Greg Cote

’Melo, Hayward top intriguing options to help take Heat to next level

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic, center Hassan Whiteside and guard Rodney McGruder, couldn't stop Knicks' forward Carmelo Anthony from dunking in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat vs New York Knicks, NBA game, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Tuesday, December 06, 2016.
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic, center Hassan Whiteside and guard Rodney McGruder, couldn't stop Knicks' forward Carmelo Anthony from dunking in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat vs New York Knicks, NBA game, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Tuesday, December 06, 2016. pportal@miamiherald.com

Carmelo Anthony.

Gordon Hayward.

Miami Heat season has ended, which means Pat Riley season has begun, and things could get interesting with the team that just finished one of the weirdest but most intriguing years in franchise annals.

Trading for Anthony, the aging New York Knicks' superstar, or casting a line in free agency for Hayward, the Utah Jazz all-star, are big moves Riley and the Heat likely are considering – or should be.

That's because two things are apparent as the NBA playoffs commence minus the narrowly omitted Heat: One is that Miami is not good enough to be a bona fide contender and must get better. But the other is that Miami is close enough to that to augment this roster rather than blow it up and start over.

I must explain my use of the word “contender.”

Golden State is on its own planet. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green give the Warriors what might be the best big four of all-time and, currently, nobody else is close.

But a Heat team that ended the season with a 30-11 second half – not a small sample size of excellence – is close enough to being as good as any team not named Golden State that adding one key player could be all it takes to make Miami a major force again in the Eastern Conference.

Imagine this team and what it became keeping its core roster together and adding an offense-minded small forward like 'Melo or Hayward? More on those two in a moment.

What came clear in the aftermath of Wednesday's closing victory – beyond the closely knit bond of this Heat team – is how really good coach Erik Spoelstra thinks his team was.

“I feel like we could [have done] some damage in the playoffs,” he said. “That we would be playing for awhile.”

That's basketball-speak for a deep run, and that's pretty extraordinary confidence because Spoelstra is saying quite clearly he thinks Miami, as the No. 8 seed, would have beaten No. 1 Boston in the first round.

The next opponent might then have been Washington, against whom Miami was 4-0 this season.

Miami Heat point guard Goran Dragic discusses just missing out on the playoffs.

The Eastern finals foe might then have been Cleveland, and LeBron James' failure against the Heat since leaving is well known.

Miami, which missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker, believes it would have had a chance – a chance – to at least reach the conference finals had it snuck into the postseason tournament. After all, no No. 8 seed in history has begun the playoffs with the tailwind of a 30-11 second half.

“We were such a different team,” said Spoelstra.

Said Josh Richardson: “I think we could have done a lot of things in the playoffs.”

Still, despite the 60-win pace of what the Heat became, Miami could use scoring punch, a pedigreed star. This team would be better if someone other than Hassan Whiteside or Goran Dragic was considered the best player.

Anthony turns 33 in May and, yes, is past his Hall of Fame prime, but he hasn't stopped being a proven scorer. He averaged 22.4 points this season. The rebooting Knicks clearly are amenable to listening to trade offers, and it could be a buyer's market. My offer to get him would start but not end with Miami's first-round pick (likely 14th overall) in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Hayward, in his prime, just turned 27, was an all-star this season and averaged 21.9 points including almost 40 percent from three-point range. He'll be a free agent starting July 1.

Miami Heat veteran Udonis Haslem talks about the season following Wednesday's night's finale.

Both would command max money but either would make the Heat a power player in the East if the Miami team we saw in the season's second half is as good as Spoelstra believes it is.

Miami can afford signing Anthony or Hayward, with almost $40 million in cap space projected. The trick would be signing a player of that stature and also re-signing rather than losing key elements of this team including James Johnson and Dion Waiters.

Go to work, Pat Riley.

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