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Plan B Defined

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There is no great Plan B for the Miami Heat. If they can’t maneuver to get a marquee free agent to join Dwyane Wade this summer, Wade will likely bolt for the Chicago Bulls and the power balance of the Eastern Conference will shift even further away from South Florida.

A title-contending team needs a future hall-of-fame talent through whom to run its offense. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s LeBron James. For the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s Kobe Bryant. For the Heat, it’s Wade. If Wade doesn’t re-sign, there’s simply no way to build a winner. It’d be a tear-down rebuild that could take a decade from which to recover.

But if we pretend Wade loves the Heat to such an extent that he’d consider a Plan B scenario, what would it look like?

James is the clear prize of a loaded free agent market. Chris Bosh is second. Both would be ideal. One would probably be enough to keep Wade happy. Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer are the only other possibilities around which a compelling storyline can be crafted. But if the Heat should strike out on all these names, however unlikely that may be, there may still be a path to future success.

The free agent market is considerably lacking in depth if the Heat strikes out on the headline names. In order to present him with a remotely compelling offer, the Heat would need to ferociously attack the trade market.

The good news is that the Heat has considerable assets with which to deal. To start the summer, the Heat will have eight first round draft picks over the next seven years – including a protected first round pick acquired from the Toronto Raptors in Shawn Marion-Jermaine O’Neal swap on February 13, 2009 – and a nearly full complement of second round picks. They’ll also have Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers to dangle, and the most cap room in the entire N.B.A. – a valuable commodity for teams in salary cap hell and looking to shed valuable contracts.

How do you build a championship roster?

You start with your superstar wing player, and you give him the space he needs to operate. Floor-spacing, both vertical and horizontal, is everything. That requires an athletic interior presence down low, and a bunch of multi-dimensional shooters. 

Here’s who I’d go after. I’ll start big, and get smaller from there.

Center: Tyson Chandler (Trade with Charlotte Bobcats)

Chandler has a $12.6 million expiring contract which the cash-strapped Charlotte Bobcats will be looking to shed for nearly nothing in return.

What’s happened to Chandler is rather inexplicable. The agile and energetic defensive stalwart, who New Orleans obtained in a trade with the Chicago Bulls before the 2006-07 season, was one of the key players in the Hornets’ run to the semifinals of the Western Conference playoffs in 2007-08, repeatedly teaming with point guard Chris Paul on spectacular alley-oop dunks. He’s never been much of a low post threat, but he utilizes his supreme athleticism and soft hands to swat away opposition shot attempts, snatch rebounds out of the air, and finish anything he gets his hands on with an ultra-high percentage look.

The Hornets were widely projected as a dark-horse title contender the following season, but Chandler endured a variety of injuries that limited his time and impact on the court. With a burdensome payroll, New Orleans eventually put him on the trade block, where he stayed for nearly six months before finding a taker in the Charlotte Bobcats, in a trade for Emeka Okafor that was reviled by mainstream analysts.

His lone season with the Bobcats completely justified the naysayers. Chandler played in just 51 games in 2009-10 and started only 27. Toward the second half of the season, astonishing as it may seem, he was actually coming off the bench behind Nazr Mohammed and Theo Ratliff. His offense went dormant without Paul feeding him alley-oops. His total rebounding and blocking percentages were also some of his career worsts.

Chandler’s stock has never been lower. He is rumored to be available in trade for little else than cap relief. The Heat can provide it. It’d be veritable theft. Chandler is still just 27 years old, and still an All-Star caliber center when healthy, one who would thrive alongside a player with Wade’s playmaking capabilities, as he had during the best years of his career in New Orleans. He is now finally reported to be fully healthy.

Power Forward: Ryan Anderson (Trade with Orlando Magic)

Andersen could be the most under-appreciated player in the entire N.B.A. He’s young, drafted No. 21 overall by the New Jersey Nets in 2008, but supremely skilled. He was included as an afterthought in the trade that sent him and Vince Carter to the Orlando Magic less than a year later. He played fewer than 15 minutes per game last season in Orlando. But those minutes were eye-opening.

People don’t seem to understand what a devastating offensive player Anderson is because he doesn’t have the ball in his hands much. He’s basically a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki, in that he generates lots of points with a remarkably low cost in empty trips, thereby leaving lots of other possessions for his teammates to score, too. He’s an aggressive stretch-four with a quick trigger and a deadly 3-pointer off the catch.

He’s a bit like the high OBP guy in baseball that way. Anderson averaged more than a point every two minutes, which is great, but the amazing part is he did it with a true shooting percentage of 57.4%; that’s better than any of Wade’s last three seasons. He also throws in elite offensive rebounding as a bonus.

Stretch-4s will become increasingly valuable over the next few years, as the league adopts an MLB-like cybermetric approach to studying the game and begins to recognize the irreplaceable value of volume three-point shooters with accuracy. Andersen is the best stretch-4 in the game.

His lack of defensive prowess has caused his value to plummet. If one thing stands out from him, it is his inability to defend pick and rolls with effectiveness. He doesn’t have the necessary lateral quickness to recover in time after he shows on the pick and roll. As such, Anderson is a step slow many times. His lack of athleticism hinders him than more than anything else.

