With the NBA trade deadline approaching – it’ll be here Feb. 23 – you’ll begin to hear players’ names being thrown around like damp towels into laundry baskets.
Especially now, since just about every team is off for the NBA’s All-Star break.
Miami has done fairly well for itself since the calendar turned over to 2017. Heat hysteria was at a fever pitch as the team ripped off 13 straight victories and was arguably the league’s hottest team for about a month.
Well, the streak has been snapped.
Since Feb. 10’s win over hapless Brooklyn, Miami has lost two of its last three games.
Even still, Miami sits just two games out of the eight seed in the Eastern Conference. The Heat’s 15-8 record since January should garner some applause – considering the way things appeared to be heading – but it should also make Pat Riley want to tweak the roster and try to push for a playoff spot.
What should Riley do?
[Cue TV dream sequence harp]
It has been made public that the Denver Nuggets are looking to move either Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler before the trade deadline.
Nuggets head coach Mike Malone tried to quell the noise of trade rumors, but I’m sure Chandler can be had for the right deal.
And that’s where the Heat come in.
In this deal, Miami swoops in and plucks Chandler and rookie big Juancho Hernangomez from Denver while sending back Luke Babbitt and his expiring contract, journeyman Josh McRoberts and versatile forward James Johnson.
Johnson is the key piece of this deal. Not only is he playing, arguably, the best basketball of his career – he also carries an expiring contract.
By moving Johnson, Miami strikes while the iron is at the hottest point it is going to get to and brings in a player in Chandler that has more overall upside.
Chandler has three years left on his current deal and would represent an $11 million cap hit in each of those years – but he is solidly a better player than Johnson and would fit into Miami’s plans in both the short term and long term – meaning Miami shouldn’t balk at having to eat a few more cap dollars.
Comparing the two, Johnson is an inch taller and has about 25 pounds on Chandler. But Chandler is a more fluid player who fits that “3 and D” – three-point shooting and perimeter defense – category that teams covet these days.
Also, Chandler has been the more consistent player of the span of their careers. Prior to this season, Johnson has averaged just 7.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while Chandler has averaged 14 points and 5.4 rebounds in his eight years.
Granted, Chandler has been given more minutes and opportunities to play than Johnson has – but that plays into the fact that Chandler is an overall better player.
The only knock on Chandler is his injury history. He missed large amounts of time during his first two seasons in Denver (2011-2013) with multiple hip injuries – requiring surgery.
He has responded well enough, though, and has been largely present in the Nuggets’ lineup since.
Miami could start Chandler at the 4-spot, in between Hassan Whiteside and Rodney McGruder, in the frontcourt; and he would provide more floor spacing and create mismatches with a lot of opposing power forwards around the league.
This is a smart move financially for Miami, too.
Because Johnson is averaging career-bests in essentially every category with Miami, once he hits the free agent market in a few months – he’s going to want more than the $4 million he’s receiving this year.
Moving Johnson now means Riley won’t have to point one of his ring-covered fingers towards the door if – or when – Johnson wants more cash to re-sign.
And quite frankly, any significant deal probably won’t get done without him being included.
The rest of the deal is essentially fodder.
Jettisoning McRoberts is no big deal – at all.
Spoiler alert, he is in 134 percent of the imaginary deals that we will discuss in this series.
“McBob” has only appeared in 24 games this season and is averaging a mere 4.9 points and 3.4 rebounds – both slightly below his career averages – in 17 minutes of action a night.
Losing Babbitt would be no big deal, either. While he has appeared in Miami’s starting lineup 33 times so far this year, you will not hear any fans saying, “I wish they would’ve kept Babbitt”.
Hernangomez is a 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward and he fits the mold of today’s prototypical international player – skilled, fairly versatile, but still needing some NBA seasoning before he becomes an impact player on a nightly basis.
He is a younger and more skilled version of Babbitt, with more potential too.
Getting rid of Babbitt and McRoberts, who rarely make any significant contributions, to bring in a younger and higher ceiling player like Hernangomez bolsters Miami’s long-term goals.