Smaller moves at trade deadline could make big difference.
Even if Heat don’t make big splash, smaller moves can help
MIAMI — Sometimes it’s not about the big splash at the NBA trading deadline, which is Thursday at 3 p.m. Sometimes it’s about setting up what comes next.
For the Miami Heat, there are three areas worth addressing in particular, even if not blockbuster in nature, if only because of the way such decisions could set up the future.
Acquire a 2021 first-round pick: Any 2021 first-round pick. The Heat’s 2021 unprotected selection currently is in the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, having acquired it on draft night last year from the Phoenix Suns. The pick was the second of the two the Heat sent to Phoenix in the 2015 trade for Goran Dragic.
No, this is not about getting that pick back, with the Heat likely lacking the resources for what could be a particularly valuable selection. That ship has sailed.
Rather, the Heat can unlock their future draft possibilities by simply getting back into the first round of the 2021 draft.
By rule, teams are not allowed to be without a first-round pick in successive future seasons. So, because the Heat currently lack a 2021 first-round pick, they are, by rule, ineligible to trade their 2020 or 2022 first-round selections.
However, the rule does not require a first-round selection to be your own in order to escape such limitations. So even if the Heat were to acquire what might be perceived as a worthless late-round 2021 selection from a contender, it then would increase draft flexibility going forward. The only caveat is such a firstround pick must stand without protections.
So if it’s Wayne Ellington or Rodney McGruder or whatever it takes for even a nominal 2021 first-rounder, it could go a long way in clarifying the long-range blueprint.
Come to a consensus with Goran
Dragic: So let’s see: The Heat thrive in December in Goran Dragic’s absence with Justise Winslow as primary ballhandler and Dragic comes to be viewed as superfluous. Then the going is not as smooth in January and perhaps the thinking changes.
All the while, Dragic holds a player option for $19 million for 2019-20, which yet might be bypassed for greater longterm money elsewhere.
So where do the Heat stand with Dragic? Which, of course, means where do they stand with Winslow as a point guard?
With Dragic seemingly recovering from his December knee surgery at the expected mid-February pace, there yet could be the possibility of a deal with a contender at the deadline. Or do the Heat perhaps see a way of Dragic invoking his option to become a free agent and then resigning for lesser money over a longer term?
In theory, much of that is a June/ July decision, based on Dragic’s option decision and Winslow’s play. But if there is outside interest Thursday, are the Heat in position to make a decisive declaration on Dragic’s future in real time?
Maten season: With a focus on the luxury tax, the Heat have been operating with a 14-player roster, one shy of the league maximum. And the trading deadline may yet sort out that situation if Ellington is moved and perhaps another cap tweak or two are made.
But the Heat would be wise to create a usable roster spot to convert G League breakout star Yante Maten from his two-way contract to a standard deal before season’s end. Such a move, which would require a standard roster spot, then could come with the Heat also locking in the undrafted forward out of Georgia into a multiyear deal, and having another developmental prospect in the pipeline as the James Johnson situation continues to go sideways.
Later in the season, if the tax situation becomes locked in, even doing the same with Duncan Robinson, the Heat’s other two-way player, would be prudent for future developmental-program stability.
Heat president Pat Riley will have some options at the trade deadline.