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Riley Guarantees Dexter Pittman’s Contract

June 29th, 2012 1 comment

Working in advance of the league’s October 31 deadline for such moves, Heat president Pat Riley picked up the 2010-11 rookie-scale option on the contract of first-round pick Daequan Cook late in 2009.

Eight months later, Riley changed his mind. Attempting to clear as much salary-cap space as possible for free agency, the Heat traded the underperforming Cook and the 18th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In exchange, the Heat received the No. 32 selection. That pick became Dexter Pittman.

Pittman signed a three-year minimum salary contract with the last of the Heat’s remaining cap space in July of 2010. The final year, for the upcoming 2012-13 season, was fully unguaranteed, becoming guaranteed if not waived before June 30, 2012. Earlier today, Riley confirmed that the Heat would let that deadline pass, thus guaranteeing his contract.

The decision to retain Pittman is certainly understandable. The Heat desperately needs size. Apart from Pittman, LeBron James is currently the heaviest player on the Heat. Only Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony are taller.

While the Heat implemented its small-ball philosophy with great success during its playoff run, a strategy that the Heat seem destined to employ for the whole of next season, don’t kid yourself. It’s a strategy borne more out of necessity than desire.

But Pittman, who has played a total of 320 big-league minutes over the course of his two seasons in the league, is hardly a definitive answer at center. Any flashes of low-post skill he has displayed have thus far been more than offset by his propensity to foul (sometimes violently).

Therefore, while the decision to retain him may be understandable, the manner in which Riley chose to do so was certainly not. One must question what prompted Riley to offer a guarantee to a player who seemingly didn’t require one. He could have, and should have, waived the wide-bodied center prior to the June 30 deadline, and thereafter re-signed him to a make-good, training camp contract. Of course, the risk with such an approach is that some other team might make Pittman a better offer. But let’s be realistic. A better offer wasn’t coming.

Riley has done this before. In July of 2010, 2009 second round pick Patrick Beverley was offered a questionable (or, frankly, inexplicable) two-year fully guaranteed contract – making him the only player in the league to try out for the team that drafted him, fail to make the team, and then be offered a multi-season guaranteed contract the season after. Despite the guarantee, Beverley was waived one day prior to the start of the regular season. Total unnecessary cost incurred: $2.1 million (including the tax).

Unlike Beverley, however, Pittman’s spot on the roster is all but guaranteed. The cash-strapped Heat can no longer afford to repeat its sins of the past and eat guaranteed salary. It’s simply too expensive. Letting Pittman go would add an additional $1.7 million to a payroll already projected to approach $100 million, the highest in franchise history by a wide margin. The Heat is, for better or worse, invested in Pittman’s continued development.

Said Riley: “We expect improvement. Big guys, when you draft them late or in the second round, it’s a two- or three-year project. He’s going into his third year. We are going to give him a great shot and we expect this year he might be able to really contribute to us.”

The Heat now has eleven players under guaranteed contract for 2012-13. By league rules, the team must employ at least thirteen, but no more than fifteen, on its regular season roster. It can carry as many as twenty during the offseason.

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Heat Draft Moultrie, Trade Him to 76ers

June 28th, 2012 No comments

Well, apparently Pat Riley will wait until the start of free agency to upgrade to his championship roster.

The Heat selected Mississippi State power forward Arnett Moultrie with its No. 27 pick in today’s NBA draft, but then promptly dealt the SEC’s leading rebounder to the Philadelphia 76ers.

In exchange, the Heat received a future first round pick from the 76ers and the No. 45 pick in the second round of the draft, which Miami used to select LSU center Justin Hamilton, who is expected to be sent overseas for development next season. The first-round pick the Heat acquired is lottery protected for the next three seasons, meaning the Heat will get the pick as soon as Philadelphia makes the playoffs. If they miss the playoffs in all three seasons, the pick will turn into two second round picks — one in 2015 and another in 2016.

