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What could have been, if only

Pat Riley had a plan. He executed upon it with deadly precision. He has put together what could very well be the best trio in NBA history. That’s the stuff of legends.

But even the legends make mistakes. And sometimes, they can prove costly.

Here are three bad decisions over the past nine months which never should have been made:

1. Picking up Daequan Cook’s Option.

It’s October 31, 2009. We are four days into the final season before the highly anticipated summer of 2010. Pat is deep within his strategy to maximize cap space, a strategy that had influenced nearly every decision he has made for nearly three years. He is now contemplating how to handle his latest two decisions – whether to pick up the 2010-11 options on Michael Beasley and Daequan Cook.

The choice on Beasley is obvious. Yes, he has been an underperformer. And yes, his $5.0 million salary would cut deeply into the Heat’s precious cap space. But Beasley has an undeniable trade value. He can always be moved in the offseason, if the need arises, in favor of the cap room. There’s simply no risk, therefore, in picking up the option. And if he goes on to have a breakout season, the range of possibilities for Riley in his attempt to build a championship roster in the offseason to come would increase exponentially.

The situation with Cook is completely different. Since winning the three-point shooting contest the year before, he has been completely non-existent. His career numbers are atrocious: 37.8 FG% and 36.7 3P FG%. His place in this league is tenuous at best. He will certainly never be a meaningful contributor for the Heat, not with Dwyane Wade ahead in the rotation. His option would count $2.2 million against the cap. He has negative trade value, so a mistake could prove costly. The choice is obvious, right? Wrong. In a decision that shocked everyone, even Cook himself, Riley chose to pick up his option – violating his own strategy to maximize cap space to make a run at three max contract free agents.

The Heat paid a steep price for the error. On June 23, Riley traded away the team’s 2010 first round draft pick — No.18 overall – to the Oklahoma City Thunder in order to rid himself of the Daequan Cook contract he had opted into just eight most earlier, and were returned the No. 32 pick in the second round.

The Thunder went on to trade Miami’s first round pick to the Clippers for a 2012 top-10 protected first round pick.

The Heat was apparently never destined to utilize its 2010 first round pick, choosing to conserve the cap space rather than seek out widely-recognized favorite for the pick Eric Bledsoe, who was available. And so, as it turns out, had Riley not picked up Cook’s option, he could have flipped the Heat’s No. 18 overall pick for a potential lottery pick in 2012. Or selected Bledsoe.

2. Not Trading Dorell Wright at the Trade Deadline.

It’s February 19, 2010. We’re less than five months away from the summer of 2010. Pat has another decision to make. The season is over in two months. It’s the trade deadline.

The Heat isn’t playing well. It doesn’t matter. It’s all about the offseason. The team is $2.8 million over the luxury tax threshold. Dorell Wright has a $2.9 million salary. Trading Dorell could save the Heat (i) the $1.2 million remaining to be paid on from his $2.9 million salary, (ii) a $2.8 million luxury tax bill, and (iii) an estimated $3.7 million luxury tax check distributed to all teams below the luxury tax threshold. That’s $7.7 million!

The Memphis Grizzlies reach out to the Heat. They are interested in acquiring Wright. They are offering a 2011 first round draft pick in return.

What do you do?

Dorell is the final year of his contract. He will become a free agent in the offseason no matter what decision Riley makes.

So… Is having Dorell Wright on the roster for the final 26 games of the season, for a team going nowhere while it awaits the offseason to come, worth $7.7 million and a first round draft pick?

Pat decided it was. Riley rejected the Grizzlies’ proposal. Memphis went on to acquire Ronnie Brewer from the Jazz in exchange for its 2011 first round pick.

The Heat was eliminated from the playoffs by the Celtics in the first round. Dorrell Wright is no longer part of the Heat’s future.

3. Sacrificing all those draft picks for LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

It’s July 10, 2010. The miracle has come true. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have all agreed to play for the Miami Heat. It’s time for Heat fans to celebrate. But not for Riley. He has a decision to make. The Big Three have committed. Now they need to be signed.

For Wade, it’s easy. The Heat holds his Bird rights. Riley can sign him whenever he wants.

For James and Bosh, it’s not as easy. Riley has two alternatives to offer each player:

  • A six-year contract with an average salary of $18 million: this alternative requires that Riley pursue a sign-and-trade for each player, with the not altogether rational Cavalier and Raptors organizations
  • A five-year contract with an average salary of $18 million: this alternative can be executed immediately

James and Bosh are both perhaps the best in the game at the positions they play. They are both still young. James will be 30 and Bosh 31 at the end of five years, both still in their primes. As long as each could earn at least $19 million in a new contract in year six, the five-year contract is more beneficial from a financial perspective. And no matter what the new CBA to come looks like, each will undoubtedly command a salary far greater than that.

