‘I’m still chasing another championship,’ says Pat Riley
Though the Heat’s position well above the salary cap and up against the tax line presents clear obstacles, team president Pat Riley is hardly giving up on doing something significant this summer. That’s the message from league sources who have spoken to the Heat’s front office in recent weeks.
Some of those officials’ impressions after conversations with Heat officials:
▪ They expect the Heat to be aggressive in pursuing potential trades for high-quality starters who are made available, as long as the cap consequences aren’t too onerous.
Though the Heat ideally would like to keep Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and especially Bam Adebayo, there are no untouchables on the roster. From talking to the Heat, one NBA official said the impression was that everything is on the table.
Though this news isn’t surprising, it’s comforting to hear that Riley isn’t going to simply sit back and wait for 2020 cap space if he can accomplish something meaningful before that. I expect all realistic options to at least be explored, including the Mike Conley scenario with Memphis.
So when Riley insisted to me April 13 that he’s not stuck with this roster this offseason, that clearly was not lip service, though it won’t be easy to pull off a deal that appreciably improves the roster.
▪ One official said it was clear talking to the Heat that Miami will continue efforts to deal some of its more expensive players with multiple years left on their contracts (James Johnson, Dion Waiters remain available).
The expiring contracts of Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic instantly will become trade chips as soon as they formally opt in for next season, a decision that’s expected.
▪ The Heat has told people it wants to find athletic wing players who can shoot and defend, ideally in the 6-6 range.
Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson, Southern Cal’s Kevin Porter Jr., Indiana’s Romeo Langford and North Carolina’s Nassir Little fit that 6-6 wing range, with Johnson and Porter the most polished shooters of that bunch. Miami continues to poke around on Porter, with Riley and Erik Spoelstra attending his Pro Day on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
But at No. 13, Miami would take a power rotation player if one is clearly ranked ahead of a wing, even though a wing is the preference.
▪ The Heat is committed to correcting what it believes was a step back in the team’s culture last season.
According to one player, that manifested itself not only by conditioning targets not being met in a few cases (Waiters the prime example) but a few players complaining excessively about roles.
▪ Last season, the Heat was adamant in not attaching carrots in an effort to offload bad contracts. While the Heat is still disinclined to do that, an official who spoke to the Heat said Miami has made no guarantees to that effect this year.
There are situations where attaching a carrot could be beneficial if it brings Miami a quality veteran player back in return.
Take this hypothetical: Say there’s no player who Miami loves who’s available at No. 13. One NBA source said he could envision a hypothetical in which Miami packaged the 13th pick and a contract with multiple years left (Johnson or Waiters) for a rotation player with one year left on his contract.
Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore and Memphis’ Avery Bradley would be two purely hypothetical options in such a scenario because they’re veterans with rebuilding teams looking to stockpile young players in the draft. Such a trade would give the Heat in the range of $50 million in 2020 cap space.
But you only do something like that that if there’s not a single player you really like at No. 13.
Remember, the Heat has been wisely reluctant to attach draft carrots in attempts to shed salary. Draft picks are valuable because they’re a modest commitment on your cap for five years. So if there’s a player you have a strong conviction about at 13, you take him. If not, then this other scenario is worth pursuing.
▪ The Heat likes what it has seen so far in 6-3 former Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn, who led the nation is threes per game (4.5) for Oakland University in 2017-18 and averaged 19.3 points and shot 47.3 percent in the G League last season.
Nunn, who was signed by the Heat late in the season, has focused on defense and improving his three-point accuracy (33.5 percent last season) in workouts at AA Arena. The Heat hopes he can join the line of undrafted scorers they develop off the bench, with Tyler Johnson at the front of that list.
▪ Quick news note: The Heat booked a June 15 pre-draft workout with former University of Miami forward Dewan Hernandez, who is working out for nearly two-thirds of NBA teams before the draft.