On the face of it, the move was something of a steal for the Heat. The pick they gave up was No. 27 overall. The one they obtained is likely to be in the high teens a year later, and in the meantime Miami still got to use Philly’s second-rounder.

But the trade comes in direct contrast to the plan laid out by the Heat’s vice president of player personnel, Chet Kammerer, during his pre-draft media session with reporters the day prior. Kammerer had suggested that the Heat were planning to draft a player with the pick, one who could contribute immediately and complement the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

As it turned out, a wild draft left such a possibility still on the board at No. 27.

The 6-foot-11-inch, 235-pound Moultrie seemed to be just the kind of player Miami could use to add depth to a thin front line that features just Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Dexter Pittman and Joel Anthony. Moultrie is long and athletic, with great quickness, explosive leaping ability, and a knack for grabbing and finishing off offensive rebounds. But he is also a skilled perimeter player with range that many expect will extend all the way out to the three-point line in time, a vital component for a Heat team that had postseason success by playing three-point shooting specialist Shane Battier out of position at power forward. Moultrie, therefore, seemed to be a perfect fit. With Battier overmatched at power forward and Haslem’s stills in a rapid state of decline, it’s not inconceivable that Moultrie could have become a starting caliber addition in the years ahead.

The Heat had other intriguing options available as well, including Baylor’s Perry Jones III at combo forward — a super-athletic big with the skills of a guard and the height of a center, and seemingly an even better fit for the Heat with an even higher potential upside.

So why the trade?

Many have speculated that the rationale for the trade was the financial flexibility it provides. By trading out of the first round of the draft, the Heat won’t have to add a multi-year guaranteed contract to a payroll that already exceeds the league’s $70.3 million luxury-tax limit. Such a rationale, however, seems unlikely. The salary scale of a player selected at No. 27 in the draft, $868,600, is roughly identical to the minimum salary contract to which the roster spot is now likely to be allocated. There’s no savings there. And, as far as next year is concerned, the Heat will likely find itself in this very same situation – required to offer a multi-year guarantee to the player selected with its newly acquired pick, only this pick will very likely be much higher up than No. 27, and thus significantly more expensive. There’s no savings there either.

Riley’s explanation, that “the players that we had on our board were not there at the time, and we felt we had a great option with Philly to get a future first next year” is also not very likely. The depth in the 2013 draft is widely considered to be comparatively weak.

A more likely rationale for trading into a future first round pick is in its potential value as a trade asset.

Teams are restricted by league rule from trading away all of its future first round draft picks in consecutive years. The Heat has already traded away its 2013 first rounder and its 2015 first rounder to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the LeBron James sign-and-trade. Therefore, without the Philly pick, the Heat couldn’t have utilized a first round pick in trade until the 2017 draft at the earliest. So it opens up a world of potential trade possibilities.

The Heat has several undesirable long-term contracts allocated to players who figure to have a diminishing role in the years to come – among them Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony. That doesn’t bode well for a team which will have a payroll well in excess of the luxury tax threshold for 2013-14 and beyond, when the league’s more punitive tax penalties kick in. Riley will presumably look to trade away at least one at some point in the future, and it won’t be easy. The toxic nature of these contracts would suggest that the Heat might need to include additional assets as an enticement to complete such a trade, let alone expect anything of value back in return. As it stands, the Philly pick now represents the Heat’s best trade asset.

And so what otherwise might have been a promising young rookie in Moultrie may well become nothing more than a means in which to undue a bad mistake. That’s the cost of doing business. Mistakes are inevitable. And costly to unwind.

And so passes by another uninspired NBA draft… unless, of course, it turns into something great next year.

Congratulations, Miami Heat!

June 21st, 2012 4 comments

Thank you, Miami Heat.

This might just be the beginning of something great. But before we delve into what happens next, before we talk about salary caps and luxury tax consequences and free agency and draft prospects, let’s take a moment to reflect on what has just taken place.

