Greg Cote

Heat and Riley lose out on Westbrook, but here’s why the loss might still end up a win | Opinion

The Miami Heat and Pat Riley lost out on Russell Westbrook on Thursday night -- but it might have been closer to a win than a loss. Sometimes, the best trade is the one not made.

Yes, the Heat would have been better or at least more dynamic and interesting in the short term by pairing Westbrook with recently acquired Jimmy Butler. But at what cost? That was the line Riley smartly drew.

Giving up the young core of Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow and June top draft pick Tyler Herro, and more, was too much for Westbrook, whose mega-contract would have grown more and more onerous. Miami in four years would have been paying $47 million to an aging 34-year-old player.

Maybe the deal gets done if Oklahoma City agreed to take Goran Dragic in the deal or at least let the Heat keep Adebayo.

But Miami lost its leverage when Houston entered the bidding. So OKC sends Westbrook for a reunion with James Harden in Houston, while the Thunder get Chris Paul, two protected first round picks and two pick swaps, according to ESPN and Adrian Wojnarowski.

Miami, with no first round picks to trade in the near future, could not compete there.

Miami also could not compete with Westbrook’s reported desire for a reunion with Harden, who tops Butler on the spectrum of top running mates.

Now speculation in NBA circles arises that Riley, gloriously impatient, addicted to winning, craving relevance for his Heat again, might not be done this summer. Might not want to stop at Butler.

Washington’s Bradley Beal is is stilll out there, perhaps available. Beal, at 26, and averaging about that number of points last season, is a bigger catch than Westbrook, age factored in.

The caution, though, is that to get Beal from Washington you might have to also absorb John Wall and his huge contract -- Wall, due $172 million over the next four years and rehabbing an Achilles injury that may shelve him all or most of next season.

Do you take on Wall’s awful contract to get Beal?

It’s as valid and debatable a question as whether you take on Westbrook’s super-max deal but give up your three most valuable young assets to do it.

As for speculative reports the Heat may be interested in now acquiring Chris Paul from OKC? No, please. No! Please?

Paul is three years older than Westbrook, injury prone, with declining production, and overpriced based on that. If you take him on without giving up young assets it probably means you have far, far less money to spend in 2021, a big summer for free agency.

Paul is maybe a missing piece for a team missing only one. He is not a building block for a team whose strong desire to keep its young core indicates an eye on a long term future, even as getting Butler makes Miami more competitive now in a pretty wide open Eastern conference.

Miami and Riley are not in a bad spot as is.

Butler, Adebayo, Winslow and Herro are a nice core moving forward. And the Heat as is figure to be major players in free agency, financially, in ‘21.

Losing out on Westbrook stings, right now. But, long-term, if Adebayo and Herro are the developing stars they see and if Winslow finds another gear, the Heat and Riley might have won Thursday night.

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