Barry Jackson

ESPN has an idea for Heat’s Pat Riley. Here’s the case for Conley and other potential fits

‘I’m still chasing another championship,’ says Pat Riley

Pat Riley speaks about his future with the Miami Heat during an interview with Dan Le Batard on ESPN's SportsCenter.
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Pat Riley speaks about his future with the Miami Heat during an interview with Dan Le Batard on ESPN's SportsCenter.

Part 1 of a 2-part series

ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks, the longtime former Nets assistant general manager, made an interesting point last week when he noted that because the 2020 free agent class is so weak, the Heat might instead be better off trading the expiring deals of Goran Dragic or Hassan Whiteside for a player with two years left on his contract.

Heat president Pat Riley has publicly targeted 2020 as the offseason to significantly augment the roster, because of the potential of $35 million or more in cap space. But he’s prepared to consider all options this summer.

Dragic and Whiteside will have one season left on their deals (2019-20) if they don’t opt out of their contracts this summer. It would be surprising if either opts out before late June deadlines.

So what players could the Heat acquire if it pursues Marks’ suggestion?

In part 1 of a 2-part series, we canvass the Western Conference options and teams with potentially tradeable veteran players with multiple years left on their contracts:

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Memphis: Mike Conley Jr. looms as the most obvious option, with The Sporting News’ Sean Devaney reporting last week that the Heat is expected to explore a trade for the veteran Grizzlies point guard, who is considered available.

This could make sense if the Heat merely had to give up Whiteside or could somehow move on from James Johnson’s contract in such a trade. The Grizzlies likely wouldn’t be enamored with either of those ideas.

A trade of Conley for Dragic and Dion Waiters – if Memphis were willing - would work within cap parameters but would require serious thought from a Heat standpoint. One upshot is that it would leave the Heat with about $15 million in 2020 cap space – not enough to add a max player but enough to add a quality starter.

While I don’t think the Dragic/Waiters/Conley idea is a no-brainer for Miami, I suspect the Heat would go for this idea if broached and if nothing better of great significance surfaces, in part because of its high regard for Conley and frustration with Waiters’ conditioning this past season.

But if the Grizzlies ask for Dragic and one of the Heat’s young core pieces and a first-round pick, then it’s a different story entirely and likely not worth pursuing, from this perspective.

Couple things to keep in mind:

1) For teams in taxpayer territory (as the Heat currently would be for next season), Miami could take back contracts up to 125 percent of outgoing salaries, plus $100,000.

2) When evaluating whether a player in trade talks is worth sacrificing 2020 cap space for, Miami must consider not only the players it would be trading but whether the acquired player is comparable in quality to the most realistic high-end 2020 free agent options (DeMar DeRozan or Draymond Green or Kyle Lowry), if you assume the Heat isn’t going to get potential 2020 free agent Anthony Davis.

Conley would be, though DeRozan is two years younger. The concern with DeRozan would be the need to pay him huge dollars well into his 30s if lured as a free agent by Miami or another team.

Conley Jr., 31, is due $32.5 million next season and $34.5 million in 2020-21. He’s still very good – an excellent defender who has averaged anywhere from 17 to 21 points per game each of the past three seasons, including 21.1 points per game last season (on 43.8 percent shooting) and 6.4 assists per game.

OKC: The Thunder has two candidates for the type of trade that Marks suggests: center Steven Adams (due $25.8 million and $27.5 million the next two seasons) and point guard Dennis Schroder ($15.5 million each of the next two seasons).

Schroder (15.1 points, 4.1 assists per game last season) and another cheap player could be flipped for Dragic -- who could play shooting guard next to Russell Westbrook -- but I’m not sure what that would accomplish for Miami.

Even if OKC were willing, I’m not sure why Miami would trade one year of Whiteside for two years of Adams (13.9 points, 9.5 rebounds) when that would take the Heat out of contention for impactful 2020 free agents.

Houston: Difficult to see the Rockets moving Chris Paul (due $38.5 million, $41.3 million and $44.2 million) even with that onerous contract at this stage of his Hall of Fame-caliber career, or for that matter, Clint Capela ($16.9 million, $18 million, $19.1 million, $20.2 million)

Minnesota: Andrew Wiggins: The former No. 1 overall pick has always loomed as a Heat possibility if the Timberwolves want to shake up their roster, though perhaps less so now with Jimmy Butler having been traded this past season.