You showed poise against a hating world. And in doing so, you proved everyone wrong.

Thank you for not letting the haters beat you down.

Remember Dan Gilbert declaring, “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”?

Remember how the critics called Wade’s brainchild and Pat Riley’s free-agent coup a colossal failure? How they said the only way the Big Three could win is if there were three balls? That three NBA superstars couldn’t possibly share the limelight?

Remember Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock summing up after last year’s Finals loss, “The Big Three is done. It was a noble experiment. James and Wade deserve credit for trying to make it work, for being completely loyal to and unselfish with each other for an entire season. Now it’s time to move on before they inflict further damage on their reputations.”

Well, they were all wrong.

Remember how you were vilified for having no heart? No will to win? No guts to rise above adversity? Remember how everyone left you for dead after you trailed 2-1 to the Pacers, 3-2 to the Celtics, 1-0 to the Thunder?

Well, you went 9-0 after trailing at any point during a playoff series this postseason. It doesn’t get any better than that.  Read more…

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The NBA is Back!!!

December 24th, 2011 4 comments

It’s back, baby!

After 196 days of withdrawal, anticipation, lockouts, light-hearted twitter declarations by rightfully beloved owners, and over-reaching punishments by an overly eager commissioner, life is back as it should be.

Tomorrow, at 2:30 pm, we get Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh in a game that matters. We get to settle in, grab some turkey, crack open a beer, and, that’s right, watch some NBA basketball.

You may have cursed the players. You may have cursed the owners. You may have considered quitting the game altogether. You may have forgotten what it looked like, sounded like, felt like. It all seems like a distant memory now.

But the lockout, the one that was supposed to wipe out the entire 2011-12 season, is over.

Forget the “nuclear winter” references. There’s no more need for nifty marketing tricks by a league that threatened to undermine itself during the offseason. No need to feign interest in tired exhibition games or world tours.

We’re past trying to convince ourselves that hockey is an acceptable replacement. Past trying to rely upon one lousy game of football every seven days to carry us through.

We’re past hearing that damn phrase “basketball-related-income,” as it relates to how many dollars the players should be pocketing. Past hearing about the struggles of those poor owners trying to make ends meet. Past the audit reports, the tax forms, the lawsuits, Dwyane Wade and David Stern lashing out at each other from across the board room table.

We’re past trying to convince ourselves that all those hours we had free from the sport would somehow pour, seamlessly, into making us better people, more learned, the kind who understand what the hell is going on in the world and can start to appreciate the finer things in life. Now things are, thankfully, back to normal; all attempts at self-improvement will have to work themselves around the NBA schedule.

It’s time to start training that one eye to keep constant watch on the flow of the game, while the other peeks over at those half-naked cheerleaders. It’s time to start utilizing the halftime break as a means to scout the talent around us. It’s time to celebrate, say, 49 home victories with 20,000 of your closest strangers.

Sure, the now-settled labor dispute will, without a doubt, make the season more challenging. An entire offseason’s worth of predictions, rumors, scouting, speculation, signings, trades, injuries, scandals, preparation, practice and training have all been crammed into three short weeks. The compacted 66-game schedule will require every team to play games at a pace of more than one every two days, including games on three consecutive days at least once.

As a result, there will be sloppy play. There will be fluctuating intensity. There will be injuries. But those challenges only heighten the thrill of accomplishment.

Which brings us to the Miami Heat.

Even without a title, the 2010-11 season, from beginning to end, was some of the most compelling theater we’ve ever witnessed as sports fans.

This year is going to be better.

The starting rotation will be the best in basketball. D-Wade, Bron and CB1 are going to find a way to simultaneously extract the best of each other. Mario Chalmers is going to build upon his playoff success and become the type of floor spacing guard this team so desperately craves. Joel Anthony is, well, a lost cause (let’s not get carried away).

