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The Anatomy of a Spectacular Miami Heat Failure

June 15th, 2014 4 comments

The Miami Heat’s bid for basketball immortality – four straight NBA Finals appearances and three straight NBA titles, a feat which has only been accomplished once in league history – has fallen spectacularly short. In the wake of this colossal failure, we’re all left wondering how it all went so wrong so quickly – how our team ended up looking so old, so slow, so flawed, so unable to adapt, so unable to defend.

Is it an organizational philosophy that failed us?

“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.”

That was Pat Riley in June 2011, describing his aversion to developing youthful talent.

It is a philosophy that he has expressed many different times in many different ways over the years. It is a philosophy that has permeated his every decision in preparation for and during the Big Three era. It is a philosophy upon which the Stepien-like decisions to surrender a whopping six future first round draft picks in a period of less than five months from February to July 2010 were predicated. It is a philosophy upon which the decision to constantly fill the roster with post-dated bench-warming veterans was predicated.

It was a philosophy which, initially, didn’t bother us. We were all so captivated by the moment. Riley had a plan. He executed upon it with deadly precision. He got the big things so right that it didn’t matter how he handled the little things. In Riley we trusted.

The winning that followed only validated that ideology.

But, quietly, things weren’t as wonderful as they appeared. In the wake of the signings of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the summer of the 2010, the front office lost sight of its need to build for the future. Everything was always only about the moment.

Some of us couldn’t help but wonder. If your mission is to win as many titles as possible while the Big Three are still in their primes, then wouldn’t you like to have some upside around? Some players who will be getting better with time? Some players who can keep the energy level high when the stars need to rest?

Riley has always had a clear affinity for the seasoned veteran versus the inexperienced rookie. He’d rather have the sure thing than the potential next big thing. But as much as these veterans are low risks to make stupid, rookie-type decisions, none will break free off the dribble in crunch time or make that key defensive stop and then sprint up the floor for a breakaway jam – they’re zero risks to become more athletic, to develop new parts of their games, or to be usable as trade bait should the need arise.  Read more…

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.

Dorell Wright signs 3-year, $11 million contract to join the Warriors

July 10th, 2010 3 comments

Dorell Wright’s six-year stay in South Florida has come to an end. Wright signed a three-year contract worth just shy of $11 million to join the Golden State Warriors.

The 6’9″ small forward seemed to be turning a corner last season, averaging 7.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in his 21 minutes per game. It was the best overall season of his career, a season during which he began to show the promise that warranted his No. 19 selection in the 2004 NBA Draft.

But the Heat didn’t have the cap room to offer Dorell anything more than a minimum salary contract.

Here’s wishing all the best to Dorell Wright.

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Q&A: Under-the-table-agreements

May 27th, 2010 No comments

The following question to Ira Winderman has piqued some interest from my shockingly tiny reader base:

“In all your posts, you are undermining and flat out discarding one very real possibility for the Heat to round out the roster. That is, for veterans like U.D., J.O. and Q, and even possibly Dorell, to sign a one-year minimum deal and keep their Bird Rights.”

It is easy to understand the connotation behind this question, though it is not explicitly stated. The concept would be for the Heat to sign any or all of the players mentioned to one-season minimum contracts. Doing so would allow the Heat to maximize cap space this summer and, with Bird rights intact, exceed next year’s salary cap to grant them significant raises for their troubles.

While this is quite a creative concept, the premise is inherently flawed.

This approach is illegal. Teams are not permitted to make direct agreements with a player that are not reported to the league. If they do, the penalties can be severe. Such a violation is considered by the league to be among the most serious a team can commit. A violation can result in a fine of up to $5.0 million, forfeiture of draft picks, voiding of the player’s contract, and/or the suspension for up to one year of any team personnel who were involved. In addition, the player himself can be fined up to $100,000, and prohibited from ever signing with that team.

You might be saying to yourself that the easier solution would be to report the agreement to the league in order to avoid any allegations of wrong-doing. Future contracts, however, are also illegal.

You might also be saying to yourself the league would never find out. This is very risky business – particularly for complementary players – with the penalties being so severe.

In the summer of 1999, the Minnesota Timberwolves tried this approach with Joe Smith. Smith left the Philadelphia 76ers to sign with the Timberwolves. The two sides made an under-the-table agreement that Smith would play under three consecutive one-year contracts at below market value ($1.75 million, $2.1 million and $3.6 million), and the Timberwolves would reward him by using their Bird rights to sign him to a much larger contract beginning with the 2001/02 season (reportedly worth between $40 and $86 million over seven years, dependent on performance clauses).

