How the Miami Heat Can Become Instant 2017-2018 Contenders
The Miami Heat recently capped off an exciting season, which saw them go from eleven games under .500 to the fringes of playoff contention. Now, however, they face a crossroads. Though the team went 30-11 during the second half of its season, it is thought that the Heat needs another star-- or two-- before being able to challenge LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA's Eastern Conference. Though many Heat fans (including myself) have an emotional attachment to this past season's team, I do not think they are capable of such a challenge; they have the heart, but the talent likely does not match. I am not a basketball general manager, and perhaps Pat Riley would disagree with me. This, however, seems unlikely-- NBA fans know that Pat Riley always has his harpoon at the ready. Just a few days ago, the Heat were linked to interest in Gordon Hayward. Many pundits do not believe that he alone would vault the Heat into contender status; indeed, many question whether the Heat currently have the talent to attract him in the first place-- particularly since the other team listed as pursuing Hayward (the Boston Celtics) finished the year as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference (not to mention Hayward's connection to coach Brad Stevens).
What if I told you, however, that Gordon Hayward is not the only star the Heat could go after, and perhaps obtain, this offseason? What if the Heat also looked to add Paul George?
For fun's sake, I propose the following:
The Heat trades Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, and the rights to the Number 14 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft to the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers send Paul George to the Heat.
The trade would work under the NBA Trade Machine, meaning that the salaries would match in a trade.
Here's the thought process: The Pacers are not in a good spot with PG13. Almost everyone thinks he will leave at the end of the coming season, and most think he has his eyes set on the Los Angeles Lakers. Because most teams are worried that he will vault for LA, his trade value has sunk-- significantly. Pat Riley, however, has a track record of trading for disgruntled stars (think Goran Dragic and Shaq), and he is not afraid to sell the future to increase his team's chances of winning in the "now." Riley could bet that the championship culture he has created, which many players have lauded (Dion Waiters and James Johnson being the most recent examples), would be enough to satiate a star player's career aspirations. Besides that, it is not very hard to sell Miami: the beaches, the nightlife, the lack of a state income tax, etc. etc.
Though the Pacers are likely hoping to obtain a top pick in the draft, plus some more young talent, in exchange for George, they would likely have trouble finding a deal better than this, especially considering George's floundering trade value. Justise Winslow followed a promising rookie campaign with an injury-plagued one last season. Still just 21, he brims with potential and, at worst, is a future defensive stalwart who can do a little bit of everything. Tyler Johnson is a young combo guard with sneaky athleticism, the grit to do the little things to win (put back offensive rebounds, block shots, lay out for loose balls, break his teeth fighting through screens), and an ability to shoot the ball well from all over the court. At worst, he can be one of the league's best sixth men. Wayne Ellington is a consummate professional and a great shooter, who has only one year remaining on his contract. He is included in this trade to match salary, but could provide some valuable veteran leadership, as well as some deadly shooting touch. With the fourteenth pick in the draft, the Pacers could select one of a number of available young players, with the best players available at 14 likely to be high-upside big men. Altogether, the Pacers should consider this a haul, since they could potentially let George leave for nothing next summer.
There are a couple issues with this trade. For one, the Heat cannot trade their 2017 draft pick until after the draft, due to NBA rules prohibiting teams from trading consecutive draft picks. As such, the Heat would need to make the selection for the Pacers, then trade that player after the draft. Also, Tyler Johnson cannot be traded until July-- the one-year anniversary of when he signed an offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets. This trade, then, would likely have to be agreed upon before the draft, while being officially completed later on.
Once completed, the combination of Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Udonis Haslem, Hassan Whiteside, and Paul George would cost about $65 million against the cap. If the Heat decide to keep Josh McRoberts, that number would go up by about $6 million. If they were to decide to use the "stretch provision," stretching that $6 million cap hit over the next three years, his cap hit would be $2 million (meaning about a $67 million cap total). Add in a few million dollars worth of cap holds, and a salary cap that is projected at around $103 million, and the Heat would still have plenty of room to sign a max- level player, like Gordon Hayward. Adding PG13 to a team with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside would certainly be alluring to any free agent looking to join a contender (in this case, Hayward).
While trading all that young potential for George is a risky move, the Heat would have a convincing case for George to stay after next season (rather than leaving for the Lakers, as many are predicting). By trading for him, the Heat would gain his Bird Rights, meaning that they could sign him for a larger sum of money (did I mention no state income tax?), and an extra year, compared to any other team in free agency. Besides the finances, the franchise's championship pedigree, and the lure of Miami, this could be a very good team, with the outside shooting ability necessary for today's elite NBA teams. Goran Dragic, Paul George, and Gordon Hayward (who I am including in this exercise, because I am a gluttonous Heat fan, and because the Heat would have the cap room) are all capable of getting to the bucket and shooting with range. Josh Richardson has the shooting ability and defensive tenacity to be a great role player in the starting lineup, who can also attack the basket given the right opportunity. All four of those players are capable and willing passers. Hassan Whiteside can clean up their missed shots, score on mismatches in the post, provide some massive dunks in pick-and- roll situations, and provide borderline- elite to elite rim protection. With all of that talent, this team would have little in their way to the top, particularly considering how weak the Eastern Conference is (another reason PG would have to consider staying in Miami, rather than moving to LA).
Ignoring the bench, which still has fan-favorites Rodney McGruder and (likely) Udonis Haslem in this scenario, that is an incredibly talented team. The bench could take care of itself if this team came to be. As the Cavaliers and Warriors have shown over the past couple of years, filling out a roster with talented veterans on minimum salary deals is not hard for a contender-- which this team would certainly be. Perhaps the Heat could buy into the second round to mine another young prospect or two, and perhaps they could use an exception to sign a good role player. Maybe they could even sign someone from their D-League affiliate-- a method they have used successfully the past few seasons. Indeed, there would be many options to fill out the roster. This would not be much of a concern.
Heat President Pat Riley wants another championship before retiring. He will not settle for mediocre; he never has. He aims for the best, and has made some bold moves in order to get there before. Perhaps this scenario will never be considered. If it is, however, and it comes to fruition, it could allow the Godfather to retire with two handfuls of jewelry and one more parade.