The second going to deliver in a big way. A healthy Mike Miller is going to lead the league in three-point shooting. A healthy Udonis Haslem is going to lead the league in bench rebounding. Shane Battier is going to prove he remains a solid wing stopper with an effective (if not necessarily graceful) three-point stroke.

Norris Cole is going to deliver the breakout season he’s capable of. His quick first step will push the tempo offensively and make the game faster, more thrilling, and harder to defend. His dogged defense is going to be exactly what this team needs.

Coach Spoelstra is going to learn from past mistakes and, with an off-season of reflection, deliver an efficient offensive strategy for half-court success. Combined with what is already the game’s best transition offense and perhaps the game’s most suffocating defense, this team will blow out its opponents on a nightly basis.

This time, we will not be denied. This time, we will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Tip-off is less than twenty-four hours away. This is our time. This is our stage. Let’s get motivated. Let’s get this thing done.

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NBA’s Construct Promotes Pat Riley’s Vision

November 26th, 2011 2 comments

It took a 15-hour session pitched between the NBA and player representatives in New York that spilled over from Friday into early Saturday morning. It took nearly half a year, from pre-draft negotiations in early summer spread nearly into the precipice of a chilly East Coast winter. But it’s over. The NBA and its players have come to a tentative agreement, and the NBA lockout is over.

The NBA was taking direct aim at the Miami Heat when it issued, if you believe Commissioner David Stern’s stern ultimatum, its final collective bargaining agreement proposal. Michael Jordan and his roving gang of hard-line scallywags were trying their damndest to force Pat Riley to break apart his creation.

In an ironic twist of fate, though, the agreement that was struck not only fails to prevent such a construct in the future, it actually encourages it.

The tentative deal makes it expensive – prohibitively expensive – for teams to spend beyond the tax threshold. It also forces certain teams that use certain exceptions to stop spending entirely, under any circumstances. It’s essentially a hard salary cap in disguise. Ah, the financial parity!

But this isn’t the NFL. There aren’t 53 guys on an active roster. There aren’t 26 different positions to consider. There are as few as 13 guys, playing five positions. True, game-changing talent is sparse. Each one has an enormous impact.

Think for a moment about what could happen under such a construct.

If, for example, every team in the league were given exactly $60 million to spend, how would you spend it? Would you give 13 mid-level talent guys mid-level money? Or would you give three maximum talent guys maximum contracts and fill out the roster with throw-ins?

The Heat is proving out a new construct for success in today’s NBA. Grab a legitimate grouping of three superstars and all else you need is a cast of marginally-talented three-point-shooting throw-ins to let them maneuver in space, some of whom occasionally play a little defense, and you’ve got yourself a legitimate title contender. Teams have a very healthy fear of the Heat, and a realistic understanding of how difficult it is to beat them four times in seven games. They seem to get how little a non-star player really affects those odds.

Of course, the joining of forces of three game-changing talents is an exceedingly rare thing. It requires not only the desire of three such players, but also the foresight of a team to clear enough salary to even make it possible. It might happen but once a decade… or not at all.

The point, however, is that it is possible – even more possible under the current deal than it was under the last collectively bargained deal.  Read more…

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Miami Heat selects Norris Cole

June 25th, 2011 4 comments

Well… the Miami Heat traded up three spots in the 2011 NBA Draft, into the first round at No. 28, to select what it believes was the most promising point guard available in Norris Cole. It was a welcome aggression for a typically draft-passive organization.

Riley wanted a “pure” point guard; he got his man.

He got a talented one at that. When a player scores 41 points, grabs 20 rebounds, and dishes out 9 assists in a single game (even if it was versus an admittedly forgettable Youngstown State team), you know he’s a serious offensive threat. When that player also nabs his conference’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season (even if it was in the admittedly forgettable Horizon League), you have Norris Cole.

