Heat Check: How the Miami Heat Have Reloaded for a Potential Playoff Run in 2015
The Warm Up:
Fans of the Miami Heat were in one of the most stressful free agency situations possible at the start of the 2015 offseason. A high profile free agent, two actually in Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade, were both set to become free agents after declining their player options for the 2016 season. Losing a good player from your team is a lot more frightening than the prospect of trying to sign one from another team, as fans of the Blazers, Grizzlies, and Clippers can all attest to this offseason. Similarly to two of those three teams (sorry Portland), Miami was fortunate enough to retain their top free agents, as Dragic and Wade both signed deals in July. Along with these two key re-signings, Pat Riley managed to salvage significant bench pieces on cap-friendly deals to construct a roster that is very close to complete.
What They Got:
Goran Dragic – 5 years, $86 million
The Heat front office let out a collective sigh of relief when this deal was inked, as they avoided being left with a giant egg on their face. Riley gave up two first rounders for Dragic last year, as the Heat were sitting in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, and primed to make a push for a higher seed. Then the season took a turn for the worse as Bosh went down with blood clots, and the team fell out of playoff contention. Thankfully, Dragic decided not to walk and make Riley look silly for giving up two draft picks only to miss the playoffs. In Dragic, the Heat get a dynamic and efficient scorer who excels at getting to the rim, where he takes more than 40% of his shots. He had shot a remarkable 50.1% from the field, highest among all point guards and wing players. While his natural position is running the point he can maneuver as a combo guard, and is a good but not great distributor. However, this can be masked with other playmaking guards on the floor like Wade or Mario Chalmers. While below average defensively, he plays at an excellent pace, and has the offensive tools to still be a quality starter for the duration of his contract.
This was also a financially sensible deal for the Heat, especially with the current state of the NBA. The salary cap is set to grow vastly next season, so you’re seeing a lot of players get max deals this year that aren’t necessarily max players, as next season the value of that deal is significantly less. An AAV of $17 million for a 29 year old guard who was recently named Third Team All-NBA is not a bargain, but not an overpay by any means. It looks even better when you compare the deal to Reggie Jackson’s with the Pistons, a worse player who got only $1 million less in AAV. Overall, this was a good deal that saved face with the front office, and locked up a valuable piece to a playoff run for multiple years.
Gerald Green – 1 year, $1.35 million
If you’re a fan of the Heat and the NBA dunk contest, you might have done a double take when you saw this signing. Green’s cupcake dunk is one of the coolest dunks that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. His feats of athleticism, including getting his ENTIRE HEAD over the rim have been long documented during his tenure in the league. However, Green garnered interest for Miami for his shooting stroke, and that will be his major role with the team. Not a special defender, Green is more of just a “3” guy than “3 and D”, but he uses his athleticism to contribute enough on the defensive side of the ball, and in finishing on the fast break (I will make a personal guarantee that he will have a top 10 highlight in which Wade lobs him an oop from beyond half court. Bookmark it.). He finishes very well around the rim, but won’t be asked to finish around the rim very often. Almost half of Green’s shots last year were from behind the arc, and that’s exactly what Miami will be needing him for. He doesn’t possess the spot-up shooting ability of Kyle Korver or Klay Thompson, but he can shoot well enough to make defenders think twice about sagging off to play help defense on a slashing Wade or Dragic. There’s not much to say financially, as this deal is only costing the team slightly upwards of a million dollars. Getting a significant bench option who could score double digits for a million dollars is a tremendous value pickup by Pat Riley.
Amar’e Stoudemire – 1 year, $1.5 million
Heat fans probably did a double take when they saw this signing too, only for completely different reasons. Stoudemire used to be an upper echelon player in his time with Phoenix, playing alongside 2-time MVP Steve Nash. However, his career started to derail when he went chased a huge contract all the way to New York to play for a Knicks team that has become one of the NBA’s biggest laughing stocks. After one All-Star season, injuries held him to short seasons for the next couple years, and Stoudemire and his contract became the butt of a joke. While unfortunate for S.T.A.T. (Standing Tall and Talented), it allowed him to slide under the radar and became a solid bench big man for a failing team, before filling the same role for the playoff mainstay Dallas Mavericks. While not garnering big minutes, he was a good bench scorer and managed to snag a few rebounds per game as well. In fact, Stoudemire has not had a season in which he’s played more than 40 games that he’s scored less than 10 points per game. He’s limited to a bench role, and fits the mold of the other Heat signings as an average defender, but he’s a very capable post scorer and a good weapon to have off the bench. I will never argue that Stoudemire was worth his contract with the Knicks, because even if he was a valuable bench player, he was nowhere near worth $20 million a year. But, like Gerald Green, he is an absolute steal for literally the minimum amount they could sign him for (due to NBA service time), given the type of impact he can have off of the bench.
