“I think it’s open,” Heat forward Josh Richardson said. “The last decade basically it’s been LeBron out of the East every year. I feel like everybody feels they kind of have a clean slate to go ahead and attack this year with more of an open chance.”
And that means the Heat. Richardson and Kelly Olynyk are among the several players in Las Vegas to attend summer league games and check in on Tuesday’s players association meetings.
Richardson was asked what surprised him most about free agency and it wasn’t James’ decision to leave his old team rather one player’s decision to stay with his old team.
“The biggest thing that surprised me, probably (Paul George) staying in Oklahoma City,” he said. “I thought he was leaving.”
Olynyk agrees the conference is more open but he warns a lot of teams are hunting to replace the Cavaliers in the Finals. Cleveland has come out of the East four consecutive years, a streak that matches Miami’s from 2011-2014 when James played for the Heat.
“It definitely opens up a little bit, but there’s still a lot of great teams,” Olynyk said. “It’s only one player gone.”
Could one of those be the Miami Heat? The Heat have been quiet during free agency, which was not unexpected. Miami entered $18 million over the salary cap and Pat Riley knew if he were going to make any moves it would have to be through trades and, so far, none have materialized.
Still, the Heat, including Richardson and Olynyk, believe Miami has enough within to improve from its 44-win 2017-18 season, which had them No. 6 in the East. Miami then lost to Philadelphia in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think we’re still a playoff team in the East, definitely,” Olynyk said. “We have a way to go. But if we keep building on last year and hopefully improve. … take our shot at it.”
Richardson took that one step further.
“Yeah, definitely,” Richardson said. “We felt like that last year. With No. 23 out of there it’s a little tough but I think we’re contenders.”
MIAMI — The Heat entered the offseason with a lot of questions surrounding their roster and very little financial flexibility to make significant changes.
Excluding cap holds, the Heat have 11 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due about $120 million. That puts Miami way above the $101.9 million salary cap and very close to the $123.7 million luxury tax line.
Unable to sign players into space because the Heat are capped out, they will have to rely on exceptions, minimum contracts, the power of Bird rights or even trades to fill out their roster.
The NBA starts a new fiscal year at 12 a.m. Sunday, which also signals the start of free agency and what once again will be a busy offseason. The Miami Heat may not be as big a player as usual this offseason because of roster and payroll limitations, but president Pat Riley still will be busy trying to find a way to upgrade his roster, however difficult that may be.
If you were not able to ask a question this time, send them along for future mailbags via Twitter to @tomdangelo44 and @Anthony_Chiang. You can also e-mail me at email@example.com.
From Thomas, Boca Raton: I noticed the Heat’s advertisement at the new Brightline station in Miami has a picture of Bam and not Whiteside. Can we read into this?
The Heat have done a great job teaming up with Brightline and marketing the MiamiCentral station, which is blocks from AmericanAirlines Arena. The grand opening last month certainly had a Heat theme with Udonis Haslem making an appearance – Haslem also has a personal stake with his company opening an Einstein Bros. Bagel and Starbucks in the station – and the unveiling of the mural, which is an ad for season tickets and reads: “CUT THROUGH TRAFFIC, FINISH AT THE RIM.”
On the left, to illustrate “cut through traffic,” the picture is of Goran Dragic driving to the basket. On the right, to depict the “finish at rim” portion of the slogan is Bam Adebayo – and not Hassan Whiteside – soaring high above the rim for a dunk.
Are the Heat sending a message? Probably not. Could they just be covering themselves in case of a trade? Or perhaps it just happened to be the best picture to fit the narrative of the ad.
Everybody, including Whiteside, knows the Heat are not happy with their $98 million center and although nothing has been confirmed by the Heat all signs point to Miami actively looking to trade the 29-year-old center this offseason, which will not be easy considering his contract that has two years and $52.5 million remaining, declining production and immaturity. As for Bam, the Heat are very encouraged by what they saw in his rookie season and whether Whiteside is moved or not, the Heat see him as their center of the future.
From Chris, Fort Lauderdale: I know Riley said nobody is untouchable but would the Heat really trade Josh Richardson?
Pat Riley and the Miami Heat are open for business and yes, everybody on the roster is in play. But obviously, some have a far greater chance of being traded than others. Richardson, 24, is coming off his best season in which he started in all 81 games that he played and he starts a team-friendly deal – four years, $42 million – this upcoming season. Sure, Richardson could be moved but it would have to be a blockbuster and net the Heat an All-Star in return. Miami will not add Richardson, a valuable wing player who also is among the best defenders in the league, just as a sweetener to dump a large contract without receiving anything of significance in return.
