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Miami Heat Are Talking Trade, But With Limited Assets to Offer

Dwyane Wade has already missed five of the Miami Heat’s first twenty games this season.

The Heat have a lot of legitimate concerns over the health of Wade – he hasn’t been healthy, really, in any of the last three postseasons; he is still recovering from offseason OssaTron treatments to deal with tendinitis in both of his knees, long after the typical recovery timeframe for such procedures; he is in the early stages of a season-long maintenance program designed to treat and preserve his troublesome knees; and they have no good indication of how his thirty-something body will hold up over the rigors of an eight-month NBA season.

They also understand that flipping one of the team’s centerpiece performers in and out of what has become a flotsam of rotations is sending the Heat into a rhythmic chaos.

The Heat over the last two seasons reinvented themselves as a small-ball scoring machine built upon killer shooting, intricate motion offense, and a furious trapping defense. Battier spotted up for 3s and guarded power forwards so LeBron wouldn’t have to, Bosh stretched his range, the read-and-react playbook expanded, and Miami became unguardable.

Now they’re scrambling to maintain any semblance of consistency. They have just a single reserve shooting guard, Ray Allen, on the whole of the roster. Coach Erik Spoelstra has compensated for uncertainty on the perimeter by playing Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers together more, an ultra-small look that could prove untenable as time marches on. LeBron James has played about as many minutes without Wade this season as with him.

The Heat, simply, has no continuity. And so, with no clear alternative, the Heat have initiated trade talks seeking backcourt help. 

The Heat have reportedly made some initial inquires on Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. New Toronto front-office boss Masai Ujiri has managed to trade away Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay over the past six months to create financial flexibility going forward and – with Toronto apparently determined to avoid any accidental success – has shown a willingness to surrender Lowry next.

The current priority in Toronto – in a conference so atrocious that it requires priorities to be updated by the hour – is finishing as high as possible in the lottery with Canadian sensation Andrew Wiggins and several other top prospects expected to be available to teams picking at the top of the June draft. Lowry is in the final year of his contact at an affordable $6.2 million and is believed to be eminently available because he’s not part of Toronto’s future plans.

On first glace, Heat interest in Lowry is befuddling. He’s six foot nothing. He’s not a shooting guard. He’s not a great floor spacer (a career 34 percent shooter from three-point range), something the Heat covet. Talented as he is, he simply doesn’t fit the profile of a current Heat need.

Heat GM Pat Riley knows it. It appears his primary interest is in trying to turn poop into gold – pawning off the multi-year train wreck that is the remaining contract of Joel Anthony (which, alone, could save the Heat upward of $17 million next season), and acquiring a valuable guard in Lowry in the process. The Raptors aren’t stupid.

Ironically, if the Heat had a genuine interest in acquiring depth at the shooting guard position, they needn’t look any further than to Lowry’s running mate Terrence Ross.

Ross is an erratic and underachieving 23-year-old who was probably a reach for the Raptors at pick No. 8 in the 2012 NBA draft. He’s an inefficient shooting guard who struggles to create his own offense, doesn’t handle the ball particularly well, and never draws fouls – the antithesis of his would-be mentor at the position, Dwyane Wade.

But there’s much to work with in Ross. His diverse skill set fills every moment with boundless excitement. His potential to energize everyone watching is enormous. Most League Pass–less NBA fans don’t really know him, but if they do, it’s from him showing off his lucrative athleticism with a cutthroat jumper. His shooting form looks like a leisurely snake attack. It’s deceptively fast, and the ball flies from his fingertips. He is lethal spotting up for 3s, a beast in transition, and, while it has yet to materialize at the NBA level, his length and mobility suggest he has the potential to become an excellent defender. Supremely tall, monster athleticism, deep range on his shooting stroke, and dripping with defensive potential? Sold!

The conundrum for the Heat is the striking lack of assets with which to complete a possible deal. A trade for Ross – or Lowry, or anyone else of value, for that matter – would surely require draft pick compensation. The Heat simply don’t have any to trade.

The trading of NBA draft picks is restricted by a series of intricate rules that have been put in place in order to protect teams that are trading away the picks from themselves. History suggests that teams need these protections so as not to unwittingly destroy their own franchises.

