With Injuries Mounting, Should the Miami Heat Tank?
Update (4/15/15): The Heat finished the season with a 37-45 record, missing the playoffs by one game. The fate of their 2015 first round draft pick – which is owed to the Philadelphia 76ers, subject to top-10 protections – will be determined by the draft lottery, which will be held on May 19th. With the tenth seeding for the lottery, the Heat will have a 1.1 percent chance to draw the first overall pick, a 1.3 percent chance at the second overall pick, a 1.6 percent chance at the third pick, an 87.0 percent chance at the tenth pick, and a 9.1 percent chance to receive a pick which would need to be sent to the Sixers.
The Miami Heat’s season of struggle is continuing on with full force.
Goran Dragic says his “body doesn’t feel right.” Dwyane Wade just re-injured his left knee, a few days after getting it drained of excess fluid. Luol Deng is suffering through a left knee contusion. Chris Bosh is out for the year as he recovers from a pulmonary embolism. His backup, Josh McRoberts, is out for the year as he rehabs from a torn right lateral meniscus. Hassan Whiteside is struggling through the effects of a huge gash on his right hand that required 10 stitches to close.
That’s all five Heat starters ailing during the most critical month of the regular season.
The Eastern Conference’s four-time defending champion and current eight seed is in danger of missing out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. And with its entire starting rotation battered, it’s unclear what damage they could cause in the playoffs if even they were to make it.
Amidst the struggles, an increasing group of frustrated Heat fans has begun to endorse an intriguing concept: Why not tank the rest of the 2014-15 season to get a better draft pick?
The Heat has already traded away its 2015 first round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers (who then traded it to the Philadelphia 76ers) as part of the LeBron James sign-and-trade in July 2010. But that pick is top-10 protected through 2016, and unprotected in 2017.
The “protections” mean that if Miami ends up with a top 10 pick in the 2015 draft, the Heat would get to keep the pick, and its obligation to the Cavs would shift to the following year. If, instead, the Heat doesn’t end up with a top 10 pick, the pick would be conveyed to the Cavs and the obligation would be fulfilled. If the pick winds up shifting to 2016, the same rules would apply next year. If the pick has not been conveyed by 2016, it would get conveyed in 2017 no matter where it lands.
These “protections” serve as a protection measure for the Heat, so that they don’t give away a pick that is more valuable than it was intended to be. But they also mean that the Heat could intentionally tank the final seven games of the regular season in order to secure a top 10 pick, allowing them to keep the pick in what is widely considered to be a strong and deep draft.
Tanking could get the Heat a valuable pick in a strong and deep 2015 NBA draft(1).
Should they do it?
Here’s the thing: It would be damaging to the Heat’s future, for reasons you may not have considered. Much like in 2010, the Heat would be sacrificing its most valuable asset with which to complete any future trades – the ability to trade any future first round draft picks!
As a result of the LeBron James and Chris Bosh sign-and-trades from July 2010, in which they surrendered four future first round draft picks, the Heat has been greatly restricted in its ability to trade away any future first round draft picks over the past five years. There are two rules that have caused the restrictions:
- The “Ted Stepien Rule” prohibits teams from trading away all of its future first round draft picks in consecutive years. 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. This helps to prevent a team from inadvertently harming itself.
- The “Seven Year Rule” prohibits teams from trading away draft picks more than seven years into the future. This helps to prevent a team from mortgaging its distant future for the benefit of the present.
As a result of these two rules, the three first round picks the Heat have thus far surrendered in the sign-and-trades were a pick which originally belonged to the Raptors as well as its own picks in 2011 and 2013. Because of the Ted Stepien Rule, the final draft pick expected to be dealt will be from two years after that, in 2015. But, because of its protections, it can shift to 2016, or possibly even 2017. It can’t shift more than that, though, because, since the original trade occurred in 2010, it would otherwise be in violation of the Seven Year Rule. So it will be dealt in 2015, or 2016, or 2017.
As a direct consequence, since the moment the James and Bosh sign-and-trades were completed (and still holding true to this day), the Heat have been very limited in what first round picks it can offer in any other trades. The first one available for trade would be two years after its final pick obligation to the Cavs is satisfied, which could be as early as 2017 or as late as 2019.
Think about all the trade scenarios that you wished would have happened over the four years of the Big Three era that didn’t happen because the Heat weren’t willing to trade a draft pick that far out into the future. Think about how frustrating that was, and for how long those frustrations lasted.
Heat president Pat Riley seemingly acknowledged how damaging these restrictions were during the Big Three era in how he chose to structure the acquisition of Goran Dragic from the Phoenix Suns in February.
The Heat traded away two first round draft picks as part of the compensation package in exchange for Dragic:
- Miami will send Phoenix the first of its two first round picks two years after its obligation to the Cavs is satisfied. The pick is top-seven protected in 2017 and 2018, and becomes unprotected in 2019 if not previously conveyed.
- Miami will send Phoenix the second of its two first round picks in 2021. This pick has no protections whatsoever.
