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Miami Heat Trade Up to Acquire Shabazz Napier in 2014 NBA Draft

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The Miami Heat had perhaps never been as obvious about their intentions as they were in preparation for the 2014 NBA Draft. They wanted former UConn point guard Shabazz Napier.

They got their man, by making a trade for his draft rights with the Charlotte Hornets.

In return, the Heat dealt draft rights to its two picks P.J. Hairston (26th) and Semaj Christon (55th), a 2019 second-round draft choice, and $1 million in cash.

Napier was projected by many to be a mid-first round pick, with teams such as the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls showing strong interest. The Heat had made an all-out effort in recent days to move up in the draft to improve their odds of selecting him but lacked the resources to get up too high.

Yet as the draft continued, Napier’s name kept getting bypassed.

When he was ultimately selected at No. 24 by the Hornets, there was a brief moment of exasperation. The NBA’s draft order is determined as the inverse of each team’s record at the end of the preceding regular season. The Heat had tied the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets, finishing the 2013-14 regular season with identical 58-24 records. The NBA therefore held a pair of tiebreakers among the three teams on April 18 to determine the allocation of pick Nos. 24, 25 and 26. Portland, which had previously surrendered its pick to the Hornets in a February 2011 trade for Gerald Wallace, ultimately won a tiebreaker with Miami and Houston, and Houston then won a tiebreaker with Miami. The Heat, therefore, appeared to have lost out on Napier because of draft order tiebreaker unluckiness.

Moments later though, it became apparent that the Hornets had made their selection of Napier on behalf of the Heat. The Heat were apparently unwilling to wait and hope that Napier would fall to them two spots down. Between the Hornets at No. 24 and the Heat at No. 26 stood the Rockets, who are vying for the services of free-agent-to-be LeBron James. The Heat were fearful that the Rockets could poach Napier, a James favorite, as a means to improve their roster, to make the Heat a less desirable destination for James, or both. 

Napier arrives in Miami with the definitive endorsement of James, who publicly cheered him during the NCAA Tournament game in April. Napier averaged 18.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.8 steals during his senior season, leading UConn to victory against Kentucky in the final. During the game, James tweeted that Napier was the best available point guard in the draft. He reinforced that Thursday night by tweeting, “My favorite player in the draft! #Napier.”

Still, nothing is certain for James or the Heat. James has opted out of the final two years of his Heat contract and will become a free agent in July. He and the other members of Miami’s Big Three, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, have met since James’s declaration, perhaps a sign of their desire to stay together with an improved supporting cast. If all three opt out, the Heat would gain more financial flexibility with which to strengthen the team. Sacrificing a significant amount of money, at least in the short term, could provide Miami the means to make a competitive offer for the likes of Pau Gasol or Marcin Gortat.

Napier carries with him a cap hold of $1,032,220, which will immediately be charged against the Heat’s 2014-15 team salary. After accounting for roster charges, he will reduce the Heat’s potential cap space for this summer by $524,884. The Heat can ultimately sign him to a rookie-scale contract starting at up to $1,238,664.

Napier certainly fits the profile of a Riley player in terms of maturity, experience and durability (having played four college seasons, including an NCAA-high 1,404 minutes last season). He also appears to fit the Heat’s current offensive structure, with an ability to work on or off the ball. That is a necessity for Heat point guards, as Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole can both attest. So is shooting ability, and Napier made 40.5% of his three-point attempts as a senior while displaying true NBA range.

Selecting Napier appears to be the beginnings of what could be a makeover for the Heat at the point guard position. The move could affect the future of Chalmers, who will become an unrestricted free agent next week, and could possibly put the future of Cole with the team in doubt as well. Miami could instead elect to go hard after Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, and pair him with a developing Napier.

Napier has a lot of fans and a lot of skeptics. The fans point to him being the most NBA-ready point guard in the draft, a fearless player who can both shoot and defend. The skeptics point to his lack of size (he measured just 5-foot-11 without shoes at the NBA Draft Combine) and his lack of elite athleticism. One thing is for certain though: the selection, for the moment, makes LeBron James happy.

“I don’t know if I’m bringing him back [to Miami],” Napier said. “I would love it. Me and LeBron’s relationship, he’s a great guy.”

Note: In a bit of draft news oddity, the Heat has now traded away its second-round draft picks in 2016 (Joel Anthony trade), 2017 (James Ennis trade) and 2019 (Shabazz Napier trade). Its lone remaining first round pick obligation comes in 2015 (top-10 protected, LeBron James sign-and-trade).

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