Memory Lane Revisited
It was July 2007.
Just fifteen months prior, the Heat had secured its first championship in franchise history, backed by the scintillating playoff performance of superstar Dwyane Wade. The Heat was flying high. Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton both quickly agreed to re-sign, wanting to win another title. During the championship parade in Miami, Shaquille O’Neal guaranteed it.
Then came the awful 2006/07 campaign. Shaq lost his last little bit of youth. Gary Payton was benched for poor performance. James Posey and Antoine Walker were deactivated after failing body mass exams. And the Heat was relegated to mediocrity. Miami became the first defending champion since 1957 to get swept in the first round in the following season, losing at the hands of the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat was looking to rebuild.
The priority was point guard, largely because the Heat had concerns about the health of incumbent starter Jason Williams – who had battled several injuries during his two seasons in Miami.
The primary target: Mo Williams.
Williams was the second-most-coveted point guard on the market, after the Pistons’ Chauncey Billups. In Williams, Riley saw a young point guard who did not need the ball in his hands, one willing to spot up for jumpers and help space the floor for a Wade/O’Neal tandem. The addition was speculated to vault the Heat back into title contention.
The desire was mutual. In his player biography, Williams listed Miami as his favorite NBA city.
The problem, of course, was money.
Williams was seeking a deal that would earn him similar money to what other starting point guards were making, but with money tight on the summer’s free agent market, his leverage was limited. Miami could only offer Williams, who averaged career-bests of 17.3 points and 6.1 assists with the Bucks the season prior, the mid-level exception of $5.3 million, which meant the most he could earn in a five-year deal with the Heat was $31.1 million. The Bucks, however, could offer substantially more, and were already believed to have made an offer in the $40 million range.
Riley put on the full-court press anyway, flying Williams down to Miami for a weekend recruiting session.
Bucks general manager Larry Harris was terrified over the possibility of losing his star point guard. “I thought that when he went to Miami, it would be a one-way ticket. And that was the thing that concerned me, because I know that Pat can sell it.”
When the weekend was over, Harris upped his offer to Williams to $52 million over six seasons. Ultimately, a $20 million pay cut proved a bit too severe, even if it meant losing an opportunity to run alongside Wade.
Williams went on to insist he didn’t really want the full free-agent schmoozing experience, insisting that he always wanted to stay with the Bucks and that his trip to Miami was nothing more than a “mini-vacation.”
Riley responded hastily to the loss, making a flurry of bad decisions which would cripple the organization for years. A starting lineup that would have otherwise featured Williams, Wade, Posey, Haslem and O’Neal went up in smoke.
The Heat picked up point guard Smush Parker in free agency and signed him to an ill-fated 3-year deal. Due to a physical altercation with a female parking attendant over a $12.00 parking fee at a condo in Miami, the Heat put him on paid leave. He was eventually waived.
Penny Hardaway was then added to the roster. He was later waived.
Miami then lost Jason Kapono, James Posey and Eddie Jones in free agency because of payroll concerns.
Less than a week before the season started, Riley completed a 5-player trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, swapping Antoine Walker, Wayne Simien, Michael Doleac and a conditional 1st round pick for Ricky Davis and Mark Blount.
In Febraury, the Heat agreed to trade an unhappy and unproductive Shaq to the Suns.
The Heat went on to tie its worst record in team history, at 15-67.
And the rest is history.
But now that history may have come full circle. According to several league sources, the Cavs are testing the trade market for Williams. It is part of what appears to be an effort to tweak the entire backcourt, with Delonte West also on the trade block.
Williams has been the best scoring guard LeBron James has played with in his career. Because he can play both off the ball and with the ball effectively, he has proven to be an excellent fit with James, who usually has the ball in his hands. Similar logic could certainly be applied here in Miami.
The problem, again, is money.
Williams has three years and $26.3 million left on his contract, which includes a hefty $9.3 million next season. Had he accepted his original Heat offer, Williams would be about to make a more reasonable $6.6 million. However, in an uncommon circumstance, his deal actually reduces in annual salary to $8.5 million after 2010/11.
Of course, the Heat has nothing of value to offer in exchange for the former All-Star anyway.