Miami Heat Select Kentucky Center Bam Adebayo at No. 14 in 2017 NBA Draft

With the 14th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Miami Heat selected Kentucky center Edrice “Bam” Adebayo.

The 6-foot-10, 243-pounder is built like Dwight Howard. He’s strong, freakishly athletic, and explosive both laterally and vertically. He runs the floor with reckless abandon, he is a superb above-the-rim finisher and rebounder on offense, and he has the versatility to guard both in the paint and along the perimeter on defense. But he can’t yet shoot from outside the paint, and he needs to continue to develop as a defensive rebounder and shot-blocker.

It was perhaps a surprising selection for a team which seemingly has clearer needs at every position except the position which Adebayo plays.

The Heat doesn’t currently have a single backup point guard anywhere on the roster. And starting point guard Goran Dragic, though All-Star caliber, is also 31 years-old. It may be time to start developing a succession plan. But while the draft was deep in point guard talent, it was also far too top-heavy for the Heat to be able to utilize its mid-round pick to select a viable candidate for the role.

The Heat is seemingly already overloaded with shooting guards — including Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder — but that’s perhaps a bit deceptive. Drafting a shooting guard could potentially mitigate the Heat’s need to commit significant long term dollars to Waiters this summer, they’ll surely continue to try to offload Johnson in trade (as his contract explodes from $5.9 million next season to $19.2 million in each of the subsequent two), Ellington will hit 30 years old by the time the upcoming season starts, and Richardson could ultimately transition to a small forward role.  All that could make what is now a seemly overcrowded position a significant hole. The Heat had its collective eye dead-set on Donovan Mitchell, an explosive athlete with natural scoring and passing instincts. With a 211-pound frame and a 6’10 wingspan, Mitchell has the versatility to play both guard spots and, though he’s an inconsistent long-range shooter at this point, he’s a strong slasher who can break down opposing defenses and finish strong on offense and has the potential to a lockdown player on defense. But the Utah Jazz traded up in the draft and snagged him right out from under the Heat at pick #13 in what had to be a quietly crushing blow.

The Heat only has one true small forward on the entire roster. That’s Justise Winslow. But Winslow is not starting caliber at this point, and it will be difficult for him to transition into such a role unless he drastically improves his shooting stroke. Which makes small forward a critical position to fill on the roster, ideally by a premium 3-and-D candidate. OG Anunoby could’ve been an intriguing prospect in that regard. Much like Winslow, Anunoby is an elite athlete with an NBA body, plus a 7-foot-2 wingspan. And much like Winslow, he plays hard on both ends of the floor and can defend up to four positions. But, though it’s still wildly inconsistent at this point, and though it’s triggered by a low and slow release, his shot is far more advanced than that of Winslow. But while he was available and would’ve come with plenty of upside, he also would’ve come with a fair degree of risk after having undergone surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee this past January. Miami passed.

The Heat is also seeking a long-term replacement for Chris Bosh at power forward. While James Johnson will almost certainly re-sign in free agency this summer, he’s also 30 years-old and struggles to space the floor. Johnson did a bit of everything when Waiters went down last season: he led the fast-break, dished out some slick passes, knocked down some big shots at the rim, grabbed some big boards, and played fantastic defense while guarding every position on the court. But a healthy Waiters changes the dynamic. He may not be quite as effective playing off the ball as a floor-spacer when the Heat are using Dragic and Waiters as its primary playmakers. Lauri Markkanen (my own personal favorite option, by a long shot) was an intriguing option in that regard, but the Heat long since knew that he was not likely to be available mid-way through the first round.

The center position, however, seemed to be a position of solid depth for the Heat. Hassan Whiteside is the incumbent starter, and when utilizing correctly — Whiteside is a pick-and-roll player, and an offense structured around him setting a hard screen, with premium floor-spacing around it, can be quite effective; he is not, however, a back-to-the-basket player — can be a dominant presence on offensive and a massive road block for opposing penetration on defense. Willie Reed proved to be one of the best low-post backup centers in the league last season. And Johnson has the versatility to slide to the center spot in small-ball rotations.

Yet without a viable option at point guard, shooting guard, small forward or power forward, the Heat selected Adebayo.

Adebayo is slotted to make $2.5 million this coming season, and $3.0 million in 2018-19. The Heat can secure his rights for an additional two seasons, at $3.5 million and $5.1 million respectively, based on team option decisions. Adebayo would earn a total of $14.0 million if he’s retained for the full four years, and can be extended or made a restricted free agent thereafter. The hope in Heat circles if that he develops into a Dwight-Howard-type force on both ends of the court, but with a far better shooting stroke in time. If he does, he could become the Heat’s longer-term replacement for Whiteside and a possible near-term replacement for Reed (who is now unlikely to return). 