No one NBA personality is more historically-renown and nationally infamous for his incompetency than Ted Stepien, former owner and de fact general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 1980, Stepien parlayed his minority stake in the Cavs into full control of the franchise. After purchasing the club, Stepien thought he could quickly assemble a competitive team, but he proved to be a horrendous judge of basketball talent. He spent ludicrously lavish sums of money on marginal players and made a series of controversial and, to outsiders, ludicrously one-sided player trades.

His first big move happened two months before his purchase of the team went through: He flipped backup guard Butch Lee and a 1982 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for backup forward Don Ford and a 1980 first-round pick (needless to say, not a great pick considering the Lakers were competing for titles). Two years later, Los Angeles picked future Hall-of-Famer James Worthy first overall with Cleveland’s pick.

It got worse from there.

Later in 1980, Stepien sent another four unprotected first-round picks to the Dallas Mavericks from 1983 to 1986 in three separate trades for four players ranging from borderline starter to unequivocal backup, planting the seeds for a title contender in Dallas in the process. Those picks eventually became Derek Harper (1983, 11th overall), Sam Perkins (1984, 4th overall), Detlef Schrempf (1985, 8th overall), and Roy Tarpley (1986, 7th overall).

The vultures were constantly circling, eager to see what they could extract from Stepien.

In a series of trades with the Pistons in 1982, Detroit extracted eventual four-time All-Star Bill Laimbeer and later a 1986 second round pick which would ultimately become Dennis Rodman.

That’s when the NBA made history three different times.

First, to discourage such carnivorous thinking, then NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien stepped in and barred Stepien from making any further trades unless they were approved by the league.

Second, when Stepien sold off the team in 1983, just three years after he had purchased it, the NBA granted the new owners four compensatory first round picks from 1983 to 1986 to help in the team’s recovery.

Third, the NBA enacted a new rule prohibiting teams from trading away all of its future first round draft picks in consecutive years, which naturally ended up being called the “Ted Stepien Rule.” The rule is only forward-looking; it doesn’t concern itself with draft picks that have since passed. It also concerns itself only with all picks a team has in its possession in consecutive years; if a team has acquired a pick in trade for any given year, thus producing two such picks, it can freely trade one as well as its pick in the following season as long as it retains the other.

Beyond the restrictions of trading away first round draft picks in consecutive seasons, by virtue of a rule added in 2000, teams are also prevented from trading away picks (first and second rounders) more than seven years into the future, which has come to be known as the “Seven Year Rule.” This helps to prevent a team from mortgaging its distant future for the benefit of the present.

Teams can also place “protections” on the picks they trade away. It is common to “protect” picks depending on their position in the draft (for example, “we keep it if it ends up in the lottery, otherwise you get it”). This helps to avoid situations where future underperformance by teams can make certain picks they have traded away much more valuable than originally intended.

It is common for teams to trade away draft picks with protections ensure that the pick is conveyed in first year in which the conditions are met. It is also common for the protections to relax over several years. This is done, in part, because picks with protections can have uncertainties as to which future season they will be conveyed, which can complicate matters as teams attempt to operate within the confines of the Stepien and Seven Year rules.

The Heat, to start the summer of 2010, had eight first round draft picks over the following seven years – including a 2011 first round pick acquired from the Toronto Raptors in Shawn Marion-Jermaine O’Neal swap on February 13, 2009, which was lottery-protected through 2014, and completely unprotected in 2015 if not previously conveyed.

Of the eight, the Heat traded away four – two to the Raptors for Bosh, and two to the Cavaliers for James (1).

To the Raptors, the Heat returned the previously-acquired 2011 Toronto pick, thus leaving the Heat with all seven of its own first round picks over the next seven years (one per season). They also traded their own 2011 first round pick in the deal, which was lottery-protected. If the pick was not conveyed in 2011 (i.e., if the Heat didn’t make the playoffs next season), the Heat’s draft pick obligation was to be extinguished; instead, the Heat would have been required to convey $3 million in cash. The Heat ultimately surrendered the Toronto pick and its own 2011 first round pick, which satisfied the obligations of the Bosh trade in full.

The Cavaliers were more demanding.

Having traded away both of its first round draft picks in 2011, the Heat were prohibited (in accordance with the Ted Stepien Rule) from trading away their 2012 first round pick. The Heat thus, by rule, did have a selection in the 2012 NBA Draft. Because the Cavs were unable to acquire the Heat’s 2012 first round pick, they did negotiate the right to swap the Heat’s pick with that of their own, in the event the Heat were to receive the higher pick. But for that to happen, the Cavs would have needed to end up with the better overall team record in 2011-12, which didn’t happen. Thus, the swap right expired unexercised.

