Pat Riley typically is viewed in the whale-hunting context, as the man trying to “get in the room” with and reel in top NBA free agents.
This summer there is no doubt the Miami Heat’s president would love — against all odds and likelihood — to find a way to be a player in the mix for available prizes such as Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson (despite their recent injuries), or Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving. Or to convince Anthony Davis he should want to see his talents traded to South Beach.
(I am told by a club source Riley would sign Durant in a heartbeat if he could — despite this week’s Achilles injury that almost certainly will sideline him all next season).
Of course Miami’s onerous over-the-salary-cap financial situation due to questionable contracts previously given largely handcuffs the Heat this summer and makes 2020 or even ‘21 the likelier offseasons for major moves.
But that doesn’t mean Riley can’t work some magic this summer if he is able.
We have seen his successes and failures with whales, with acquiring talent.
Now let’s see what kind of a salesman he is.
It’s time for the Heat to divest and move on from overpriced, aging, injury-prone veterans who are a limiting drain on the club’s finances without enough in return.
Hassan Whiteside. Goran Dragic. Dion Waiters. James Johnson.
It’s nothing personal, guys. But the Heat would be better off if Riley were able to clear the books and jettison those contracts by finding other teams willing to take them on.
That’s a lot to ask. It might be tougher than getting in a room with a whale.
Dragic opted-in to the final year of his Heat contract on Thursday, as expected, so he is due $19.2 million next season unless the Heat can trade him. He is 33. He missed 46 games with a knee injury last year. In his absence Justise Winslow — 10 years younger, the future —- began to flourish.
Dragic did the club a favor by opting-in early, before the June 29 deadline. It gives Riley the chance to now try to package Dragic into a trade perhaps on NBA Draft day this coming Thursday.
Whiteside also is expected to opt-in to stay in Miami another year at $27.1 million, but hasn’t said so yet. He turned 30 this week. Lost his starting job late last season. Also has had injury issues. He is way too costly to be a backup. And Miami has his replacement in the high upside of ascending Bam Adebayo — the future.
Johnson, 32, and Waiters, a high-mileage 27, also have incomes above their value on the roster.
Finding trade partners for all would be ideal, for draft picks, or maybe in a package deal to, say, acquire point guard Mike Conley from Memphis?
Trading for Conley now would likely allow Miami to bypass 2020 free agency, not as great a bounty, and instead target 2021, a better free agent class. Conley’s contract would be off the books then and Miami would have whale money to spend.
It all starts with Riley being able to convince Memphis or some other team how great and valuable Whiteside and Dragic are even as he tries to dump their contracts in a way that turns a corner and helps the Heat get to its future faster.