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Tom Bogert, CBS Local Sports
Much has been written on front office savant Pat Riley and the Miami Heat since Dwayne Wade went, grudgingly, to Chicago and a lot of it has been the same. Riley has no time for sentiment, sorry Dwayne, he doesn’t rebuild, he reloads, nobody on the roster is safe, plus he was born before World War II had been concluded thus he’s not going to want to wait around to construct his roster organically as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers are in (Trust) The Process of doing.
Riley’s clout is rarely questioned, as it shouldn’t be. There were some whispers about the notion that he’s past it at this age this summer simply by the fact that he didn’t sign Kevin Durant. Take a step back from that: the best haymaker to be thrown at his teflon aura was the fact that, just for this season, he was unable to sign the one player that literally every single team would’ve attempted to sign if Durant ever looked in their direction.
Unfortunately all of those words may have been for naught and the fate of the Heat may be outside of Riley’s wrinkly hands as, especially with the Justise Winslow injury, it’s difficult to see the way out of the bottom anytime soon, even if you squint really hard.
As recent as just a few months ago most just assumed Riley would make it alright. Somehow, someway. Hell, they had Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic for the now with Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson for the future. Not that he was banking on the latter trio to morph into the Big Three Jr. (or even the Kind-Of-Big-With-The-Right-Camera-Angle Three), but they signified that he had assets ready to be redistributed. Even though he couldn’t trade their first round pick until after the draft, it was possible he’d be able to swing a deal mortgaging the future for the now and then he’d just figure the future out later as he always had.
With the current construct of the roster they weren’t meant to be good this year. But they certainly weren’t meant to be this bad. Even this summer Heats fans and fans of the league alike could’ve talked themselves into a reasonable scenario in which Demarcus Cousins (finally) was traded out of his toxic situation in Sacramento to more fertile ground in Miami for 30¢ on the dollar because that’s what Riley does.
You know what Riley can’t do, though? Dark magic. And that’s what he’d need to find a workable solution in the short term for his Heat.
If there wasn’t a rule in place to protect organizations from themselves, it’s more probable than not (thanks for the line, NFL legal team) that Riley would’ve already dealt his first round pick. And that first rounder is looking oh so sumptuous right about now with their bleak outlook and deep draft. The Heat currently have the second worst win percentage in the league and it doesn’t look too rosy for that to change much, nor would it be beneficial for the situation to improve. Even if the pick falls closer to #5 than #1, it still has immense value according to those who dedicate their profession to draft work.
Outside of that, though, Riley’s canvas is devoid of bright paint.
Goran Dragic naturally should be on the trading block. The 30 year old point guard was highly regarded when the Heat sent two first round picks to Phoenix to get him two years ago, but the league is laden with point guards so it’s difficult to see what team would value him enough to shower Riley with desirables.
It’d make little sense for any team outside of a realistic shot at serious playoff contention to deal for him, so that knocks at least half the league off the negotiation table. (Irrespective if some actually have a genuine chance, enough teams would be able to talk themselves into it.) The team with the easiest path for a trade, Boston, has no need for another point guard. Ditto for Toronto, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington and Milwaukee.
The San Antonio Spurs may well welcome someone like Dragic, but contracts would be difficult to work out as well as a valuable package for Riley to get back. Atlanta just dumped Kyle Korver and had Paul Millsap on the trade market signaling their thoughts about contending in LeBron James’ East.
A natural landing spot could be Sacramento because they’re desperately chasing the postseason and relevance, but their cupboard is bare. What is Willie Cauley-Stein worth? Ben McLemore? Not exactly players that’ll move the needle to where Riley wants it.
Winslow’s injury is particularly crippling because this was an integral year in his development. It was the organization and league’s chance to gauge his ability and project it over the next decade and a half. If he’d gotten off to a hot start then all of a sudden he’s a huge trade chip Riley could’ve dangled around or just a player to be built upon going forward.
But start hot he did not. He didn’t even start tepid, nor lukewarm. Not even kind of chilly, like where you’d be hesitant of putting your belly button under water. He was ice cold.
Before Winslow got hurt, he was aggressively putrescent on offense especially his outside shot. And that outside shot was the most important entity he could’ve improved on. Prior to that shoulder injury that’s ruled him out for the season, he was shooting 35% from the field and an abysmal 20% (!) from deep. Plausibly, the injury could be to blame for that but no one knows for sure, rendering his value lower than it’s ever been.
Lastly, Whiteside is providing problems all his own. He may be averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds, but someone has to for this team, and the advanced statistics are not kind to the big man. He’s designed to be a defensive anchor, has all the qualities, look and basic stats to be just that, but the Heat actually have better defensive ratings when he’s on the bench and it isn’t the smallest sample size. Whether it’s actually his fault for seemingly chasing blocks and rebounds as opposed to just playing sound, responsible defense, it being down to inferior teammates around him or the fact that when he’s not on the floor, neither are the other team’s starters, it’s startling.
This isn’t slander on Riley’s distinguished name nor is it blaming him. No one could’ve foreseen Chris Bosh’s harrowing medical condition that’s forced him to have played his last second in a Miami jersey, if any jersey at all. If Bosh was around, the nucleus of Bosh, Wade and Whiteside could’ve made some noise in the East. There’s a better chance that Wade is still on South Beach and maybe Winslow isn’t as exposed as he’s not required to help carry an offense.
The point is– right now there’s no clear path back anywhere near the heights of the LeBron, Wade and Bosh days, hell not even last season’s second round playoff exit. With Riley’s age, this might be his last hoorah and the end of an era.
Or, maybe Riley is fond of dark magic and can find light where only darkness exists. Who could you possibly rather have running this ship?