Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat, confirms nobody on this team is 'untouchable' if the right name is available.

But if Philly comes up empty in that push, the Sixers could take a step back especially after two key players who killed the Heat in the playoffs from three-point range -- Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli -- agreed to deals with the Bucks and Spurs over the weekend. Philadelphia, though, re-signed JJ Redick on a one-year, $13 million deal Monday and still has cap space to potentially add another shooter (the Heat's Wayne Ellington, a Philly native, has drawn interest).

As it stands, Miami has 11 players under contract and $119 million committed to them. Although the Heat would like to bring back both 36-year-old playoff hero Dwyane Wade and 30-year-old three-point specialist Wayne Ellington, figuring out a way to stay below the $123 million luxury tax line is a priority for Riley.

In the end, the top priority remains finding a transformative player to build around while also being smart about the future. If the opportunity is there to shed a bad contract or two and free up cap space for the summer of 2019 (when Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving and Leonard will highlight the free agent class) Riley will not be afraid to pounce on it.

And for now he believes the Heat can get better internally. The return of Dion Waiters and the growth of Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow are all areas Miami could see positive growth.

Is that enough to win the LeBron-less East? Probably not with a healthy Boston lurking.

But a trade or two down the road could change everything. And Riley is still searching high and wide for those.

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