Barring a trade, the Miami Heat will be sitting out the NBA draft for just the third time in their history.
But don’t mistake that for Pat Riley sitting on a yacht off some tropical island and a “closed” sign being hung on the offices at 601 Biscayne Blvd.
The Heat certainly are open for business as the NBA’s offseason officially kicks off with Thursday’s draft and then hits a frenzied pace 10 days later with the start of free agency. Somehow, the Heat will manage to join the party – they seemingly always do – but will they become bystanders or can they find a way to become the life of the party?
Recent history has not been kind to the Heat. Miami has entered the last two summers full of hope and optimism just from getting sit-downs with the two most coveted free agents – Kevin Durant in 2016 and Gordon Hayward in 2017.
Admittedly a longshot both years – more so with Durant – Miami had to settle for Plan B, in both cases. In 2016 – and after losing Dwyane Wade – that meant basically starting over by offering one-year deals to lower-level free agents and develop its young core of Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson. Last summer that meant holding onto free agents from the previous summer that showed promise – James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington – and picking up a nice supplemental part, which the Heat did with the solid signing of Kelly Olynyk.
Which brings us to the summer of 2018.
After watching Durant being convinced to chase rings at Golden State and Brad Stevens convincing Hayward to turn back the clock to his college days in Boston, could the Heat be looking at having failed to meet their highest expectations for the third consecutive summer?
Miami has been as much a victim of its own success and Riley’s reputation as anything else. Few teams ever even make the final cut when it comes to the summer’s biggest catch, but the Heat seem to every year. They did in 2010 and capitalized, leading to two titles and four consecutive Finals appearances, which raised the bar even higher. They did again the last two summers, although the outcome was far less satisfying than 2010.
For every LeBron James and Chris Bosh there is a Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward. And while some may look at it as if Riley is losing his touch, just by getting in the door every year shows his reputation remains intact.
Throwing a bag of championship rings on the table still resonates.
So how will 2018 play out? The Heat enter this offseason in a much different place with no flexibility and few assets to offer as major trade bait. And this free agency class is top heavy with Durant, James, Chris Paul, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins leading the way, with James, George and Cousins the realistic choices to switch teams.
And even without anything to offer, Riley still likely will get a sit-down with James. But getting in the door and closing the deal are two very different things. The only way James returns to Miami is for Riley and Andy Elisburg to pull off a stunning sign-and-trade that would involve convincing James the Heat are on the cusp of contending and then convincing Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to once again deal with Riley.
There is a better chance of Cleveland becoming the No. 1 tourist destination in the country than that happening.
Otherwise, Riley will be left to work his magic via a trade. But even those odds of obtaining someone like Kawhi Leonard appear stacked against the Heat. Still, Riley will not sit idly by. Leonard is not the only “transformative” player the Heat can pursue to improve this roster. Plenty of names will be discussed and several could be targeted by the Heat.
Players like Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan, C.J. McCollum, John Wall and Andrew Wiggins to name a few could be explored. Any one of them would immediately become the best player on the Heat if acquired.
Yes, the pressure is on Riley to improve this team. The optics of bringing back this roster, one that won 44 games and lasted just five games in playoffs, intact would not be good. But Riley may have no choice and he raised that possibility following the season,.
I expect Riley to pull off some kind of deal to shake up this team even if it means putting the franchise in a better position for the future. Making a significant move, though, will be very difficult. Heat fans may be left wanting for more – for the third consecutive year – but even Riley may not be able to work that magic this summer.