Why did the Heat give Josh Richardson a $42 million extension? Retaining and developing talent has become a priority

MIAMI — Pat Riley believes in the Heat’s young nucleus.

That core includes 28-year-old center Hassan Whiteside, 21-year-old forward Justise Winslow, 25-year-old guard Tyler Johnson and 23-year-old Josh Richardson. Developing this group is a big part of Miami’s plan moving forward.

“Give me four guys their age in the league, and let’s play a four-on-four game and I think we’d have a pretty competitive four,” Riley said in July.

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, left, fights through a pick as he guards Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

This thinking is one of the reasons the Heat feel Richardson, who turns 24 on Friday, is worth $42 million. Miami doesn’t own both of its picks in a draft until 2022 after trading away most of their upcoming selections, so retaining and developing talent has turned into a top priority for the organization.

And Richardson, who was drafted by the Heat with the 40th overall pick in 2015 out of Tennessee, is a talent that intrigues Miami enough that it decided to offer him a $42 million extension after just two NBA seasons.

The Heat and Richardson agreed to a four-year, $42 million extension this week that will start in 2018-19, according to a source. This extension, which has yet to be signed, is the maximum Miami was allowed to offer Richardson based on his tenure and contract status, and the deal includes a player option for the fourth year.

In giving Richardson the maximum extension this offseason, the Heat don’t have to worry about finding themselves in a bidding war next summer when he could have become a restricted free agent.

If Richardson continues on his current path, many believe he would have earned a bigger contract next offseason. To put the four-year, $42 million extension into perspective, Tim Hardaway Jr. signed a four-year, $71 million deal with the Knicks, Jrue Holiday signed a five-year, $126 million deal with the Pelicans, Kyle Korver signed a three-year, $22 million deal with the Cavaliers, and CJ Miles signed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Raptors in free agency this summer.

In comparison, Richardson — who will make $1.5 million this season before his extension kicks in — will be paid $9.3 million in the first year of his new deal in 2018-19. Whiteside ($25.4 million), Tyler Johnson ($19.2 million), Goran Dragic ($18.1 million), James Johnson ($14.7 million), Dion Waiters ($11.6 million) and Kelly Olynyk ($11.1 million) are all set to make more than Richardson in 2018-19.

The Heat hope they are getting the version of Richardson that ended last season with some of the best performances of his young NBA career. With Waiters injured, Richardson averaged 15 points, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks, and shot 53.1 percent from 3-point range over the final six games of the regular season.

But Richardson struggled to avoid injuries last season. A partially torn MCL in his right knee, a sprained ankle and a sprained left foot kept him out of 29 of the Heat’s first 57 games.

Defense and versatility is a consistent part of Richardson’s game, though.

Among NBA guards who defended at least 400 shots last season, Richardson was seventh-best as he limited the player he was guarding to 41 percent shooting (215 of 524). And Richardson has received minutes at point guard, shooting guard and small forward over the first two seasons of his NBA career, and is expected to compete with Rodney McGruder and Winslow for the starting small forward spot this year.

With Richardson, the Heat now have nine players under contract for the 2018-19 season that will cost them a total of about $115 million. The salary cap for the 2018-19 season is expected to be about $103 million, which puts Miami well above the cap.

But the Heat aren’t worried about that right now. They locked up another piece of their young nucleus at a reasonable price for the next five seasons.

Next up, Miami must make a decision on Winslow. The Heat have until the Oct. 18 regular-season opener against the Magic to decide on the $3.5 million 2018-19 option year on Winslow’s rookie-scale contract.

Based on the Heat’s current plan to retain and develop talent, the decision to keep Winslow at that price seems obvious. Now the question is, will Miami keep this young core together for the foreseeable future in hopes of becoming an Eastern Conference contender or will Miami flip a few of these young assets for a superstar that becomes available on the trade market down the road?

The Heat would probably be happy with either of these scenarios.

[Heat mailbag: Will playing this summer for national team affect Goran Dragic when camp starts?]

[A closer look at the bonuses that allowed the Miami Heat to keep Wayne Ellington this summer]

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