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.
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 $110 million contract, which pays out $88 million over the first five years: 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, which pays out $92 million: this alternative can be executed immediately
Bosh contracts will have opt out rights after four years. Both James and Bosh are surely going to exercise it. If things are going well, they’re going to opt out in order to sign a new, maximum contract deal while they’re still young. If things aren’t going well, they’re going to opt out in order to test the free agent market. So the question needs to be asked: Which alternative would you choose?
Of course, there is more to consider than just the salaries of James and Bosh. The first alternative, while less attractive, 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 here’s the thing: 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.
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).