Ten things I think after a week watching the Heat and other teams and digging into trade talks in NBA summer league:
▪ Credit the Heat for showing prudent restraint by not pursuing 34-year-old Chris Paul, a declining player whose contract would seriously restrict Miami’s 2021 flexibility.
Will the Heat continue to listen to OKC, which is eager to trade him? Yes, because the Heat always listens and Miami would consider something that it views as a home run.
But the only way this deal could be justified - and I’m not completely sure it would make sense under any circumstances - would be if three things happen: 1) OKC gives the Heat back its 2021 and 2023 first-round picks, which is difficult for me to envision knowing how much Thunder general manager Sam Presti values draft picks. 2) OKC accepts James Johnson and the expiring contracts of Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard in exchange for Miami taking on the remaining three years and $124 million of Paul’s deal. (Of course, the case could be made for dealing Dion Waiters or Kelly Olynyk instead of Dragic and Leonard, but I’m eager to see a healthy, better conditioned Waiters, and the Heat was at its best offensively with a Olynyk/Bam Adebayo frontcourt pairing.)
3) Paul and agent Leon Rose assure the Heat that he would opt out of the $44.2 million he’s owed in 2021-22 if the Heat requests, with the understanding that he would be given a two- or three-year deal at less money. But that step is tricky, because there would be nothing legally to hold Rose and Paul to that promise, and because the Heat - by league rule - cannot actually promise Paul that it would give him a three-year contract in the range of, say, $38 million in the summer of 2021. And there might be no incentive for Paul to acquiece.
And there’s this possibility: What if Paul tears his ACL in the 2020-21 season and tells the Heat he changed his mind and won’t opt out?
So there would be a lot of trust necessary to take those steps, and I’m not sure it’s worth the risk.
The ability to get Paul to opt out in 2021 is critical because that would ensure having space to add a max free agent in 2021, without having to use assets in a sign-and-trade to get one. And you don’t want to leave your future for the next three years in other teams’ hands.
Say Paul agrees, in the summer of 2021, to opt out of the $44.2 million for 2021-22 to instead do a three-year, $38 million deal (and I have no idea why he would sacrifice $6 million). If he makes $14 million in 2021, combined with Jimmy Butler’s $36.1 million, that’s $50 million.
Throw in - and this is an estimation - $13 million in the first year of a new deal for Bam Adebayo, $4 million for Tyler Herro, and a combined $7 million for the Heat’s first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, KZ Okpala at $1.8 million, plus Ryan Anderson $5.2 million cap hit and $4 million in mandatory cap holds, and that would leave Miami at $85 million in salaries, at least $36 million below the projected $121 million cap in 2021-22 (it could be higher) and able to sign Bradley Beal, whose first-year max is $36.9 million.
But that’s a lot of ifs there, including trusting Paul that he will opt out and settle for our hypothetical $38 million instead of $44 million, which seems like a stretch. The whole scenario seems risky to me, unless Miami is convinced that Paul and Rose can be trusted for him to opt out and take less (and the Heat gets back its 2021 and 2023 picks, which I’m not holding my breath on).
That scenario would give you Butler, Paul, Beal, Herro, Adebayo, your 2020 and 2021 first-round picks, Okpala and minimum players to round out the roster.
But you’re taking a major risk giving up max space because even if, hypothetically, Beal informed the Wizards in February 2021 that he wants to play for the Heat, there’s no assurance the Wizards would trade him here, just as the Spurs didn’t trade Leonard to a preferred Los Angeles destination last summer.
▪ In the above scenario, the Heat wouldn’t be able to afford Justise Winslow’s $13 million team option and would probably need to flip him for a draft pick or just not exercise the option.
If the Heat kept Winslow and Adebayo, didn’t trade for Paul or anybody, and kept all the draft picks it has now, it would have practically nothing left after (hypothetically) signing Beal in 2021, depending on Adebayo’s salary.
So you would hope, at that point, that a core of Butler, Beal, Winslow, Adebayo, Herro and your 2020 pick is enough to raise you to the top half of the East. That’s debatable, dependent entirely on the growth and ceiling of your young players.
▪ At this point, it would be very difficult, but not impossible, to accommodate three in-their-prime stars is if the Heat stands pat. The way to do it would be signing one max player in 2021 and then trading everything else on your roster (Adebayo, Winslow, Herro, Okpala, the 2020 first-rounder after Miami made the selection) for a second star. And the wisdom of that is arguable.
▪ There’s a lot that should worry any team that acquires Paul even beyond the age and salary. There has been a clear diminishment in efficiency the past two seasons, with his field goal percentage tumbling from 47.6 two years ago to 46.0 to a career low 41.9 last year.