Cole rated out as the fourth and fifth best point guard in the draft, respectively, by Riley and ESPN draft guru Chad Ford. Riley had him ranked No. 18 on his draft board; Ford had him going as high as No. 21. The Heat were enamored with Cole’s speed and defensive ability at the point guard position. But as a slender guard with short arms and questionable range, showcasing his talents in an inferior conference, he’s far from a sure thing. Time will tell.

We can debate whether trading up was necessary and justified.

Detractors will point to the enhanced financial obligations to a first round pick in what figures to be an uncertain salary cap environment. They will point out that the increased financial burden was the result of moving up just three spots, from No. 31 to No. 28. They may even suggest that it was truly just one spot. Two of the three were owned by the Bulls, the team which facilitated the trade of  Cole to the Heat. The Bulls then formally made the selection of Cole, dealt him to the Timberwolves, who then moved him to the Heat. Had the Bulls been targeting Cole, they clearly wouldn’t have do so.

But the Heat wanted Cole. “There was a consensus that this was the player that we wanted to take,” Riley said. “We didn’t want to get left at the altar.”

He was cognizant that the Spurs, who had agreed to trade their backup point guard George Hill to the Indiana Pacers earlier in the day, could jump in front of the Heat and select a point guard at No. 29, and in fact they did. The trade was therefore necessary, and so skillfully executed.

But the price was steep. More steep than necessary?

The Heat surrendered to the Wolves the Wolves’ own 2014 second round pick and cash considerations to move up just three spots. The Bulls, as part of the same trade, surrendered to the Wolves a less attractive second round pick (No. 43) and cash considerations to move up five more valuable spots. The Bulls gave up less and got more.

In the 2010 draft, pick Nos. 25 and 31 were each sold for cash.

It would appear that adding in cash alone, or perhaps instead a future second round pick of their own, would have made for an eminently more reasonable swap for the Heat. It would appear that trading away the Wolves’ own 2014 second round pick and cash considerations would be enough to simply buy the No. 28 pick outright, without the need for a swap. Imagine the Heat with Norris Cole and a second youthful player selected with the No. 31 pick. Of course, we will never know whether such alternatives were bargained for.

And so now the Heat has just two low-level first round and five low-level second round draft picks over the next five years.

The Heat has, in effect, traded away Michael Beasley in return for the draft rights to Norris Cole. If, as a result, the team has identified a key contributor, then all is well. If, by chance, the team has identified a future starter, then all is wonderful and this will go down as a spectacular draft for Riley and crew.

Is Norris Cole the Heat’s answer at point guard? It certainly seems as if he has that potential. But the pressure is on.

And so it goes for Pat Riley and the Miami Heat.

Here’s to wishing Mr. Cole all the success in the world.

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Living in a dream world… if only for a moment

June 22nd, 2011 2 comments

Pat Riley had a plan. He executed upon it with deadly precision. He got the big things so right that it almost didn’t matter how he handled the little things.

But not all of those little things went perfectly.

What if he did better with those little things? With the 2011 NBA draft now bearing down on us, would it have made any difference?

Navigating the uncertain waters of the draft has always been a special kind of hell for Riley. Riley’s 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.

Perhaps it is something of a blessing that he now has just eight picks, just two first rounders, to deal with over the next five years.

Was it a combination of strong basketball decisions or his strong aversion to the type of scrutiny that comes with the draft that led Riley and the Miami Heat to this position?

Riley again yesterday openly described his aversion.

“I don’t think you win championships with young, athletic players that don’t have experience. I think we’ve learned over the years that building with young players is very frustrating.”

But what if things were different?

What if the Heat had made some different decisions along the way?

There was Dorell Wright.

In a season to that point mired in frustration, and seemingly defined by the anticipation of things to come, keeping Wright at the trade deadline was perhaps the single most popular decision the Heat brass made. Riley and crew decided that Wright’s presence was more of a priority than the estimated $7.7 million addition to owner Micky Arison’s already fat wallet.