But Wiggins still has four years left on his deal, at $27.5 million, $29.5 million, $31.6 million and $33.6 million, so he would effectively limit your flexibility in 2021 and 2022 free agency, too. That’s a lot of money for a player who averaged 18.1 points on 41 percent shooting and has never been an All Star (though he was Rookie of the Year in 2015).

Another option: How about Wiggins and backup center Gorgui Deng (due $16.2 million and $17.3 million the next two seasons) for Whiteside and James Johnson? But that’s a ton of money for Deng (6.4 points, 4.1 rebounds) and if you’re the Heat, you’re then basically moving forward with a core without an All-Star and limited cap flexibility well into the next decade. Hard pass on that.

Phoenix: T.J. Warren would be worth exploring, but I highly doubt the Suns would take an expiring contract for a player who averaged 18 points and shot 43 percent on threes last season and has a team friendly deal, due $10.8 million, $11.7 million and $12.7 million the next three years.

Lakers: Don’t see the Heat having the assets for Lonzo Ball, who improved before his season-ending injury last season and is due $8.7 million, $11.1 million and $14.3 million the next three seasons.

The Lakers likely will need Ball and Brandon Ingram ($7.3 million, $9.5 million) as either young pieces to keep or to use in trade talks for Anthony Davis or any other disgruntled star that surfaces.

Dallas: Tim Hardaway Jr., who averaged 18.1 points but shot just 39.3 percent for the Knicks and Mavericks before a season-ending stress fracture in his left leg, is due $18.1 million next season with an $18.9 million player option for 2020-21.

He could be flipped for Dragic, but I’m not sure the point of that for Miami. And Dallas could sign Dragic outright in free agency in July if it discreetly conveys word to him that he should opt out in the next few weeks with the wink-wink promise of a lucrative multiyear deal to play alongside Slovenian countryman Luke Doncic. This is merely a hypothetical, though it would make a lot of sense.

San Antonio: Not sure Miami could entice the Spurs to move on from LaMarcus Aldridge, due $26 million and $24 million the next two seasons, though it cannot be ruled out if San Antonio wants to shake things up. Pat Riley famously wooed Aldridge over dinner before he signed with the Spurs two years ago even when Miami had no cap space.

Aldridge, at 33, still puts up numbers: 21.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. But the Heat would need to give up multiple pieces of its young core even if the Spurs were amenable. And even so, would Miami be willing to give up two among Richardson, Winslow and Adebayo for a 33-year-old?

There’s also Patty Mills ($12.4 million, $13.2 million), who could be flipped with something else for Dragic, though I’m not sure the point of this for Miami.

Denver: A case could have been made a year ago for a Heat pursuit of Gary Harris, when he averaged 17.5 points and shot 39.9 percent on threes. His contract -- which will pay him $17.8 million, $19.2 million and $20.5 million the next three years -- is far less attractive now that he’s coming off a year in which he averaged 12.9 points, shot 33.9 percent on threes and missed 25 games with assorted injuries.

Plus, that $20.5 million in 2021-22 would be unacceptable from a Heat perspective.

And there’s no point to pursue Will Barton (9.1 points per game, 34.8 percent shooting this postseason). He’s due $12.8 million, $13.7 million and $14.7 million the next three seasons.

New Orleans: The Heat’s in no position to trade for Davis and new Pelicans president/basketball operations David Griffin – from all indications – wants to keep Jrue Holiday, who’s due $26.1 million each of the next two seasons with a $27 million player option for 2021-22.

Utah: The Jazz obviously isn’t dealing Rudy Gobert ($24 million, $25.7 million the next two seasons) for Whiteside, and Joe Ingles ($11.4 million, $10.3 million) would be an overlapping skill set with Kelly Olynyk, who has two years left on his deal, unless both players were involved in some larger trade.

Former No. 5 overall pick Dante Exum (5.9 points in 204 games) isn’t worth a flier at $10.6 million each of the next two seasons because he’s been injury-prone and not lived up to expectations.

Among the others Western Conference teams, there are no realistic Heat options with Golden State, the Clippers, Sacramento and Portland under the Marks scenario - presuming Portland isn’t willing to move C.J. McCollum coming off a Western Conference finals appearance.

So under the Marks idea, Heat calls on Conley and Aldridge would make the most sense - depending on the willingness and demands of the Grizzlies and Spurs.

Coming Thursday: We’ll do a similar exercise with the Eastern Conference.

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