The All-Defensive first team is Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Philadelphia’s Robert Covington, Indiana’s Jrue Holiday, and Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday from New Orleans.
The All-Defensive second team is Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Golden State’s Draymond Green, Boston’s Al Horford, San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler.
Richardson received three first-team votes, but still finished behind Houston’s Chris Paul, Oklahoma City’s Paul George, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson among those who did not make a team but did receive votes.
The 6-foot-6 Richardson seemed disappointed by the news that he missed the cut, tweeting a shoulder shrug and face palming emoji after the All-Defensive teams were revealed. And he has a point.
Among the 139 NBA players who played in at least 40 games and defended at least nine shots per game this past regular season, Richardson finished with the seventh-best opponent field-goal percentage at 41.6 percent behind only Jaylen Brown and Horford from Boston, Davis from New Orleans, Embiid and Ben Simmons from Philadelphia, and John Wall from Washington. Three of those players made an All-Defensive team — Horford, Davis and Embiid.
Richardson also tallied a team-high 2.6 deflections per game this past regular season, and recorded a team-high 121 steals while also blocking 75 shots (second-most on the team). He was the only player in the NBA to finish with at least that many steals and blocks.
“He’s All-NBA defense,” Spoelstra said of Richardson toward the end of the regular season. “Night in, night out he’s going to have three of the toughest covers in the game. … and he doesn’t even blink. And that’s the expectation and how he’s developed that potential. He’s become a very disciplined, dynamic defender, one that can really guard multiple positions in a totally different way.
“I think it’s a shame, I don’t think his name out there. I don’t think people recognize the kind of defender he is except for the teams that he plays against. I think they see it.”
When asked during the regular season if making an All-Defensive team is important to him, Richardson said: “I think it would be awesome, but I’m not going to be bent out of shape if I don’t. I know how those things go sometimes. I’m not too worried about it. I think I’m a top 10 defender in this league. I know in my own head.”
The last Heat player to earn the honor was in 2016, when center Hassan Whiteside was named to the second team.
Only six Heat players have made an All-Defensive team during the franchise’s 30 seasons: Alonzo Mourning, LeBron James, P.J. Brown, Bruce Bowen, Dwyane Wade and Whiteside. Mourning and James are the team’s only ever first-team selections.
The Minnesota Timberwolves advanced to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years after adding an All-Star in Jimmy Butler and a handful of other veterans to go along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
But despite topping .500 (47-35) for the first time since 2004-05, there are rumblings of uneasiness within the organization. Now it’s up to coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau to soothe over feelings and improve the roster after the Wolves lost in five games to the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
Most of the trade rumors center around 23-year old Andrew Wiggins, who was given a $146.5 million max extension last October that goes into effect this upcoming season. Now, the Wolves may be looking to get out from that deal and a trade is the only way.
Miami, as we know, has its share of bad deals but none are as long as Wiggins’, whose contract is for five years. He starts at more than $25 million next season and will be making more than $33 million in 2022-23.
But Wiggins, a 6-foot-8, small forward, never has been an All-Star and his production dipped sharply last season, going from 23.6 points per game on .452 shooting in 2016-17 to 17.7 points on .438 shooting. Now, Minnesota may be looking to unload him.
Like the Heat, the Timberwolves are capped out, so are they looking to create space or get equal value in return? This is the same question being asked of the Heat when it comes to Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson, two players who will account for $44.6 million next season.
The Heat would have some leverage because they’d be assuming a lot more in total salary if they were to acquire Wiggins and either Whiteside (two years remaining at $52.5 million) or Johnson (two years remaining at $38.5 million) were part of a deal.
But Miami must decide what else they would be willing to give up – the Wolves would ask for much more, including Josh Richardson, in the deal – and if they believe Wiggins is that ‘transformative’ player Pat Riley has referenced, and one worth paying nearly $150 million for five years.
Wiggins was the first overall pick in 2014 by the Cavaliers and then was traded by LeBron James to Minnesota for Kevin Love. In four years he is averaging 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
Wiggins is among the worst defensive players in the league, which could give the Heat some pause, although he did improve last season. Players Wiggins was guarding shot 46.3 percent against him last season after a dreadful 2016-17 in which those same players made 49.4 percent of their shots.
Wiggins’ name is not the only one to come up when it comes to Minnesota. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported Towns is not happy, which has spurred trade speculation involving the 7-foot center.
