The Heat Should Be Sellers
Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have a problem....
It’s no secret the Miami Heat’s greatest strength is its depth: an any given night, coach Spo’s rotation can go 11 or 12 men deep. On the surface that sounds like a good thing, but in reality it’s become an issue for the Heat. What seems like an advantage has become a detriment, because it’s impossible to allocate a finite number of minutes to that many quality rotation players. The result is a player like Dion Waiters, who’s out of sync and under-performing, or a player like Wayne Ellington, who in some games hasn’t gotten any minutes at all.
The Heat are in a potentially unprecedented position as they approach the All-Star break: they are simultaneously under .500 and first in the Southeast Division! Paired with a unique NBA trade season, they can capitalize by acting as sellers in two ways. First, since the West is so bunched up -- the 3rd and 14th seed are only separated by eight games -- few Western conference teams are selling, which means Miami has assets in a buyer’s market. Second, because the Heat would actually improve by thinning out the roster, they’ll strengthen their present situation while making moves that are nominally for the future.
The Heat roster at present has a few tiers to it, so let’s sort through who would be most likely to stay, and who are the best candidates to move. Both Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are obviously staying; they’re franchise icons who are retiring at the end of the season. While those two represent the past, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, and (to a lesser extent) Derrick Jones Jr. represent the future. Winslow and Richardson are both on reasonable contracts over the next few years, with Winslow flourishing since becoming the starting point guard and engendering Most Improved Player discussion, and Richardson growing into an elite perimeter defender and primary scorer.
Adebayo is in his second season, but looks poised to take over the center position sooner rather than later, and Jones Jr. has been excellent off the bench, crashing the glass and throwing down enough monster dunks to potentially reprise his appearance in the Slam Dunk Contest. These four are the young players Miami would be wise to hold onto, and are most likely to comprise the core of the team moving forward.
Of the players the Heat would be willing to move, there are those that other teams would give assets for, and those that the Heat would have to attach assets to move. These are the latter. After a down year, Hassan Whiteside has bounced back well and remains a prolific rebounder and rim protector. But because of the size of his contract, -- roughly $25 million over this season and next -- he’s pretty unmovable. The same can be said about Tyler Johnson, whose found a good role as an off-ball threat but is similarly overpaid at $20 million over the same timeframe.
While James Johnson could be a good piece to trade to the right team, he's still owed $45 million over the next three seasons. Johnson is an excellent role player that could add depth to teams in need such as the Houston Rockets but the amount remaining on his contract dictates that he would also likely require something to be attached to him if he was sent away from Miami.
Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk both have more intrinsic value than the three just discussed, and could benefit from increased playing time if the rotation was shortened. Waiters is still owed $36 million over the next 3 seasons -- a more reasonable sum and yearly cost. And though his play since returning from an ankle injury has been inconsistent, he’s shown flashes of the player Miami saw during their 30-11 close to the 2017 season. While Miami would probably like to move him, it may be better to let him play out another season to recoup some trade value.
Olynyk had a great 2017-8, but his production this year has been lacking. Due to the rise of Adebayo, all of Olynyk’s minutes have been at power forward, where he has struggled. As he is also owed $36 million over the next 3 seasons, he can hopefully recover his play. Either is unlikely to bring a great deal back in trade, so the Heat are probably better off creating more opportunities for them in South Beach.
The last group should fetch assets if traded, starting with Wayne Ellington. The “man with the golden arm” is a catch-and-shoot threat from anywhere on the floor, and while he has some defensive limitations, his 3-pt accuracy (37%) would be appealing to a number of playoff contenders like the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers, who could put Ellington around elite players that will free him up for better shots. He’s only making $6 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer so now’s the best chance to get something before he walks.
Rodney McGruder is another player who would have value to a contender. A favorite of coach Spo, “the scavenger” is a prototypical 3-and-D player, grinding hard on the defensive end while spacing the floor on offense, where he hits 37.6% of his threes. This year he was effective running the pick and roll early on, but as defenses started keying on him, McGruder saw his production suffer - which made him expendable. On a different team, where he had fewer responsibilities - like OKC, for instance - he could contribute at a higher level. And since he’ll be a restricted free agent this summer, Miami will be hard-pressed to keep him, so now may be the time to get something for him.
Last but not least is Goran Dragic. If Miami truly commits to the youth movement, then it should consider trading Dragic. Though currently recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, the Dragon is still an effective point guard at age 32 and fairly compensated at $38 million over this and next season, with next season being at the player’s option. Any team in need of help at the point guard position, like his old running mates in Phoenix, could improve by having Dragic on board.
The Heat would have to move carefully, however, as they have a glut of guards, but very few true point guards -- hence the ongoing experiment with ‘Point Justise.’ Dragic is a good player and a good teammate: he took the transition from a Wade/Bosh title contender to a playoff bubble team in stride, and his veteran leadership should not be underestimated. Of all the trades Miami could make, a Dragic deal would say the most about where the season and immediate future lay in South Florida.
Overall, the Heat have a great opportunity at the deadline. Looking at a rare instance of genuine addition-by-subtraction, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra can improve the team’s prospects for both the present and the future in single transactions -- a remarkable accomplishment. As the All-Star break approaches, Miami needs to stop experimenting, shorten the rotation, and start playing consistent lineups to build chemistry before the playoffs. That doing so will help the future of the Heat is no small feat. The time to sell is now.