Heat Sign Jerry Stackhouse, Waive Beverley and Butler
A freak injury to the right thumb of Mike Miller is expected to keep one of the NBA’s top three-point shooters sidelined for an extended period of time.
Miller fractured a bone and tore a ligament when the thumb on his shooting hand got tangled in a teammate’s jersey during a post drill at practice last Wednesday. He underwent surgery Friday to repair the damage. He will remain in a cast for four weeks, then move to a brace for several more weeks, then prepare once again for the start of the season. The Heat don’t expect him back on the court before January.
Pat Riley met with Erik Spoelstra and other team officials about options on dealing with the injury. They chose Jerry Stackhouse, on a one-year fully unguaranteed minimum salary contract, for temporary relief. It is the wrong move.
Stackhouse won’t rock the boat, won’t bring drama, and will bring a high caliber of veteran leadership. But let’s be clear — this team does not need more veteran leadership. James, Wade and Bosh provide plenty of that. It needs an injection of youth and athleticism. It needs to develop for the future. It needs to identify players with the type of floor-spacing shooting stroke that it has just lost. It needs to find tough, quick defenders.
Stackhouse is none of those things. He is old (he turns 36 next month). He is working on wonky knees. He is a glaring defensive liability on a team that puts a premium on it. He is a man no longer capable of providing any of the offensive value he once did. And he has never been a good three-point shooter (31% for his career). He provides nothing this team needs.
He is nothing more than a sub-optimal stand-in for Miller. But when Miller gets healthy, he’s gone. Why sign someone who has no chance of being a member of the Heat come playoff time? Why sign someone who has no chance to be a part of the Heat’s future? Why eat up a valuable roster spot on such a player?
With the Stackhouse addition, the Heat roster stood at 17. The team had until 6 p.m. today to get its roster to the regular-season limit of 15 as they prepared for tomorrow’s season opener against Boston. Beverley and Butler were the final two cuts.
Beverley and Butler were both competing for the Stackhouse spot. They had a real shot at being a big part of the Heat’s future. Danny Green was a better option than both of them.
In an alternate universe, all three could have been retained. In an alternate universe, the Heat could have kept Beverley as its potential point guard of the future (by waiving Magloire), Green as its potential shooting guard of the future (by passing on Stackhouse), and Butler as its potential small forward of the future (by waiving Howard). That’s a quality developmental backcourt.
Instead, the Heat is left almost entirely without young, developing players, and with a major shortage of bench athleticism and speed. With hardworking veteran leadership, the Heat has a great environment to get the best out of impressionable young athletes – yet there are hardly any of those guys on the roster. With unbelievable quickness and size from its perimeter stars, the Heat had the chance be the fastest team in NBA history – but not with brittle aging athletes like Jerry Stackhouse, Juwan Howard or Jamaal Magloire on the floor.
Veteran savvy is a useful tool. But these are three players who have already been severely marginalized by age. They have all been excellent. But that was years ago. When is the last time any one of them has had a great game, or even a decent season?
And before we get stuck arguing about the past, let’s consider that all that matters is the future. If your mission is to win as many titles as possible while the Big Three are still in their primes, then wouldn’t you like to have some upside around? Some players who will be getting better with time? Some players who can keep the energy level high when the stars need to rest?
Riley has a clear affinity for the seasoned veteran versus the inexperienced rookie. He’d rather have the sure thing than the potential next big thing. It is a philosophy that has served him quite well over the years. But as much as these veterans are low risks to make stupid, rookie-type decisions, none will break free off the dribble in crunch time or make that key defensive stop or space the floor wide open to create a lane for Wade and James to drive into – they’re zero risks to become more athletic, to develop new parts of their games, or be usable as trade bait should the need arise.
Everybody loves the top of the Heat’s roster.
The quality in the Heat roster goes more than three deep.
Mike Miller can do the main thing this team needs: Shoot 3s at an elite level. He can also rebound. And throw an assist or two.
The signings of company men Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony (despite the contract) can also be justified. In addition to bringing muscle and mobility, they offer current and future Heat employees strong messages about the team’s loyalty. Basically, when the Heat ask players to sacrifice (money, playing time, blood, sweat, etc.), they can point to those two and say “We take care of our guys. We’re a certain kind of team that does things a certain way.” Those kinds of long-term organizational vibes just played a major role in successfully bringing in three blue chip free agents.
The post-dated bench-warming veteran reserves, however, make far less sense.
By the nature of its composition, with three of the game’s best players and hardest workers, this team has a real advantage in getting the most out of development. Potential youngsters would have the right kind of role models. They’d all be pushing to be the hardest workers – fighting to impress their Hall-of-Fame teammates, fighting to reach their maximum potential, fighting for playing time. They wouldn’t have the distraction of constant losing, of deflated and demoralized leaders. When your best players are your hardest workers, good things happen. Players in that environment play much better and develop much faster.
Beverley, Green, and Butler are all fringe NBA players whom the Heat could have kept. None, perhaps, would help immediately. But all of them would have had an excellent chance of being extremely useful by April. They each provide something this team desperately needs. Speed. Defense. Rebounding. Scoring ability. Three-point shooting range.
Instead, the Heat has made an almost startlingly strong bet against youth and development. There is almost nobody on this roster who could be targeted to have a big jump in productivity this season or down the road. There is almost nobody who has the potential to create future trade value should the need arise. And so, if for some reason this team does not work out, if there are not rings for everybody in the years to come, if champagne isn’t constantly falling from the heavens, it’s worth noting that Riley and crew had countless options in filling out this roster.
The true tragedy of the situation is that players who hold the last three Heat roster spots will never play anyway. The spots would therefore more appropriately be utilized as a breeding ground for potential new talent, not as a parking place for the elderly.
Perhaps Beverley, Green and/or Butler would have become viable rotation-caliber players.
But even if they didn’t, they’re cheap labor. They could always be cut. Three new youngsters would undoubtedly have been eager to have taken their places. That’s the luxury of having such a wonderful top-heavy rotation. The last few spots can be utilized as a season-long open tryout. The Heat hasn’t even begun to fully tap into its well of available resources. They could have scoured Europe, Asia, Latin America, the D-League and the NBA waiver wire. They could have tapped into their vast scouting infrastructure to uncover a hidden gem. They could have potentially coaxed all kinds of players to play alongside these stars.
This team has more than enough firepower. Every NBA team would love to have the Heat’s problems. But the as-yet untold story – and one to watch as the years go by – is that this team has almost no way to meaningfully improve. Having just traded away four first-round draft picks, the Heat’s competition will have roster-building advantages almost every summer. As the Heat’s bench requires upgrading, the only obvious tool in their arsenal will be the annual salary cap exceptions – and who knows what will become of them in the next collective bargaining agreement.
The Heat brass had a real shot to be as intelligent with the end of its roster as it was spectacular with the top. They whiffed.
And so the promising young career of Beverley, less than three months after having given him a multi-year guarantee – one that not only increases team salary this year but next year as well, in what figures to be a far more restrictive salary cap environment – is now over, despite the Heat’s $3,551,348 investment.
Butler, who impressed enough during workouts for LeBron James to call him an “unbelievable talent,” is also gone, despite his $300,000 guarantee.
Green, perhaps the best of them all, was never even considered.
What the Heat may have lost out on in these players, and what level of production their replacements will provide, has yet to be determined. We can now only hope that Riley’s questionable decision-making will not come back to bite the Heat down the road.
The roster is now set. Let the games begin.