Towns, 22, was the first overall pick in 2015, the same draft in which the Heat selected Justise Winslow with the 10th overall pick. He was an All-Star for the first time this past season, averaging 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds. Moving such a valuable player appears a longshot and especially to Miami. The Heat, though, certainly would love to put together a package of Whiteside and a couple of their young players – Minnesota probably would start with Bam Adebayo and Richardson. And the Heat probably would have to take back a bad contract or two to make the deal work.
The problem is there would be a long line of suiters. Two off the top could be the Celtics and Suns. Boston could offer a package centering around Jaylen Brown and a first-round pick next year – they own Sacramento’s, their own and possibley two more – for Towns. The media in Phoenix is proposing the Suns get involved by offering the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. Moving to Phoenix would then reunite Towns with his former Kentucky teammate, and friend, Devin Booker.
Towns, too, can be a defensive liability and was a big reason Minnesota was tied for 22nd last season with a 108.4 defensive rating. Still, for one of the better offensive centers in the league and one who can stretch the floor – he attempted 285 threes last season making 42.1 percent – his contract is very friendly. He will make $7.8 million next season and $19.6 million in 2019-20 before becoming a restricted free agent.
If you weren’t able to ask a question this time, send your questions for future mailbags via Twitter (@Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44). You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ajith, Miami: The Heat are capped out, have a bunch of bad contracts and don’t have a draft pick. How does anybody expect Miami to improve this summer?
Anthony Chiang:It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure. But don’t ever count out the Heat, especially with Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg working to improve the roster behind the scenes. The fact is they are facing some big obstacles, though. Miami has 11 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due $120 million. That puts the Heat way above the projected $101 million salary cap and very close to the projected $123 million luxury tax line. This does not include re-signing Wayne Ellington or bringing back Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, a sequence of moves that will put the Heat over the tax line if other salary can’t be shed. With all of that being said, the only way Miami can really improve its roster this offseason is through trades. Without cap space, the free agency path is out. Without a pick, the draft path is out. That leaves the Heat looking to make a deal. What attractive assets does Miami have to include in a deal? Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic and a 2019 first-round pick are the Heat’s top trade assets entering the summer. The question is, will that be enough to land an All-Star caliber player or will these assets just be used as sweeteners to dumb a few of their bad contracts?
@mcLoveHer: Can Phoenix trade our pick back to us?
Anthony Chiang: Nice try. The Heat currently don’t have a pick in this year’s June 21 draft. Miami’s 2018 first-round selection belongs to the Suns — the first of two first-round picks owed from the 2015 acquisition of Dragic. The Heat also still owe the Suns an unprotected 2021 first-round pick to complete that transaction. The good news is the 2021 first-round pick is now the only future first-round selection the Heat have committed elsewhere.
Outside of whether Pat Riley can move Hassan Whiteside, perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Miami Heat entering the offseason is if they have a chance to acquire Kawhi Leonard, if the Spurs decide it’s time to trade the 6-foot-7 forward.
Leonard and the Spurs have been in a bizarre standoff most of the season over a quad injury with coach Gregg Popovich having given up on Leonard playing by the end of the season.
All of which has led to speculation that San Antonio is ready to move on from the 26-year-old who has twice been named All-NBA first team and Defensive Player of the Year.
If the situation is irreparable, and the Spurs put Leonard on the market, can the Heat get in the conversation?
One Las Vegas book does not think so. In fact, the Heat aren’t even on their board.
Bovada still has San Antonio at the top of the list of teams Leonard could be on when next season starts. But if Leonard is moved eight teams appear on the board with the best odds going to Philadelphia and the longest to Charlotte and Milwaukee.
Here is the list:
San Antonio Spurs: 5/8:
Philadelphia 76ers: 9/2:
Los Angeles Lakers: 13/2:
Los Angeles Clippers: 7/1:
Boston Celtics: 11/1:
Cleveland Cavaliers: 12/1:
New York Knicks: 14/1:
Charlotte Hornets: 15/1:
Milwaukee Bucks: 15/1:
The Heat’s issue is most of the teams mentioned have young, budding talent or a perennial All-Star or an attractive draft choice to offer the Spurs. With Riley saying that nobody is untouchable this summer, the Heat might be able to get into the game by offering a combination of their top young players – Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow – or perhaps all three, along with their 2019 first-round pick. But that still probably isn’t enough.
If the Spurs trade Leonard, it has been reported they prefer it would not be to a Western Conference team. But that only knocks out the Lakers and Clippers.
Leonard, who is owed $21 million next season and $21.3 million in 2019-20, played nine games last season because of a mysterious quad injury that Leonard’s camp is saying is a contusion and not a long-term issue.