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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 on a player with real potential. At nearly 7-feet and 260 pounds, Hamilton is both huge and mobile, has a nice face-up shooting stroke that could in time extend beyond the three-point line, some decent post play potential, and he can rebound the basketball. That’s a rare skill-set for a big, and a perfect for the Heat. Though he will require further development of his body and game, which will likely relegate him to some overseas play, he has real NBA potential and could have an impact for the Heat in a couple of years.

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 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.

The Heat also had an even more intriguing option available, in Baylor product Perry Jones III — a super-athletic spicmen with the skills of a guard and the height of a center, and seemingly an even better fit for the Heat than Moultrie with an even higher potential upside.

There might not be many others with a more perfect basketball physique than Jones. Standing 6 feet 11 inches tall, he does things young men his size shouldn’t be able to do. He dribbles like a guard, runs like a deer and jumps like he’s got pogo sticks for legs. He can score inside or on the perimeter, rebound the basketball, block a few shots, and guard multiple positions. That combination of skill doesn’t show up often, and is exactly what the Heat covet. Nobody’s really sure what he is just yet – is he the world’s tallest point guard, the world’s most athletic center, or something in between? The answer isn’t imminently clear. But no one denies that he’s got immense skills and rare gifts.

Jones is probably a top-five talent, but teams weren’t convinced he has the desire or personality to be great, and his inconsistent play at Baylor didn’t exactly inspire much confidence. A medical red flag just before the draft due to a “meniscus issue” in his right knee dropped his stock out of the lottery, and nearly out of the first round entirely. It opened up a huge opportunity for the Heat as a potentially awesome risk-reward play. But they passed at pick No. 27. Oklahoma City Thunder grabbed him at pick No. 28.

So, with such intriguing available prospects, 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.