His three-point shooting has dipped from 41.1 percent to 38 percent to 35.8 percent.
And you can assume he will miss about a quarter of the season, if not more, after playing 61, 58 and 58 games the past three years. (Grant Hill’s durability improved between ages 35 and 38, but that’s the exception.)
▪ If I were the Heat, this is how I would rank my free agent targets in 2021, with the thinking that the idea of a LeBron return is unlikely: 1) Kawhi Leonard (had no interest in Heat past two years). 2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (told The New York Times in 2017 that “I don’t like all these flashy cities like L.A. or Miami. I don’t know if I could be the same player if I played in those cities.”) 3) Beal. Miami would seem to have the best chance here. 4. Victor Oladipo. 5. Paul George. 6. CJ McCollom (if you don’t get Beal) and Jrue Holiday.
Don’t rule out LaMarcus Aldridge in a trade with the Spurs before then as he approaches 2021 free agency. Pat Riley has always liked him. He averaged 21.3 points and 9.2 rebounds at age 33 last season.
▪ Here’s among the reasons Beal is so appealing: Not only was he tied for 10th in the league in scoring last season at 25.6, but he did it by shooting 47.5 percent from the field. Only DeMar DeRozan was better among shooting guards in field goal percentage, and he’s primarily a mid-range shooter. To be able to score at that high a level, and do it so efficiently, is a rare skill - something we consistently saw here from Dwyane Wade in his prime.
▪ Former Indiana Hoosiers interim coach Dan Dakich sounded foolish on ESPN’s Heat-Pelicans Summer League telecast Saturday when he said Erik Spoelstra is “just a guy” and not a top 10 coach.
Yes, a lot of ranking coaches is subjective, but championships won and career winning percentage must factor significantly in any serious evaluation of coaches.
And beyond the two championships, Spoelstra’s 59 winning percentage is third among active coaches who have coached at least five years, behind only Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich. That should automatically put him on a top 10 list.
Fortunately, ESPN’s Jorge Sedano - a former South Florida sportscaster - was there to offer a sensible rebuttal to Dakich, who likes the role of being a provocateur.
▪ Not only did Tyler Herro impress the Heat with his scoring, passing, instincts and overall skill set, but the Heat appears to have again found someone who’s coachable and not thinking he has all the answers.
“He didn’t come in with any lottery type of ego and he came in and got ready to work right away,” Eric Glass told me in a Thomas & Mack corridor Saturday.
All of the Heat’s recent picks have been high-character workers: Josh Richardson, Winslow, Bam Adebayo. Herro should join that group.
▪ Of the Heat summer campers without full contracts, the players who appear worthy of considering making some kind of investment in (at least a camp invite) would be Kyle Alexander (a very active defender and shot-blocker who averaged 18.7 rebounds per 48 minutes in Vegas) and Nick Mayo (bigs with three-point range are worth developing).
And it was encouraging on Saturday to see Jeremiah Martin (24 points) finally show the skills the Heat saw when he was a big scorer at Memphis. At 6-3, he said he’s more comfortable at shooting guard - “I feel I’m more natural as a two” - but will need to keep working on his point guard skills (“I can do that as well”) in the G-League this year to make himself a better NBA prospect.
Spoelstra “was telling me he loves my defensive intensity and learning how to play without the ball will be something big for me,” Martin said.
▪ Among players drafted in the 10 spots after Herro (19.8 ppg in Vegas), the only one who was nearly as good or better in Las Vegas was the Pelicans’ Nickeil Alexander Walker, the 17th overall pick who averaged 27.6 points in three games.
Among the other nine drafted in the 10 spots after Herro, three didn’t play: Boston’s Romeo Langford (thumb surgery), Orlando’s Chuma Okeke (ACL tear in NCAA Tournament) and Indiana’s Goga Bitadze (visa issues).
Among the others, Detroit’s Sekou Doumbouya was injured most of summer league before scoring nine in the the Pistons’ final game. San Antonio’s Luka Saminik averaged 10.3 points but shot 35 percent; Matisse Thybulle averaged 11.6 for Philadelphia; Brandon Clarke averaged 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds for Memphis; Grant Williams averaged 13.5 for Boston and Darius Bazley averaged 4.8 for OKC.
And for those wondering about No. 25 pick Nassir Little and No. 30 pick Kevin Porter Jr., Little averaged just 3.3 points for Portland in summer league in 70 minutes and Porter didn’t play for Cleveland because of a hip flexor.
Here’s my Sunday piece on Heat summer revelation Kendrick Nunn.