Riley: “Not a new culture, but to tightening the screws on a culture that sometimes erodes just a little bit.”
They could close the summer ledger right now and claim victory. The Miami Heat won the NBA offseason — no, not on the top tier, where Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant were changing uniforms, but on the lower level of teams that did the most with nothing.
What was supposed to be a dead summer in South Florida for Heat activity ended up delightfully noisy. Pat Riley somehow maestro’d a four-team trade to get genuine star talent in Jimmy Butler despite being salary cap-strapped. The Heat essentially got Butler for Josh Richardson, a swap that by itself makes the Heat better and competitive in an Eastern Conference now looking refreshingly wide open.
And what if Miami is not done? Bradley Beal is out there, tantalizing Riley. (More on that in a minute.)
Butler arriving is out front at No. 1 on what makes this a winning offseason for Miami, but here are three other ways that have shaped the summer as a big positive:
2. Unloading Hassan Whiteside, the key element in being able to make the Butler acquisition work financially, was an unexpected masterstroke. When he opted in it seemed certain Miami would be stuck paying $27 million for a backup center this coming season. There was no market for Whiteside, but all it took was one team. On behalf of Heat fans, thank you Portland.
(As an aside, we were discussing the other day on ESPN Radio how Whiteside will be received upon his eventual return to Miami. Will he be cheered as the goofy/lovable big fella who peppered in just enough 20-15 nights to keep us believing? Or will he be booed as the moody/sulking overpaid guy who wore out his welcome? Close call, but I’d lean to the latter, and his parting shot at the Heat after the trade — “Finally got some shooters!” — didn’t help.)
3. Not trading for star Russell Westbrook, which for a time seemed likely, was an exercise in uncommon restraint and long-term view by Riley. The Heat’s president loves him some starpower and always has favored veterans and a win-now mind-set. But Riley drew a smart line in the South Beach sand in refusing to sign off on a trade that would have cost the Heat its best young player in Bam Adebayo and also its super-promising recent No. 1 draft pick in Tyler Herro.
Westbrook was a really shiny toy and would have been a splash signing. But keeping Adebayo and Herro was about building something to last, not cobbling something together as a quick, temporary fix.
4. The Chris Paul scare appears to have been dodged. In the wake of declining to pay the too-high price for Westbrook, speculation arose that Miami might be a landing spot in a trade with Oklahoma City for CP3. Now it appears the Thunder and Paul might stay married for the 2019-20 season, which is a gentler way of saying there is no real market for Paul — and why should there be!
Paul is 34, with declining production (shot 41.9 percent last season), durability issues and the concrete-heavy baggage of a three-year, $124 million contract that would have had the Heat paying him $44.2 million as he was about to turn 37. Crazy!
Also bad: Whatever you think of as “Heat culture” ... Paul is the opposite, a notoriously bad teammate who’ll only get worse as he ages and his ego hangs on to the idea he’s still a big star even as his best days are running away from him like Usain Bolt.
Signing Paul also would have left the Heat with little money to spend on meaningful free agents in 2021.
The Heat getting back its 2021 and ‘23 first-round draft picks from OKC at least would have been a starting point to even consider taking on Paul, but once the Thunder balked at that, there was nothing left to say.
If Riley isn’t done dealing, the only move left that makes sense this offseason is trying to pry All-Star Beal from Washington. You know that interest is mutual, and Miami has the veteran contracts to trade and make it work, starting with Goran Dragic. The problem, of course: Injured John Wall and his albatross contract almost certainly would be stapled to any deal for Beal.
Wall’s Achilles injury rings the caution bell pretty loudly. But Butler, Beal and a healthy Wall would be a lot for coach Erik Spoelstra to work with.
The Heat’s offseason has been fist-bump-worthy as it is:
Upgrading to the star Butler essentially in a swap for Richardson.
Unloading the stuffed pockets of expendable Whiteside.
Not letting the Westbrook siren song lull you into parting with Adebayo and Herro.
Saying no, no, no, no to Paul.
Now, might the Heat have yet another summer splash in store?
If Miami somehow comes out of this with Butler and Beal, put Riley on a float in a magician’s hat and throw him a one-man parade down Biscayne Boulevard.