Wright responded in kind, offering some of the best work of his career.

But not all of us were so thrilled. A select few among us realized that if the Heat were to be successful in its bid for three max contract free agents, the team would need to soak up every possible opportunity to create depth around them.

The Grizzlies were offering a lottery-protected first round pick in return for his services. This select few realized that, despite Wright’s overwhelming popularity and still very much untapped potential, 26 final games from a free-agent-to-be in a season going nowhere was simply not worth $7.7 million and a future first round draft pick. That pick ended up being No. 20 overall in tomorrow’s draft.

There was Daequan Cook.

We all understood the rationale behind surrendering the No. 18 overall pick in last year’s draft in order to be free of all obligations to Cook. With such high stakes, Miami could hardly afford to gamble on the $2.2 million devoted to Cook.

But not all of us agreed on the approach. Some of us felt that the $2.2 million could rather easily be shed simply by offering a potential suitor up to the $3.0 million cash limit the CBA allows as well as a selection of second round picks, if necessary. How many unprofitable smaller-market teams could realistically pass up the opportunity to add backcourt depth in the form of a young and developing Three-Point Shootout champion not only free of charge, but at an $830k profit?

These same people felt that treating the No. 18 overall pick with such apathy was imprudent, that it could be better utilized to draft a potential future starter, if available, and in a trade for a similar such pick in a future draft if notThey realized that while drafting a player would eat into the team’s valuable cap space, the very situation the Heat were trying to rid themselves of with Cook, in this case we’d only be talking about an incremental $760K, or roughly equivalent to the cap space the Heat was willing to eat up to retain the Bird rights of Joel Anthony. They realized that sacrificing one for the other was a good gamble.

There was the Big Three.

When Chris Bosh and LeBron James made their decisions, there was elation. When they were signed, there was controversy.

Surrendering four first round picks and two second round picks, in addition to two large trade exceptions, seemed a bit excessive to some of us for a couple of players who were otherwise already committed to the Miami Heat. It seemed a bit excessive in return for nothing more than a sixth season tacked on to an already huge five-year contract – a sixth year that both are likely to opt out of anyway.

The question has been asked. What if things were different?

Let’s try to answer it.

Mario Chalmers and Eric Bledsoe would be battling it out for starters minutes at the point.

Dwyane Wade would still be playing under a six year contract, earning $6 million more than he is today. Eddie House would be battling it out with Danny Green for reserve two-guard minutes.

LeBron James would be playing under a near maximum contract, sacrificing that sixth year guarantee in exchange for an added $3 million over the first five. Mike Miller would be battling it out with James Jones for reserve small forward minutes.

Chris Bosh would be playing under a near maximum contract, sacrificing his sixth year guarantee in exchange for an added $3 million over the first five. Udonis Haslem would, unfortunately, be playing under a five-year contract elsewhere, earning $13 million more under a full mid-level exception contract than he is today.

The disastrous contingent of Heat centers would remain unaltered. But, at least, Anthony would be playing under a much more palatable minimum salary contract.

And the Miami Heat would have five – yes, five! – more first round draft picks and two more second round draft picks over the next five years, including a potential unprotected first round pick from the Raptors in 2015 that could very easily turn into the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in the season immediately after the contracts of James and Bosh would expire.

In short, the Heat would have produced the very same roster, save for adding Eric Bledsoe and Danny Green and subtracting Udonis Haslem, and would have stockpiled a whopping seven first round picks and eight second round picks over the next five years.

That’s 15 picks in just five years! No other team in the league has anywhere near that total.

(For those who are counting, the first round picks would have been: Miami’s own 2011-15, Memphis’ 2011, and Toronto’s potentially unprotected 2015. The second round picks would have been: Miami’s own 2013-2015, Oklahoma City’s 2011, Minnesota’s 2011 and 2014, New Orleans’ 2012, and Memphis’ top-55 protected 2012.)