Riley structured these pick trades like this because, by league rule, he had to. But the structure did open a window of opportunity — the flexibility to trade the Heat’s 2019 first round pick in any future trade, if the situation calls for it. That, however, is only true on condition that the Heat’s first pick obligation to the Suns is fulfilled in 2017.
But if the Heat were to tank in order to secure its 2015 first round pick, it would set off a chain of events that would destroy that flexibility, by making the 2019 pick impossible to trade.
If Miami were to tank in order to keep its 2015 first round pick, it would cause the Heat’s pick obligation to the Cavs to shift from 2015 to 2016. That, in turn, would cause the first of its two first round pick obligations to the Suns to shift from 2017 to 2018, in order to comply with the Stepien Rule. And since the second of its pick obligations to the Suns is guaranteed to be delivered in 2021, there simply wouldn’t be enough of a gap between the years 2018 and 2021 to trade any picks in between – trading the 2019 pick would only leave a one year gap (not the required two years) from 2018, and trading he 2020 pick would only leave a one year gap (not the required two years) from 2021.
In fact, if the Heat were to keep its 2015 pick, the next pick eligible for trade would be two years after its final pick obligation to the Suns is satisfied, in 2023. And, because of the Seven Year Rule, even that pick couldn’t be traded until after the 2016 draft!
What does it all mean?
If the Heat don’t wind up with a top 10 pick this season, they would need to surrender their 2015 first round pick to the Cavs, they would get to keep their 2016 first round pick, and their next first round pick available for trade would almost certainly be in 2019.
If the Heat do wind up with a top 10 pick this season, they would keep their 2015 first round pick, they would need to surrender a future first round pick to the Cavs (in either 2016 or 2017), and the next pick available for trade would be subject to a great many restrictions. Here is a description of what those restrictions would be:
- From now until before the 2016 draft: The Heat would not be allowed to trade any first round picks, no matter how far into the future.
- From after the 2016 draft until before the 2018 draft: The earliest first round pick the Heat would be eligible to trade is its 2023 pick.
- From after the 2018 draft until before the 2019 draft: The earliest first round pick the Heat would be eligible to trade is its 2019 pick, but only if the first pick obligation to the Suns is satisfied in 2018.
- From after the 2019 draft until before the 2021 draft: The earliest first round pick the Heat would be eligible to trade is its 2023 pick.
- From after the 2021 draft onward: The Heat would be eligible to trade all of its future first round picks (including its 2022 pick) without restriction.
So… By wanting the Heat to tank in order to keep its 2015 first round pick, you’re essentially saying that you’d be willing to cause the Heat to not be able to trade a single first round pick for more than a year and, after that year has expired, you’re okay with the first pick eligible for trade being in the year 2023!
Is keeping the first round pick this year really that important to you?
Who would you be targeting (for whom you’d have a realistic chance to get), and would he be worth the Heat giving up the flexibility to trade its 2019 first round pick if the situation calls for it?
Would you be willing to go through what you went through during the Big Three era, when the Heat couldn’t complete a single trade because it didn’t have the necessary assets to do so, to get him?
If you want the Heat to tank, you’d need to be.
The point of this post, essentially, is that the Heat will lose the ability to trade its 2019 draft pick for the next three plus years if they tank to get their 2015 first round pick back. Because they’ve already given away so many other picks, that could wind up being very important. But this is a subjective point. Dissenting opinions – that a top 10 first round pick in the 2015 draft is more important than instead retaining the team’s 2016 first round pick and having the flexibility to trade the teams’ 2019 first round pick – are no less valid. It’s personal preference. The reason I wrote the post was not to convince you of anything, only to make you aware of the consequences of all perspectives. That’s why, when I pose the question as to whether the Heat should tank above, I don’t actually answer it. There is no right answer.
(1) If the Heat were to miss the playoffs, they would not necessarily be guaranteed a top 10 pick — since 14 teams miss the playoffs every year and, obviously, only 10 of them get a top 10 pick. The first three picks in the draft are determined by a weighted lottery system in which all 14 teams who miss the playoffs are included, but those with the worst records have a higher chance to win. The final 11 lottery picks are determined based on the inverse of each team’s final record.
These rules have three primary implications:
- In order to be absolutely guaranteed a top 10 pick, the Heat would need to finish with the seventh worst record in the NBA.
- As long as the Heat misses the playoffs, they would have a chance, however small, to get either the first, second or third overall picks in the draft.
- If the Heat were to finish the regular season with the eighth, ninth or tenth worst record in the NBA, the overwhelming odds would suggest that they would secure a top 10 pick.
If, for example, the Heat were to finish the regular season with the tenth worst record in the NBA, they’d have a 1.1% chance to secure the first overall pick in the draft, a 1.3% chance to secure the second overall pick, a 1.6% chance to secure the third overall pick, an 87.0% chance of securing the tenth overall pick, and a 9.1% chance of not receiving a top 10 pick at all and having to convey it to the Sixers.