Will Adebayo become that dominant force? Does his potential to become one make him a wise selection for a Heat team with seemingly greater near-term needs elsewhere?

It’s an intriguing dilemma when you consider the potential alternatives.

What if, for example, the Heat instead were to have swapped the pick in exchange for a future first-round selection(1)? And not necessarily a better one. Just any first-round pick over the next two seasons, really. Doing so could’ve accomplished four key things: (i) created another $2 million of cap room, (ii) given the Heat another future 1st-round pick, and (iii) made the Heat’s 2019 first-round pick instantly tradable.

An Extra $2 Million of Cap Room

The Heat will surely aggressively pursue Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward this summer, and word from ESPN’s Marc Stein is that they’re gaining traction toward that goal. Hayward would be a huge get, and would slot in perfectly as the team’s starting small forward, alongside Dragic at point guard, Josh Richardson at shooting guard, and Hassan Whiteside at center. But he’d surely cost the full $30 million max salary. Which would leave the Heat with only about $6 million of post-Hayward cap space with which to work, and Josh McRoberts as the only viable power forward on the roster. Miami could get to $9 million by stretching McRoberts, or $11 million if they could trade him outright. Is that enough to re-sign James Johnson? An extra $2 million could come in quite handy.

If the Heat don’t get Hayward, they’ll quickly turn their attention to re-signing both Dion Waiters and Johnson. But they won’t stop there. They’ll try like hell to squeeze three guys into their available cap space. Perhaps by looking to pair them with the best damn shooter at the small forward position they can possibly find. Joe Ingles could fit the bill perfectly, among other possibilities. But pairing him with Waiters and Johnson could require $40-plus million of cap space. Even more if they somehow try to keep Wayne Ellington. An extra $2 million could come in quite handy.

Another Future First-Round Pick

Despite having now finally satisfied the obligations of the LeBron James and Chris Bosh sign-and-trades that were executed way back in 2010, the Heat remains depleted of future first-round draft picks as it begins to satisfy the terms of its trade with the Phoenix Suns for Goran Dragic. The Heat still owes Phoenix two future first-rounders, in 2018 (top-7 protected, unprotected in 2019) and 2021 (unprotected). Which means the Heat will only two first-rounders (and no second-rounders) over the next four years. Miami is also very likely to be capped out for the next several seasons, which makes building through the draft as well as via trade critical. An extra first-rounder would have helped rebuild the stock pile for both of those purposes.

A Tradable 2019 First-Round Pick

Since Miami owes its 2018 first-round pick (top-seven protected, unprotected in 2019) and its 2021 first-round pick (unprotected) to the Phoenix Suns, and since teams can’t trade all of their first-round picks in consecutive future seasons, it is currently impossible for the Heat to trade any of its first-rounders in 2019, 2020 and 2022. And since teams can only trade draft picks up to seven years into the future, the only first-round pick available for trade is all the way out in either 2023 or 2024. There’s virtually no shot either is traded anytime soon.

Acquiring another first-round pick, however, would have changed that dynamic. Adding an extra pick in either 2018 or 2019, even one projected to be at the very bottom of the round, would have made either the acquired pick or the Heat’s own 2019 first-round pick(2) instantly available for trade. As it stands, the Heat’s 2019 first-round pick will only be tradable after the 2018 draft.

***

Drafting Bam Adebayo was an intriguing choice for the Miami Heat. But was it the right one?

It’s a question that can only be answered relative to the alternatives that were available at the time.

Would you have rather had OG Anunoby and Willie Reed?

Would you have rather traded the pick in exchange for a future first-round pick, an extra $2 million of cap space, the immediate availability of a near-term first-round pick in trade, and Willie Reed? Would it have even been possible? Bear in mind that, if they truly wanted reportedly coveted target Donovan Mitchell, the Heat only had five minutes to identify a potential trade partner from the point they discovered he was off the board (though teams likely poll for such potential trade interest well in advance), and perhaps several weeks if not.

Was there another opportunity you foresaw?

What would’ve been the right approach?

Only time will tell.

Notes:

(1) A potential Heat trade of its 2017 first-round pick would have been executed by pre-arranging the details of such trade, using the pick to select the player of the trade partner’s choosing, and then officially executing the trade after the selection was made. 

(2) For the Heat’s 2019 first-round pick to be instantly tradeable, the first-round pick received would’ve had to have been unprotected. But even if it had protections, the Heat could’ve traded its 2019 pick on condition that the acquired pick was conferred. 

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