Miami Heat ‘Feverishly’ Pursued Nikola Vucevic in 2012
Apparently, just as the Heat were touting the virtues of a “position-less” basketball philosophy which had just won them their first N.B.A. title of the Big Three era, Heat president Pat Riley was working “feverishly” to end its existence.
John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com reported earlier today that the Heat tried to acquire then Philadelphia 76ers center Nikola Vucevic last summer, just before he was sent to the Orlando Magic in the Dwight Howard trade last August.
Vucevic is a beast, which was fairly evident even before he exploded this season in Orlando. Doug Collins wasn’t playing him in Philly, because, well, he’s Doug Collins and he does things like that, but Vucevic showed a lot in his limited time last season – enough to convince Riley to seek him out.
It was vintage Pat Riley.
Only this time, he wasn’t able to execute upon his vision. And that may very well have been his fault.
Vucevic has given the Heat fits thus far this season, having twice gone for at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. The second year player could have been putting up those numbers for the Heat, instead of against them, if Riley had been willing to part with either Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole, along with a future first round draft pick.
The Heat declined.
The report of such clandestine trade discussions with the Sixers are a rather interesting development when considering that the Heat had at the time just executed a separate trade with the Sixers, one that sent the draft rights of Arnett Moultrie to Philly in exchange for the draft rights of Justin Hamilton and a 2013 lottery-protected first round pick.
We don’t know – and we will never know – what the Heat actually offered for Vucevic. As much as we’d like some transparency into the negotiations, we’ll never get it.
What we do know is what the Heat had available to offer, which is to say not very much.
The only player assets the Heat possessed at the time, outside of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, were Chalmers and Cole. The rest of the nine players on the roster at the time either weren’t eligible to be traded (Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis), had terrible contracts with negative trade value (Mike Miller, Joel Anthony), were youngsters who barely had a place in this league (Josh Harrellson, Terrel Harris) or were past their prime veterans who offered no value in trade (Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, James Jones).
And so it becomes painfully obvious why the Sixers were demanding Chalmers or Cole. There simply wasn’t anything else the Heat could offer.
The draft pick scenario for Miami was even more tenuous. The Heat didn’t (and still don’t) have a single first round pick of their own that could have been sent away prior to the year 2017. They also owned the pick acquired from Philly, but that pick was likely already spoken for – it seems likely that the Heat are planning to use it to entice a potential future trade partner into taking on the untenable contract of Joel Anthony, which will cost the Heat upwards of $30 million, when including the tax, over the remaining life of his contract if he isn’t traded.
And so it becomes painfully obvious why Riley wasn’t willing to sacrifice a future first round draft pick for Vucevic. The only picks in his arsenal were the pick previously acquired from the Sixers in the Moultrie trade, which he needed in order to undo the Joel Anthony mistake, or a pick that extended well beyond the Big Three era, and trading a first round pick that far out into the future was far too big a risk for a talented but at the time unproven big man.
It didn’t have to be that way.
Riley gave away a whopping six first round picks and four second round picks in drafts from 2010 through 2015 in preparation for and during the Big Three era.
Riley’s aversion to the draft is well-placed.
Navigating the uncertain waters of the draft has always been a special kind of hell for him. His draft record with the Heat reads more like a comedy of errors than it does a serious attempt at identifying talent.
In 2003, Riley nearly drafted Chris Kaman with the fifth overall pick, before being talked into selecting Dwyane Wade by his staff. Whew!
Since that time, only three players he’s selected have ever played more than eleven big-league minutes for the Heat – Dorell Wright, Wayne Simien, and Michael Beasley. The very next players taken in those drafts were Jameer Nelson, David Lee, and, two picks down, Russell Westbrook.
That’s atrociously bad.
So he had no compunction about sacrificing ten future picks in less than a year and a half, even when the return for doing so wasn’t all that great.
What might those picks have become? Let’s take a look.
There was the No. 18 pick in the 2010 draft that Riley used to shed the $2.2 million expiring contract of Daequan Cook, a team option year that Riley had shockingly picked up eight months prior. Many of us questioned his need to surrender a first round pick to do so. Many of us felt he could have offered up to $3.0 million in cash (creating an $830K profit) and an assortment of second round picks to do so. Many of us were calling for the Heat to utilize that pick to draft Kentucky point guard Eric Bledsoe.
There was the No. 20 pick in the 2011 draft that Riley could have acquired, along with $7.7 million in savings, in exchange for 26 final games of Dorell Wright during the meaningless 2009-10 season before he was to become an unrestricted free agent; many of us felt that passing on such an offer was ludicrous. And then there was the No. 28 pick in the same draft that Riley traded away in the sign-and-trade transaction for Bosh, which many of us felt was unnecessary. What might have become of those two picks? There were several quality players still remaining – including point guards Norris Cole (ultimately acquired by the Heat in trade, by giving away two second round picks and some cash), Reggie Jackson, and Isaiah Thomas; shooting guard Jimmy Butler; small forward Chandler Parsons; power forward Kenneth Faried; and forward/center Donatas Motiejūnas. There were also several other players who haven’t worked out so well.
There were the five freely tradable future first round picks the Heat would have owned over the next three drafts alone – including a 2013 first round pick surrendered in the James sign-and-trade; a 2013 first round pick originally acquired from the Toronto Raptors (lottery protected through 2014, and fully unprotected in 2015) and traded back to them in the Bosh sign-and-trade; a 2013 first round pick acquired from the Sixers in the Moultrie trade (lottery protected through 2015, else second round picks in 2015 and 2016); a 2014 first round pick of their own which they still retain; and a 2015 first round pick surrendered in the James sign-and-trade.
Any one of those three newly drafted players or five future first round picks that the Heat might have had would reportedly have been enough of a sweetener, along with Chalmers or Cole, to execute the deal with the Sixers for Vucevic.
Of course, it was Riley’s brilliance to identify the potential talent in Vucevic that none of us at the time saw, so it feels a bit disingenuous us to criticize him for not possessing the resources to get it done. He does deserve a world of credit for making the find. But that’s not the point. The point is that he couldn’t get it done because he’d already traded away the team’s primary assets. This will be a continuing problem for the Heat going forward.
Of course, Riley and crew never knew what the ten forgone picks might have become when he sacrificed them so nonchalantly. But that’s not the point either. The point is that, in doing so, he never even gave himself the opportunity to see what they might have become. He didn’t see the value that they might have had.
We did. We all knew at the time the risks Riley and crew were taking in surrendering those picks. Now we have a better understanding of the cost.
The cost of all those forgone draft picks has become, at the very least, Nikola Vucevic.