Feb 6 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) against the Houston Rockets during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat: A Dynasty Despite Lost Draft Picks?

The Miami Heat will win another NBA title in the very near future; possibly even this summer. Certainly, it is hard to argue with the roster construction of a team that has two sure-fire Hall of Famers in LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and another legitimate star in Chris Bosh. The unmatched production of James will cause people to forget about true deficiencies in not only the Heat’s roster, but also the questionable way in which Miami’s draft assets have been handled in recent years.

This is far from an indictment of team president Pat Riley and the Miami front office; such a stance would be foolish. The Heat won the 2011-12 title and are poised to continue winning, so there is no place for me to condemn their front office. This is simply an entertaining, exploratory exercise, seeking to find out how much better Miami could be had they not sacrificed (and in some cases, wasted) valuable draft picks in previous years.

In the summer of 2010, