Goran Dragic didn’t make any plans to go away during the All-Star break.
“I’m just going to stay home with family and try to relax as much as I can,” the Miami Heat’s starting point guard said last Wednesday after the team went into the break having won for the 14th time in its last 16 games to move to within only two games of Detroit (27-30) for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“When we come back the real games are going to start.”
Five weeks ago, before the Heat went from having the second-worst record in the league at 11-30 to becoming the NBA’s hottest team with a 13-game winning streak, Dragic was being tabbed as one of the most likely players in the league to get moved before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Now, with the clock winding down toward that deadline, Dragic’s name isn’t appearing anywhere on the rumor mill. CBS Sports didn’t mention Dragic or any Heat player for that matter in its list of 40 players who could be moved by Thursday’s deadline and it appears more and more likely team president Pat Riley will be – pardon the pun – standing pat at the deadline.
That’s not to say Riley, 71, wouldn’t pounce on a deal to land an All-Star like Paul George or Jimmy Butler or someone that could change the face of the franchise moving forward.
But with Miami (25-32) unable to trade its 2017 first round pick before this June’s draft per NBA rules (the Heat traded its 2016 first rounder to Philadelphia and have the 2018 pick promised to Phoenix as part of the Dragic trade), the more likely scenario is Riley will wait until the franchise recoups $25 million in salary cap space for Chris Bosh and can use its pick in the draft (the Heat could trade the draft choice away after the pick is made) to make a franchise-altering move if it is there to be had.
George, 26, can opt out to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season and the Pacers, who are barely hanging onto the sixth seed in the East, could be enticed to move him this summer for fear of losing the four-time All-Star for nothing the following summer.
But in the meantime, it’s clear the Heat does not possess the assets other teams like the Boston Celtics do (Boston owns the rights to swap 2017 first round picks with Brooklyn and owns Brooklyn’s 2018 first round pick) to acquire George or Butler or any other potentially available superstar. With a loaded draft, first round picks are ultimately what teams selling at the deadline are looking for in return.
Such was the case with Sacramento, which gave up All-Star DeMarcus Cousins but got New Orleans’ first and second round picks in the 2017 draft in return plus three players which included 2016 first round pick Buddy Hield.
Could the Heat make a smaller move to acquire an upgrade at small forward or power forward ? It’s possible.
But because Miami doesn’t have picks to trade away, Riley would likely have to be motivated to part with young, 2018 cap-friendly players under contract like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson or Rodney McGruder.
With Miami unlikely to net a playoff seed any higher than sixth in the East and Riley centered on the bigger picture, such a move just doesn’t make sense unless the Heat believes that under-the-radar player could become a star.
“We’ve earned the right to at least be in the [playoff] discussion right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said last Wednesday of what the Heat accomplished with its 14-2 finish ahead of the break.
As it stands, the Heat still has a tough road ahead to make the playoffs.
Although 14 of its final 25 games are at home, Miami has 12 games against teams better than .500 (the Heat is 9-16 in those games thus far) including 10 against the top five seeds in the East with three games against Cleveland (39-16) and Toronto (33-24), two against Washington (34-21), one at Boston (37-20) and one Friday at Atlanta (32-24).
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Heat only a 19.3 percent chance of advancing to the playoffs. Those are the second-worst odds among the seven teams battling for the final three playoff spots in the East (Detroit 74%, Chicago 72.5%, Indiana 67.5%, Milwaukee 34.5%, Charlotte 30.8% all have better odds).
Then again, five weeks ago Dragic was supposed to get traded and the Heat had as good a shot as lowly Brooklyn at nabbing the top pick in the draft. A lot has changed and still could.