The Heat ultimately utilized their 2012 pick to select Arnett Moultrie, who was immediately traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for a future first round pick from the Sixers. The pick is lottery protected through 2015. If not conveyed by 2015, it will become consecutive second round picks in 2015 and 2016. At this point, it seems likely to result in the pair of second round picks.

The Cavs also received the Heat’s first round pick in 2013 in the James trade. But the Heat did demand some protections to ensure it wouldn’t be more valuable than was projected at the time. The pick was Top-10 protected in 2013 and 2014. If not conveyed by 2014, it would become completely unprotected in 2015. The pick was ultimately conveyed in 2013.

The Heat, by rule, was and is required to retain its 2014 first round pick (to satisfy the Stepien Rule). Thus, the Heat will have a first round pick this summer.

As the final piece to the James trade, the Cavs will also receive a second first round pick from the Heat. But it too has protections to ensure it won’t be more valuable than was originally projected. It will be Top-10 protected in 2015 and 2016, and fully unprotected in 2017 if not already conveyed.

This one remaining first round pick obligation makes it exceedingly complicated for the Heat to trade any of its future first round picks in any potential trade. The Stepien rule will, in effect, make it impossible for the Heat to trade away any first round pick, unconditionally, until the year 2019. That’s a whopping six NBA drafts from now!

The Heat can trade earlier picks, but such trades would need to contain qualifications that would keep them in compliance with the Stepien Rule under all circumstances, no matter how implausible. Thus, here is a run-down on all of the first round picks the Heat can trade away prior to the 2014 NBA Draft, and all the qualifications they’d need to be subjected to:

2014 NBA Draft
The Heat owns its first round pick, but it can only be traded away on condition that the Philly pick becomes a 2014 first round pick. In this case, the Heat could trade either its own first round pick or the first round pick from Philly (but not both). For that to happen, though, the Sixers would need to make the playoffs this season. That seems decidedly unlikely. So, in all practical reality, a 2014 first round pick trade is out.

2015 NBA Draft
The Heat can’t trade its first round pick because it is owed to Cleveland. There are protections on the pick, however, that would enable the Heat to retain it under certain circumstances; it’s Top-10 protected through 2016. Therefore, if the Heat finish the 2014-15 season with one of the ten worst records in the NBA (or one of the worst 14 records in the league and are lucky enough to receive a first, second, or third overall pick through the ping-pong ball lottery process), they would retain the pick. But, even then, it couldn’t be traded because of the possibility that the Heat would owe Cleveland its first round pick in 2016 (and would thus violate the Stepien Rule).

There is one borderline ludicrous scenario under which the Heat could trade its 2015 first round pick – if it were to somehow retain its own pick (i.e., because it was a Top 10 pick, which would cause the pick obligation to Cleveland to be deferred to 2016) AND the Philly pick becomes a 2015 first round pick. In this case, the Heat would own two 2015 first round picks, and could trade either one (but not both) at its discretion.

2016 NBA Draft
This pick cannot be traded under any circumstances, no matter how ludicrous a scenario can be contemplated.

In all likelihood, the Heat will be sending its 2015 first round pick to Cleveland, to satisfy the last of its obligations in the James trade. If that happens, as per the Stepien Rule, this pick cannot be traded.

There is also a small possibility that this trade itself will be conveyed to Cleveland to satisfy the last of the James trade, in the event that the Heat receives a top 10 pick in 2015 and a pick not in the top 10 in 2016. In this case, the pick would be conferred to the Cavaliers, and thus not be eligible to be traded.

If the pick has not been conferred to Cleveland in 2015 or 2016 it will, by rule, be conferred in 2017 (because it’d be unprotected in that year). In that case, the Heat would be restricted from trading this pick, as per the Stepien Rule.

2017 NBA Draft
The Heat can trade this pick, but only on condition that the Cleveland pick obligation is fulfilled in 2015; that seems likely. But would the Heat want to trade picks so far into the future, with the future so uncertain?

2018 NBA Draft
The Heat can trade this pick, but only on condition that the Cleveland pick obligation is fulfilled by 2016; that seems likely. But, again, would the Heat want to trade picks so far into the future, with the future so uncertain?

