MIAMI — When it came time to decide whether to offer Josh Richardson a contract extension this offseason, the Heat knew what they had to do.
“We believe in him — his size, his length, his defensive ability, his ability to shoot the ball,” Heat president Pat Riley said of Richardson. “He can get us into offense. … He’s a prototype, contemporary NBA player and he’s young. Being slowed down by the knee injury last year really set him back, not having training camp, missing the first part of the season. Then having the wrist injury. He just was out of sync and then all of a sudden it came together at the end of the year. He’s been dominant in workouts, his own personal workouts in the summer.”
So the Heat offered Richardson a four-year, $42 million extension and he accepted in September just a few weeks before the start of training camp. The new deal, which will start in the 2018-19 season, represents the maximum extension Miami was allowed to offer Richardson based on his tenure and contract status.
And the Heat now don’t have to worry about finding themselves in a bidding war next summer when Richardson could have become a restricted free agent. Miami was in that position in the offseason of 2016 when the Heat were forced to match Tyler Johnson’s four-year, $50 million offer sheet from the Nets to retain him.
“We didn’t want [Richardson] to go on the open market next year coming off a great year and face some matching of a crazy contract,” Riley said. “We could control our own destiny as a franchise by I think rewarding him with what he deserves. If the average salary in the NBA is close to $9, $10 million, that’s where a lot of these guys are falling. … We felt he was worth it and we expect great things from him.”
Richardson, who turned 24 on Sept. 15, has looked sharp since the start of training camp as he competes with Rodney McGruder and Justise Winslow for the Heat’s starting small forward job. More importantly, Richardson looks healthy.
After missing 29 of the Heat’s first 57 games last season due to various injuries, Richardson finally started to look like the healthy version of himself toward the end of the year. He averaged 15.0 points, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks, and shot 53.1 percent from 3-point range over the final six games of the 2016-17 regular season.
That type of all-around play has continued into the preseason, as Richardson is averaging 9.0 points on 46.7 percent shooting, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.0 blocks through two games.
“I’m grateful. I feel great,” Richardson said last week. “Going from last year not being able to do anything in training camp. Just watching these guys and not having a preseason and just trying to get myself into the rotation and into the flow of things in the middle of the year, it was tough. Just having a couple more practices under my belt and being able to bring myself along at my pace is helpful.”
Richardson has come off the bench in both contests, with McGruder getting the first two starts of the preseason at small forward. But Richardson did see some playing time with the other four starters in the middle of Thursday’s loss to the Nets in Brooklyn, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the starting lineup at some point this preseason.
Some believe Richardson’s versatility at 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds is better suited for the bench, where he can enter games in different roles based on foul trouble and matchups. He’s received minutes at point guard, shooting guard and small forward over the first two seasons of his NBA career, and can defend all three positions.
“I feel super comfortable. Any of the three positions, I feel like you can put me out there and you’re not going to lose a beat,” Richardson said of his versatility. “[The difference between playing as a guard and small forward] is a little overstated just because of the superstars that play the three like LeBron [James], Melo (Carmelo Anthony), [Danilo] Gallinari, the big threes. There’s a lot of threes that aren’t that huge, that aren’t that big, so I can match up with those.”
So, what can you expect from Richardson this season?
“I feel like I’ve improved on everything,” he said. “The fans can look forward to health this season, hopefully.”