Of course, there is more to consider than just the salaries of James and Bosh. The first alternative, while less attractive to the duo, allows the Heat to add both Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller to the mix. The second alternative requires the Heat to add only Miller. And that’s unfortunate.

But James and Bosh would each be making more money. And the Heat would have six – yes, six! – more draft picks to deploy over the next seven years. Among the six would be four first round draft picks, including a first rounder from the Raptors which is lottery protected from 2011 to 2014 and completely unprotected in 2015 – making it a potential No. 1 overall pick from in 2015 NBA Draft.

That’s not a bad way to start the 2015 offseason — with the potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft a week after the contracts of James and Bosh expire!

So the question needs to be asked: Is Udonis Haslem truly worth four first round draft picks and two second round draft picks over the next seven years?

***

Why does it matter?

The Heat now finds itself in the following situation from a draft pick perspective (picks acquired from other teams in parenthesis):

2011: No first round picks; one second round pick (Minnesota)
2012:
 One first round pick; one second round pick (Memphis; Top 55 protected)
2013:
 No first round pick; one second round pick
2014
: One first round pick; two second round picks (Minnesota)
2015
: No first round pick; one second round pick

This is the situation the Heat could have found itself in had different decisions been made in the three scenarios presented above (picks acquired from other teams in parenthesis):

2011: Three first round picks (Memphis and Toronto lottery-protected through 2014); two second round picks (Minnesota)
2012:
 Two first round picks (LA Clippers); two second round picks (Memphis; Top 55 protected)
2013:
 One first round pick; one second round pick
2014
: One first round pick; two second round picks (Minnesota)
2015
: One first round pick; one second round pick

That’s Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, eight first round draft picks, and eight second draft picks over the next five years.

If only!

Note: 
The math in regards to the contracts of LeBron James and Chris Bosh under a scenario where they were not signed-and-traded assumes the Heat would build out a contract for James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade that pay out identical average salaries over the first five years of their contracts (though Wade, because the Heat own his Bird rights, would be receiving a sixth year guarantee). 

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  1. Heat-Struck
    July 14th, 2010 at 17:08 | #1

    It’s all good… I can’t say anything negative about any member of the Heat organization right now. Family and Sacrifice! That’s what the Heat are about this season!

  2. miasports4life
    July 14th, 2010 at 17:14 | #2

    Ah well. Riley typically doesn’t like to play rookies anyway and has shown in the past that his draft picks don’t turn out too well.

  3. I agree
    July 14th, 2010 at 17:23 | #3

    I agree!!!!

    I still am baffled by why Riley gave up 2 first round picks to Torronto for a 2% contract increase per year in Bosh’s contract? In addition, securing a 6th year and in term, THEN, giving the player a cancellation right after year 4 may likely negate the extra 2 years…

    This was done with ALL three contract. Logic would dictate that you want to keep these superstar guys as long as possible and not give them an “out” after 4 years. We could possibly be the next “Cleveland” in 4 years. Can you imagine if Wade misses his sons in Chicago and decides to finally play for the Bulls in 4 years and takes Bosh with him???? or if Lebron gets star struck and decides to go to the Lakers/Clipers or even New York in 4 years???

    These guys are not exactly the most loyal people in the world. Who knows, maybe we will be “burning” some jerseys in 4 years and Cleveland will be laughing their arses off at us with our extra draft picks to boot….

    Go Heat…and get a new negotiator!!!!…….How about that Dolphins squirel, Jeff Ireland, always looking for “acorns”. So long as he doesn’t ask any players if their mothers are prostitutes, I guess should be okay.

    whoever is negotiating for the heat is frankly a moron.

  4. I agree
    July 14th, 2010 at 17:34 | #4

    Considering the Heat’s draft history, I do not think the dradft picks are the main concern.

    …giving the three kings…LOL… cancelation rights after 4 years is the greater issue.

    See comments above. We were a fraction away from being the Cleveland Cavs. Wade was seriously considering Chicago and only came back because Bosh wanted to play in Miami! If Bosh wants to play in Chicago, Wade would have likely joined him and lebron stays in Celevland or goes to the Nicks….more drama in 4 years……

    You will have the entire league starting with Cuban “pursuading” them to relocate in 4 years. Not to mentione fans, other players….etc.