The league discovered the arrangement the following season, and responded by fining the team the maximum (at the time) $3.5 million, taking away their next five draft picks (two were later returned), and voiding Smith’s then-current contract. Owner Glen Taylor and GM Kevin McHale also agreed to leaves of absence (in lieu of suspensions). Most interestingly, the league also voided Smith’s two previous, already-completed contracts. This essentially stripped the Timberwolves of any Bird rights to Smith.

If Riley were to be found in violation, leniency would not be something that would be afforded. Pat has a history of violations of league rules. Read more…

Dorell Wright delivers career-best performance

February 23rd, 2010 1 comment

Tuesday’s game was a career best.

By keeping the still very young and greatly improved small forward at the trade deadline, the Heat showed a surprising commitment to 2004 first round draft pick Dorell Wright.

On Tuesday night, Wright repaid that loyalty with a career-best performance.

He scored a career-high 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including an amazing 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also had 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals. It was far and away his best ever N.B.A. game. And he did it all in just 30 minutes of game action.

Wright has become the best and most versatile small forward on the Heat roster. He has struggled through inconsistent play at times – a natural result of inconsistent minutes – but he fits the Heat’s expressed desire to add length, superior shooting and quality defense on the perimeter.

After struggling through injury for the better part of his first five N.B.A. seasons, Wright has stepped up in a big way thus far this season.

He has become the strong perimeter defender the Heat have for so many years been searching for, with the height and quickness to guard both guard and forward positions. He has shown flashes of the playmaking that had head coach Erik Spoelstra utilizing the 6’9″ player at the point. He’s always been an excellent rebounder and great natural athlete. And now, after years of hard work to improve an ugly shooting stroke that used to be released from well behind his head, he is becoming the qualify three-point shooter that so well complements the slashing game of close personal friend Dwyane Wade. After converting a grand total of twelve 3-pointers in 55 attempts through his first five seasons, Wright has knocked down 37 this season, on 41.1% shooting.

Read more…

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Two Low-Key Trades for the Miami Heat to Pursue at the Trade Deadline

February 13th, 2010 No comments

While the Miami Heat, and a majority of N.B.A. teams, are focused on headline names being tossed around as possible trade deadline blockbuster candidates, the Heat has more pressing matters to concern itself with as well.

With the Heat attempting to move closer to signing three max-contract players — their own free agent Dwyane Wade and possibly two others – there are a couple of more low-key deadline deals that should be considered in pursuit of that goal.

Below are two suggested trade proposals which would help:

Suggested Trade Proposal #1
Heat Trade: Dorell Wright, James Jones, 2010 First Round Pick Jones_James Wright_Dorell
Heat Receive: Nothing or Expiring Contract(s), Future Second Round Pick

The Heat appear to be faced with the choice of dumping Dorell Wright or paying the N.B.A.’s luxury tax.

Wright is an emerging talent who is expendable only because the Heat is unlikely to be in a position to re-sign him this summer. Trading him would save the team approximately $8 million.

Several teams are showing interest. Memphis is making a strong push. In his fifth year, Wright is a preps-to-pros prospect the Heat selected in the first round (19th overall) of the 2004 N.B.A. draft. He would fit the Grizzlies’ expressed desire to add length, shooting and defense on the perimeter. The Grizzlies are reportedly prepared to offer a 2010 first round draft pick in exchange.

The prospect of trading 26 final games of Dorell Wright in exchange for approximately $8 million in cash and a 2010 first round draft pick merits serious consideration in its own right.

But the Heat has a bigger issue it needs to resolve. It needs to get rid of James Jones’ contract. If it’s even possible, the cost is going to be very high.  Read more…

Is Dorell Wright On The Move?

February 3rd, 2010 No comments

The always dapper Dorell Wright

As the NBA trade deadline fast approaches, questions are naturally beginning to surface in South Florida as to what activity we are likely to see from the Miami Heat.

The answer, quite simply, is nothing too exciting.

Pat Riley has a plan now nearly three years in the making. The plan, however tenuous it may appear in the current salary cap environment, is to sign three max contract free agents to long-term contracts next summer. The plan has always been to sacrifice the present for the benefit of the future.

At this point, nothing will – and nothing should – deter him from that goal.

Trading away the only continuing contracts – those of Daequan Cook and James Jones – would be ideal, but the market for each is exceedingly thin.

And so all that remains are financial considerations.

Miami’s payroll currently stands at $72.7 million, $2.8 million over the luxury tax threshold. Unfortunately for Dorell Wright, he happens to be making a tidy $2.9 million. That puts him directly in the line of fire.

Should Dorell Wright be traded? Read more…

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