Despite his limitations, as a low-cost option for the next two seasons, after which he will become a restricted free agent, he won’t necessarily be easy to pry away from the 59-win Magic. But the Heat have the assets with which to put forth an attractive offer. Perhaps a package that features Beasley for a team that could use an upgrade at the power forward position and a combination of draft picks would cause the Magic to engage in discussions.

Small Forward: Paul George (Trade with Indiana Pacers)

If Anderson is the most under-appreciated player in the N.B.A. then George is the most underrated prospect. Just as soon as he was drafted by the Indiana Pacers with the No. 10 pick in the June draft was he implicated in possible trade rumors. Many see him as the next Danny Granger. The problem is, the Pacers already have a Danny Granger on the team.

George was a late bloomer. He was not heavily recruited out of high school, and has never been in discussions about top players; but he burst onto the draft scene after two stellar seasons at Fresno State. He still doesn’t have the cache of a Gordon Hayward, who led his team to that incredible NCAA tournament run that fell one half court heave away from the ultimate goal, but he’s the better pro prospect. His game oozes solid play and big potential in just about every capacity.

At 6’9”, the 20-year-old is a long, smooth wing with natural scoring instincts. He is an elite level athlete, possessing terrific quickness and tremendous leaping ability, which makes him dynamic in transition and a strong finisher at the rim in the half court set. Yet although this athleticism would make him seem like a candidate to try and dunk the ball at all costs, George’s game is predicated on his jump shot. It has unlimited range, and his sheer size, coupled with the elevation he gets, allows him to get it off whenever he pleases. Big wings who can shoot never go out of style and are far more rare than this center-obsessed league seems to realize.

The most impressive part of his pro game potential, however, may very well be his defense – something he rarely showed at Fresno State. His outstanding size, length, lateral quickness and instincts give him the potential to develop into an elite wing defender. He can defend up to three positions at the N.B.A. level, and is fully capable of impacting a game on that end. He rebounds, blocks, steals and he provides solid off-the-ball defense; you name it, he’s got it.

The rights to high draft picks are almost never traded so quickly after the draft and the impetus that would cause the Pacers to do so, the search for a point guard, is not a particular area of strength for the Heat. Perhaps a package that features a couple of first round draft picks, an assortment of second round picks, and up to $3 million on cash would cause the Pacers to engage in discussions.

Point Guard: Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)

Paul has publicly voiced his displeasure with the Hornets.

With trade speculation swirling around him, Paul has said that he’s open to a trade if the Hornets aren’t committed to winning championships.

Around the league, speculation remains that the Hornets may move Paul. With owner George Shinn’s proposed sale to Gary Chouest being delayed for financial reasons, opposing executives believe New Orleans may have to trade Paul and the $50 million owed to him over the next three seasons.

Hornets general manager Jeff Bower denied that the club was shopping its three-time All-Star point guard, but admitted to having dialogue with other teams concerning “all of our players.”

While any demands to be traded to any specific team carry no actual weight, Paul would presumably welcome a trade to the Heat.

“I’m friends with D-Wade, LeBron, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and all these other free agents,” said Paul.

But the special bond he has with what would be another Heat player – Tyson Chandler – would provide the greater impetus, a player with whom he badly wants to reunite after their time together with the Hornets. Paul and Chandler became close friends during their time in New Orleans, and their on-court synergy helped push the team to the Western Conference semifinals in 2007-08 before it lost in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs.

It was that special bond between the two on one of the game’s most fan-satisfying plays, the lob pass and slam, that endeared the duo to New Orleans basketball enthusiasts and helped create a national identity for the players and the team simultaneously.

But like most teams, the Heat can’t give the Hornets anything close to equal value for Paul, who missed 25 games last season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee. That prevented him from making the All-N.B.A. team for the third straight season. He has two years left on his deal, at around $30 million, with a player option for a third. Perhaps a package that features as many as the three remaining first round draft picks that would be available in trade, an assortment of second round picks, up to $3 million in cash, and the ability to swallow a bad contract (e.g., Darius Songalia) to ease the team’s financial burden would cause the Hornets to engage in discussions.

Deron Williams (Utah Jazz) is another point guard similarly unhappy, for whom the Heat could engage in potential trade discussions with a similar package of assets to offer.

***

So there you go:

PG – Chris Paul, Mario Chalmers
SG – Dwyane Wade, Raja Bell
SF – Paul George, James Jones
PF – Ryan Andersen, Darius Songalia
C – Tyson Chandler, Joel Anthony

Are any of these trades realistic? Probably not.

But such a structure is an option, perhaps the best option, that would allow the Heat to rebound from a worst case summer and still build a winner. It capitalizes on the possible undervaluation of several key assets, and works within the confines of the currently projected $56.1 million salary cap.

Continued patience is critical. Some trades may happen during the summer. Others may be more likely at the February trade deadline. Still others a year from now.

  1. Jon
    July 6th, 2010 at 13:57 | #1

    Love the concept of holding out for Chris Paul, but disagree about Tyson Chandler (huge injury risk), Ryan Andersen (huge defensive liability) and Paul George (don’t really love him). I tend to like the sure thing.

    PG – Raymond Felton, Carlo Arroyo, Mario Chalmers
    SG – Dwyane Wade, Raja Bell
    SF – Mike Miller
    PF – Carlos Boozer, Udonis Haslem, Jarvis Varnado
    C – Brendan Haywood, Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman

    While that team doesn’t look as sexy as a team with Bosh or LeBron, it is very solid all around.

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