Spoelstra on Westbrook: “He makes you watch doesn’t he?”
Oklahoma City has asked the Heat for multiple young, valuable assets in trade conversations involving guard Russell Westbrook, and Miami — at least to this point — has refused, according to a league source briefed on the discussions by one of the teams.
OKC has asked the Heat to include impressive rookie guard Tyler Herro in the proposed trade, but the Heat has been reluctant to do that. Because Herro signed with the Heat on Wednesday, he cannot be included in any trade for 30 days, but that isn’t viewed as an obstacle.
At another point in the discussions this week, the Thunder asked the Heat to include two among Herro, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow, according to a source in touch with one of the two teams. The Heat also is opposed to including Adebayo, whom coach Erik Spoelstra ranked among the best centers in the league in the final months of last season.
Though the Heat very much would like to add Westbrook, OKC’s demands have resulted in a stalemate in conversations as of Wednesday evening. According to ESPN, Westbrook gave OKC a short list of teams he would like to play for and Miami is at the top of the list.
Whether the Heat would be willing to include Winslow remains to be seen. Though the Heat is pleased with Winslow and views him as a core piece, his value might be diminished somewhat with Westbrook here because Winslow does some of his best work while playing on the ball — an opportunity that would come less frequently with Westbrook on the Heat.
One reason OKC wants valuable young assets from the Heat stems from the fact that Miami couldn’t give the Thunder any draft picks because OKC — through the Clippers — owns Miami’s first-round picks in 2021 (unprotected) and 2023 (protected).
ESPN front-office expert Bobby Marks, during a conversation at a summer league game this week, noted that Miami isn’t even permitted to trade another first-round pick because protections on the 2023 pick extend into 2026, and teams cannot trade first-round picks that extend beyond seven years.
The Heat and OKC would be permitted to amend protections on the 2021 and 2023 picks, or change the years that those two picks will be sent to the Thunder if both sides choose, because the Thunder own both of those Miami picks.
The Heat is willing to give OKC contracts that add up to slightly more that Westbrook’s $38.5 million salary next season. That’s a necessity because Miami is operating under a $138.9 million hard cap next season and is less than $1 million below that figure, with 14 under contract.
The league requires teams begin the season with at least 13 players and then move to a minimum of 14 after a couple of weeks.
With OKC seeking short-term contracts, in addition to draft picks or promising cheap young players, any permutation of the trade likely would need to include Goran Dragic, due $19.2 million next season in the final year of his deal.
Meyers Leonard, at $11.2 million, is Miami’s only other expiring contract that carries significant money. Any trade involving Leonard cannot be announced until mid-September because of arcane league rules involving players moved in sign-and-trades, as Leonard was in the Jimmy Butler deal.
Derrick Jones Jr., at $1.6 million, is the other Heat veteran on an expiring deal.
Others potentially in play include Kelly Olynyk (due $26.1 million over the final two seasons of his contract) and James Johnson (due $31 million over his final two seasons).
It’s unclear if OKC would have any interest in taking back former Thunder guard Dion Waiters, who’s due $27.1 million over the next two seasons. Though the Heat has made Waiters available in trades in the past year, Waiters would have value in a backcourt with Westbrook because of Waiters’ improved three-point shooting.
Because Westbrook is due $172 million over the next four seasons, the Heat would prefer to send the Thunder only players whose contracts would help expedite a deal — in most cases, players who aren’t considered to have a long-term future here.
But OKC believes more compensation is warranted for a highly durable player who has averaged a triple-double three consecutive years and was the league’s MVP in 2016-17.
As of midweek, the Heat was unsure if there were any other teams seriously pursuing Westbrook, and Miami might dig in further on not giving up valuable assets if it has no competition for the eight-time All Star guard. If there is another team pursuing Westbrook, it hasn’t leaked publicly until ESPN reported Thursday afternoon that Houston has interest.
After watching the Thunder trade Paul George, Westbrook reportedly would like to be traded and has named the Heat as a team that appeals to him. That — combined with the Heat’s strong interest — led some in the league to conclude that a Westbrook trade to Miami is inevitable.
But the stalemate on players must be resolved. The Heat could wait out the Thunder, daring OKC to begin the season with Westbrook, which seems unlikely, or find a more appealing offer elsewhere, which certainly cannot be ruled out.
Or the Heat eventually could succumb to an extent on OKC’s demands.
But Miami, at this point, has been reluctant to give up young assets for a 30-year-old due to earn $41.4 million in 2020-21, $44.2 million in 2021-22 and $47.1 million in 2022-23.
One key for OKC might be finding a second team that makes an offer strong enough to either accept or use to potentially entice the Heat to offer more. It’s unclear if the Pistons, initially linked to Westbrook in media speculation, have legitimate interest. If the Pistons were interested, Detroit hypothetically could offer something Miami cannot (a first-round draft pick in the next year or two) plus the expiring contracts of Reggie Jackson and Langston Galloway and another piece.
Besides the Heat’s and OKC’s inability to agree on compensation, OKC also would like to take in less money than it’s sending out in the trade because the Thunder is $2.25 million above the luxury tax threshold and would prefer to get back under the threshold to avoid the onerous repeater tax.
That’s something the Heat cannot accommodate because it is not permitted at any point in the next year to surpass the $138.9 million hard cap.
That’s why a third team would be helpful in the deal, but that would end up being moot if OKC and Miami cannot reach an agreement on players to be included.
The Heat likely would have been leery about including Herro in a trade even before summer league, but Miami’s belief in the rookie guard has only strengthened because of his strong work in summer league.
In six summer league games, Herro is averaging 19.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting 39.5 percent overall and 33.3 percent on three-pointers. He’s 24 for 25 on free throws, and his play has exceeded the Heat’s expectations, according to a league source.