Dwyane Wade – 1 year, $20 million
Last but not least, the hometown hero. This isn’t the Timberwolves trading for an aging Kevin Garnett to bring in a crowd to see an otherwise bad team. This is a feel-good move for the fans that doubles as a smart basketball move for the team. It doesn’t take countless hours of watching film to tell that Wade isn’t the same player athletically that he used to be. However, he turned his game around to suit his strengths, shooting a career low percentage of shots at the rim, and focusing more on his improved mid-range game. These changes didn’t slow Wade down much as he notched his 10th career 20+ point-per-game season, while landing in the top 20 in Player Efficiency Rating. He also sees a huge amount of time with the ball in his hands, as he finished second in the league in usage percentage, and would have most likely been first if Russel Westbrook wasn’t forced to play without Kevin Durant. On the financial side, Wade’s deal being limited to one year shows one thing in particular: The Heat are ready to make a big splash in the 2016 offseason. The marquee options for next year are Brad Beal, Andre Drummond (both restricted free agents and unlikely to leave), Mike Conley (no spot thanks to Dragic), and Durant. The Heat are poised to have a lot of money to throw at Durant, since more than half of their current roster will be free agents after this upcoming season. One of those upcoming free agents, Hassan Whiteside, will almost certainly command a huge contract, and will probably receive it from the Heat. By signing Wade to a single-year deal, the Heat are setting themselves up to keep Whiteside and to jump into what will likely be one of the craziest free agent pursuits in NBA history.
What They Need:
For a team that has the 10th overall pick in the most recent draft, the Miami Heat roster has very few holes in it. You can look at every position and make an argument that there are at least two serviceable players. The one thing that the Heat desperately need however, and I’ve been pushing this since free agency started, is a good 3-point shooter. The Heat took a step in the right direction with Gerald Green, but he isn’t an elite shooter, and having only one legit threat from behind the arc simply isn’t enough. Look at the last three teams to win the Finals, the Warriors, Spurs, and LeBron era Heat. Each of those teams had multiple significant role players (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Danny Green therefore excluded) that could open the floor up for slashers. Guys like Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller all lured defenders away from the rim, creating extra space for other players. This is especially important when you realize that Dragic, Wade, Justise Winslow, and Luol Deng all make a living off of getting to the basket. Shooters are a hot commodity in today’s game, and adding another one to play a small amount of minutes off the bench is something that would only benefit the Heat.
Out of all the options remaining in free agency, there are three that stand out to me. One that would be cost friendly but only provide a small contribution, a trade for a young player who would give them shooting but not cost very much, or another that would surely put the Heat in the luxury tax, but give them a dynamic sixth man.
A familiar face as Wright is a former Heat draftee. He’s made his money off the 3-pointer in his last 4 seasons, taking more than 55% of his shots from behind the line each year. He’s not flashy, but he’s a guy with a consistent stroke that won’t hurt you on the defensive side of the ball. He has limited upside, but there’s a definite value to guys that know their role and can play that role well, and since he is likely to be available at a reasonable price, Wright is a good fit for one of the Heat’s final roster spots.
While he may not be available, Covington presents a very enticing trade target that Riley should definitely explore with the Philadelphia 76ers. Still only 24, Covington played well in his first full season, averaging 13.5 points per game on a team without many offensive weapons to help him out. The real draw, however, is his 3-point shooting, in which he shot 37.5%, a solid mark especially considering almost 60% of his attempts were from deep. Only due a little more than $1 million per year over the next 3 years, Covington presents a great value for his level of production, coupled with multiple years of team control. While the asking price is sure to start with at least a first round pick, it may very well be worth it for a young, cost-controllable asset that could develop into a dangerous sixth man.
Highly unlikely, but man would it be fun. Even casual fans of the NBA know of Smith, who thinks open shots are “boring”, but it all comes down to one thing: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He has his boneheaded moments from time to time but he makes up for it by being an electric scorer off the bench, and is one of the only bench players in the league that can step on the court and change the game completely (admittedly positively or negatively). He’d probably be too expensive for the Heat’s taste, and he may end up back in Cleveland, but you’re lying to yourself if you say a part of you wouldn’t secretly like to see JR in a Heat uniform.
While the Heat could definitely use another shooter off the bench, it is becoming pretty clear that their offseason is winding down. The team lies about $3 million short of the luxury tax limit, and NBA owners are quick to avoid that tax like overbearing aunts at a family reunion. While that still is a fair amount of money to spend on a low level player, the talent pool in that price range is quickly dwindling, and Riley may be better suited to just hold his money for his huge 2016 run at bringing back Whiteside and luring in Durant. This shouldn’t take away from what the Heat have done this offseason, as they made all the right moves. They brought back their core pieces in Dragic and Wade, while adding veteran role players that can definitely contribute at a milder level on league minimum deals. Anytime you can bring in a player that will realistically help your team for the minimum, it’s a positive deal. It will be interesting to see how the new guys gel with the team (including Dragic to a degree, who still hasn’t played with Bosh), especially since Amar’e is used to making 10 times his current salary, and bathing in red wine. Even if they don’t make any moves for the rest of the offseason, the Heat took the right steps towards building a complete roster top to bottom that could contend for a high seed in the Eastern Conference.