One has to wonder.

What would two first round picks (Nos. 20, 28) and a high second round pick (No. 31) get you? A top ten pick in this year’s draft?

What would two first round picks (Nos. 20, 28), a second round pick (No. 31), and what figures to be a fully unprotected Raptors first round pick in 2015 get you? The No. 2 overall pick from a Minnesota Timberwolves team actively looking to trade it?

The possibilities with that grouping of picks would have, in this fictional reality, been endless.

If Riley’s aversion to the draft was ever present, think of the potential trade possibilities. By way of example, rumor would have you believe that the Phoenix Suns were shopping Marcin Gortat and their No. 13 pick for the No. 2 pick. Imagine if the Heat had acquired that No. 2 pick, and then pulled the trigger on this trade (involving, perhaps, Haslem, the unguaranteed contract of Pittman, and any one of the minimum contractors who picks up his second year option to make the math work).

How would Gortat look in a Heat uniform? He’s huge, he’s athletic, he’s among the best pick-and-roll operators around, he’s got a soft touch around the rim, he’s got good range, he’s a solid post defender, and he’s a beast on the boards. Is there a more perfect fit for this Miami Heat team, outside of Dwight Howard, in the whole of the NBA? Can you imagine how dominant such a Big Four would be?

With the Heat second team backcourt flush with youthful talent, how would frontcourt options such as SF Kawhi Leonard, PF Markieff Morris, or C Nikola Vucevic look with that No. 13 pick?

How would it feel to have secured both Gortat and one of the above selections, and still have four first round and seven second round picks to play with over the next five years?

It’s not as if an entirely unrealistic scenario is being painted here. Many of us were questioning each one of these little decisions made by Riley and his crew as they were happening. Of course, they are now important only for those among us who choose to live in the past.

The lesson, however, remains the same: Ignore the NBA draft at your own peril.

Undeserving Finalists

June 12th, 2011 9 comments

They conspired. They manipulated. They hatched a wicked plan nearly three years in the making and executed upon it with deadly precision in the span of less than forty-eight hours, to the shock and awe of supporters and detractors alike. They changed the rules for defining success in basketball’s greatest league to such an unprecedented extent that we’re all left searching for ways to invalidate the possibility in any new collective bargaining agreement to come. Hate the Miami Heat for it.

Hate them for what they did.

They bought themselves a contender. The league essentially gave them a blank check to buy every big name on the free agent market, and they did. They didn’t plan carefully. There weren’t countless other teams pursuing the very same plan. They didn’t execute their plan in a way no other team could. They just opened up their wallets and paid what nobody else would. There’s simply no honor in that.

It is far more honorable to draft and develop, to struggle season after season without taking steps to improve the franchise if the fruits of those struggles are consecutive lottery picks rather than freed up cap space. It is far more honorable to strong-arm smaller-market, salary-dumping teams that cannot otherwise afford to keep their talent into making lopsided, megastar trades.

Hate them for how they did it.

There was the issue of timing.

We, as a nation, have such a high standard of morality as to cry foul when impending free agents wish to speak with each other about the possibility of teaming up if such conversations happen in the few days leading up to the official start of free agency, because even though the timing of such conversations has absolutely nothing to do with the ultimate outcome, they are a violation of a set of rules we each understand completely and believe in deeply. Not a violation of league rules, as the commissioner emphatically confirmed, but rather a violation of moral character. We find it appalling that a couple of friends approaching the ends of their contracts would have the audacity to discuss the possibility of seeking employment together.

There was the issue of loyalty.

We should vilify the game’s best player for having the temerity to leave his hometown team after seven seasons of unrivaled individual success but little in the way of what really matters to show for it. This hometown hero, its heart and soul, its lifeblood, was nothing more than a caricature of loyalty. How dare such an incredible athlete put the prospect of winning a title above all else. He should be ostracized for such unthinkable behavior.

