Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Justise Winslow pick is nice diversion for Heat fans from serious matters

Justise Winslow waits to be interviewed after being selected 10th overall by the Miami Heat during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 25, 2015, in New York.
Justise Winslow waits to be interviewed after being selected 10th overall by the Miami Heat during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 25, 2015, in New York. AP

Here were some of Justise Winslow’s very first words as the newest member of the Miami Heat on Thursday night: “I’m going to play with Dwyane Wade and learn from one of the greatest.”

His lips to the basketball gods’ ears.

Roster guru Pat Riley and the Heat have a crowded plate this summer – and doing right to re-sign Wade, a pending free agent, should be a priority – but the team got better in the meantime in this NBA Draft by selecting Duke’s Winslow, a 6-6, 222-pounder of versatile talent, with the 10th overall pick.

For now about all that Dwyane and Justise have in common are unusually spelled first names. Hopefully come autumn they’ll also be sharing a court.

I like the choice of Winslow, like that he brings the Duke pedigree and coaching. He’d been seen as going a few spots earlier in most major mock drafts, and should be moldable to whatever Miami sees his future being.

He certainly isn’t the NBA power forward he played a lot in college, but he could develop into the small forward backing up or replacing Luol Deng. More likely he also could be the shooting guard who develops as the heir to Wade – succession timetable to be determined. As a one-and-done Duke freshman, the idea of Winslow taking a couple of years to develop under Wade’s wing sounds like an ideal scenario.

And if you don’t think Miami may have drafted No. 1 with replacing Wade in mind, consider that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewksi specifically likened Winslow to Wade in an interview last season.

The Heat also likes versatility, and gets it in Winslow. He is lefthanded shooter said to play bigger than his height, with the wingspan of a man 6-10. One analyst likened him to Charles Barkley. But Winslow also is excellent in the open floor, can finish in the paint and block shots. And his three-point accuracy last season for Duke (42 percent) hints at the ability to give Miami some of the offensive perimeter presence that may be the team’s most pressing need.

“Very excited to have you!” new teammate Chris Bosh immediately Tweeted to Winslow.

(A social media shout-out from Wade was not as quick in coming, but don’t read too much into that).

This was a weird draft night for Miami, still figuring out the post-LeBron James era, out of the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and making a lottery pick for only the fourth time in franchise history.

The Heat has had only two higher draft picks than Thursday night’s 10th overall in the previous 23 yrs. One of course was a franchise-defining success – Wade, fifth overall in 2003. The other – Michael Beasley, second overall in ’08 – reminded Riley why he never much cared for the draft, or for rookies.

Riley famously (some would say infamously) cares little about the draft as a building tool. He trusts veterans. As recently as this season’s post-mortem, in April, he said, “We want developed players, experienced players. Every time you watch a playoff game, the very best teams are playing developed players with years of experience.”

You had to imagine Thursday night was seen as an indignity of sorts by Riley. The Heat, NBA champions three times in the past 10 seasons and runnersup twice more, has grown unaccustomed to being this high in the draft, this close to the front of the league’s soup-kitchen line.

The draft system is pro sports’ charity, the system making sure the have-nots get a little something extra. It’s you dropping a few quarters into the outstretched cup of a homeless man.

At the same time, opportunity is opportunity.

“You’ve got to catch something above and beyond,” Riley said this week, of drafting. “Like we did with Caron Butler [also picked 10th, in 2002] and Dwyane Wade.”

(But like we failed to do with Michael Beasley, he did not add).

Winslow might prove to be an all-star or a bust or settle into the broad spectrum of gray in between. Meantime, Riley and the Heat have greater concerns. Whom to select Thursday night probably wouldn’t crack the top five of Riley’s to-do list at the moment.

He must figure out how to handle the delicate Wade matter glowing ever hot on his front burner – how much to spend to keep him, or how to see him go without it being a clumsy public-relations nightmare.

He must re-sign Goran Dragic.

He must hope Bosh makes a full, healthy return from his blood-clots scare, an assumption that ought not be assumed.

He must figure a way to hold onto Hassan Whiteside beyond 2016.

He must decide who to jettison from the team (Mario Chalmers? Birdman Andersen? Josh McRoberts?) to make it all work financially.

And he must maneuver and minister all of these assets wisely enough that there is enough money left to buy into the high-stakes free agency table where the likes of Kevin Durant will be sitting in a year.

Winslow, for now, is a bit player in all of this, just a rookie we’ll get to know.

Then again, a dozen years ago, that’s all Dwyane Wade was, too.

The intrigue in any draft isn’t in the waiting to see what you got.

It’s in the dreaming to imagine what you might have.

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