    The “decision” Part2 in 4 years is likely.

    Why give them an out and not secure their services for the full 6 years, specialy since you gave up 6 draft picks for the extra year?

  5. Heat-Struck
    July 14th, 2010 at 18:17 | #5

    @I agree

    Get out of here with your non-sense. The players took the 4 year deal to make sure the organization is serious about putting pieces around them. If we win 4 championships in a row, and they leave, I will still be extremely happy with the total 5 Championships the Heat have.

  6. Mike
    July 14th, 2010 at 18:50 | #6

    Great great article

    I would add a couple of things

    James jones signing
    And drafting of beasley we knew most of free agents this year were pf,s if we ended up with almost anyone else in that draft class we would be doing a lot better

  7. vincent
    July 14th, 2010 at 20:25 | #7

    yeah Pat made some miscalculation

    but once wade and other accepted smaller contract
    In order for the Heat to sign Haslem and Miller

    Pat mistake was all erase

  8. I agree
    July 14th, 2010 at 20:42 | #8

    Heat Struck….you sound more like you are moon truck.

    Learn, Listen, Understand and perhaps you will not be burdened with the mind of a child for the rest of your life.

    Try to think for yourself for once and you will see how liberating it is to use what is between your ears for more than just a hat.

  9. lucas fb
    July 14th, 2010 at 21:33 | #9

    the opt out in 4years is the worst,for sure.

    lebron clearly only came here cause he couldnt beat wade,even more wade and bosh.
    so if the situation of miami heat as wade’s team first dont change,he obviously ll learn everything he can from wade(like being a killer,specially on playoffs. ll perfect his timing on blocks,and probably ll learn post moves with a much smaller guy).won titles at wade and boshes coust(cause tell me what u want,he would never won by himself,cause he s at least now, a big playoff choker)

    i mean,if he isnt completely the center of the atention in this or next year,he ll have his mind already for changing teams whenever he can!!!

    depending if bosh is more of a lebron friend or fan instead of wade.he ll go as well. in 4years lebron ll be 29,wade ll be 32,at that time he could be signing his last big contract.
    dont u think he ll choose the younger guy,or other young guy(durant) for that matter.

    and dont took oklahoma for granted,they ll be title contenders,and maybe by this next season already.(they got the best or close,center of draft,wich was their only real gap,and their team being so young ,u can expect development of everyone,starting with durant,russel,harden and green).

  10. Tyrone Slothrop
    July 14th, 2010 at 21:52 | #10

    LOL…Lebron couldn’t beat Wade? Lebron’s team clearly beat Wade’s team the majority of the time, so I have no idea what that is referring to. However, James’ team could not have beat Wade and Bosh’s team if James stayed in Cleveland. That’s a fact. Not sure where Playoff choker is coming from, either. Other than the Boston series, where he pulled a Kobe, he’s been great in the playoffs. It’s more the remarkable given that he had little to no help.

  11. h
    July 14th, 2010 at 22:01 | #11

    the opt outs don’t mean the players will go… of course, they want the best deal they can get.. Riley gives it to them because it is a negotiation and he is asking them to take less money… you guys talk as though riley had all the leverage here…. but don’t worry, they know that they won’t probably won’t be able to make as much money in year 6 under the new CBA.. if its working, nobody will go anywhere…

  12. July 15th, 2010 at 02:18 | #12

    @Mike
    Thanks Mike.

    Bear in mind that I tried only to include decisions that were questionable at the time they were made. With the benefit of hindsight, I could have certainly included more, but that wouldn’t be fair to Riley.

    At the time of the Jones signing, he was projected to be a big help for the Heat. He was expected to provide critical floor spacing for a team desperately in need.

    At the time of the Beasley signing, he was widely considered the most talented player available. It would have been difficult to justify not picking him.

  13. July 15th, 2010 at 02:49 | #13

    @h
    Your scenario is very unlikely.

    In the scenario described in the post, where James and Bosh each take a five-year contract with an average salary of $19.2 million, they very likely would have been eligible to earn far more in Year 6 under a new deal signed under the new CBA than they will make in Year 6 of their current contracts.

    It is very likely that the new CBA will have the same protection measures for existing players as did the last CBA. Thus, they are likely sacrificing, at the very least, $9.2 million with their existing structures over the course of 6 years. At the very worst, no matter what the new CBA looks like, they’d only have to make up $13.7 million in the first year of a new contract to make it a break-even scenario (plus, they’d have time value of money advantages). And in the unlikely scenario that existing contracts are pared down, as is being rumored, the make-up amount would be even smaller.

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