We’re okay if a certain star from Los Angeles crucifies his team in front of a national audience and demands a trade, and then goes on to demand that certain of his teammates be traded. We’re okay if that certain someone hails from Denver, and he holds his team hostage during the middle of an active NBA season while demanding a trade to a single team, providing his organization with no other options, and showing no apparent regard for his teammates or hometown fans in the process. We’re even okay if a certain someone leaves the only team he’s ever known for 12 NBA seasons in order to join a friend and chase a championship before he retires. We’re okay with these actions because our standard applies only to the best player in the game. All others are free to move without encountering our wrath.

We empathize with Clevelanders. Its residents are of too high a moral character for such a grand betrayal. Burning jerseys, death threats, pompous tongue-lashings from former owners – these are all perfectly appropriate responses to a single man’s decision to seek employment elsewhere. They are the actions of people deserving our sympathy.  Read more…

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NBA Lockout Appears Inevitable

April 16th, 2011 No comments

This Miami Heat team is positively thrilling. And while they don’t enter the playoffs tonight without flaws, they also have a legitimate shot at marching through the Sixers, Celtics, and Bulls all the way to the NBA Finals. Yet thanks to the squabbling of millionaires and billionaires over how to divide a $4 billion industry, this may be the last time for a long time to enjoy it.

Negotiations surrounding a new NBA collective bargaining agreement to replace the current six-year deal that expires on June 30 are not just in a stalemate. They’re turning nasty. A lockout seems inevitable. And it could last a while. It could wipe out the entire 2011-12 season.

The information, misinformation, accusations and counter-accusations are flying so fast and furious that you need an accounting degree and a decade of practical experience under your belt to actually be able to make sense of it all.

The two sides remain deeply divided over what percentage of revenue the players should receive and how owners should share their money.

Players currently receive not less than 57% of every dollar generated by the NBA in salaries and benefits. Players have no costs. Every dollar they make, they get to take home (excluding withholding taxes, of course).

Owners need to net their 43% share of revenues against all the costs of fielding their teams. According to Commissioner David Stern, the NBA will lose roughly $300 million this season. That’s actually better than the $340 million in losses last year and even better than the $370 million in losses the year before that. Stern has also spoken of losses of at least $200 million in each of the first three seasons of the current agreement.

That’s $1.6 billion in losses in six years. That’s huge! And the league has sent both audited financial data and tax returns to the player’s association to substantiate the losses.

The NBA is claiming the business model is broken.

Owners are seeking a complete overhaul of the league’s financial system, and have submitted proposals to the players that feature a hard salary cap, rollbacks to existing player salaries, shorter contract lengths, reduced annual raises, and the reduction of the players’ share of revenues from the current 57% to less than 40%.

But the players disagree with the story the numbers tell.

The players contend that the vast majority of the so-called losses is the result of creative accounting and tax loopholes. They contend that only a small number of teams are suffering, and that their problems can be addressed primarily through enhanced revenue sharing. Read more…

Horrible in the Half Court

January 28th, 2011 8 comments

The Heat’s half court struggles are confounding to all.

The Miami Heat is averaging 101.3 points per game thus far this season, while shooting 47.0% from the field.

That’s the best ever scoring output in the Pat Riley era and the second best efficiency mark in the NBA. Mighty impressive stuff for a team still very much a work-in-progress.

Yet hidden behind these statistics is a highly disturbing reality. The team simply cannot score in the half court. And Erik Spoelstra’s offensive system is to blame.

The expectation heading into the season was that the Heat would torment teams in transition, that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James would captivate us regularly with electrifying fastbreak dunks.

And, for the most part, they have. The Heat is shooting 61.3% en route to an average of 1.22 points on each transition possession, best in the league.

But the team only gets about 14 transition opportunities per game. While that’s actually quite a high total, it still leaves around 85 half court sets to deal with.

The problem, quite simply, is a fundamental lack of team basketball. Read more…

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