2019 NBA Draft
This is the first year in which the Heat can trade away a first round pick without any conditions of any kind.

2020 NBA Draft
Due to the “Seven Year Rule,” this is the last year in which the Heat can trade away a first round pick.

Beyond just its own first round picks, the Heat can trade away the Philly pick at any time without restriction, but chances are they plan to retain that pick to rid themselves of the Joel Anthony mess. The Heat could also trade away a host of second round picks, but chances are these picks carry virtually no value in trade.

The Heat simply don’t have the assets with which to acquire meaningful talent in trade. Expect any trade scenarios during the course of the season to be ones primarily of subtraction.

Notes:

1. The Cavs, in addition to the two first round picks and the swap right in 2012, also acquired second round picks in 2011 and 2012 from the Heat in the James trade. Both have since been utilized.

  1. RemoteHeatFan
    December 8th, 2013 at 14:00 | #1

    After Udonis and Joel, what other assets does the Heat even have to offer? Birdman – doubt they would do that because of the ‘loyalty’ effect. Chalmers and Cole? Aren’t we forgetting that Oden is on the team and that would bring some nice frontline help? The real question is who is available and why? Is Dion Waters available for what the Heat could offer? I would love to be a fly on the wall for that phone call! Considering there are no more first rounders to trade, I don’t see Cleveland wanting Udonis or Joel, but Cole/Chalmers? They are point guards.

    If I understand the rules correctly, they are not allowed to trade for Miller because of amnestying him. So the backcourt options are tiny.

    Regardless, the question so far, now that we are about 25% through the season, in the East, can anyone beat the Heat or the Pacers 4 out of 7 games? I don’t see it. I see those two ending up against each other, then it becomes who can 4 of 7. I can see the Heat wanting to add yet another sniper on the outside to help negate Hibbert and concede the boards. But then again, we may be looking at Oden playing those 7 games. It would be interesting to see a front line of Oden, Bosh, James and a backcourt of Wade and Chalmers. Then off the bench, Birdman, Allen, Cole, Haslem, Battier, Beasely. Wow, as I am typing that, that is a DEEEEEEEP bench.

  2. December 8th, 2013 at 15:32 | #2

    @RemoteHeatFan
    The Heat are not allowed to trade for Miller until his Heat contract would have expired, which is after the 2014-15 season. But I believe the media is being a bit reactionary in calling for a trade anyway. The Heat would love to move Joel, but the impetus would purely be for financial reasons. I don’t think they’re actively seeking backcourt or frontcourt trade scenarios at this point.

    The Pacers have shown themselves to be a formidable challenge to the Heat. In response to that, the Heat is grooming Greg Oden as they should be. Though it’s frustrating for fans, it’s ideal for the playoff push. If he proves healthy at playoff time, he vaults this team to another dimension, and any perceived frontcourt issues are washed away. I couldn’t agree more with the lineup you propose in your comment. I find the Heat’s possible rotations, when healthy, to be as devastating as you do.

    If the struggles continue to such an extent that action is needed, I don’t believe trade is a preferred alternative anyway, as the Heat don’t have the assets to accomplish one. There are several free agent shooting guard options that could be considered, who each would gladly accept a non-guaranteed minimum salary contract. If the Heat needs help down low, Okafor and possibly others could become a viable option in time. There really is no need to panic.

    That being said, I do have my own wacky trade scenarios that I like to kick around purely for fun.

  3. December 25th, 2013 at 00:19 | #3

    With Greg Oden’s knees becoming stronger and more durable; I can see great things happening in the playoffs. The bench depth is extremely deep and with Micheal Beasley, Ray Allen and Norris Cole putting up great numbers, Birdman and Oden have nothing more to worry about with the exceptions of getting boards and blocks.

  4. RemoteHeatFan
    January 15th, 2014 at 03:05 | #4

    I seriously doubt that the Heat will go after Bynum.

    My reasons are:

    1. Attitude. Bynum is after the money, not the title. He will not come cheap. That attitude of money over team will not sit well with this team.

    2. Oden. It is not because Oden is on the roster, but the fact that they would be stating that Oden will not be ready when it was projected. I think Riles would not want to put the team in a defensive position of questioning Oden’s spot on the team.

    From a financial standpoint, Joel departing would be wonderful. How they do it . . . that is why they get paid more than I do :)

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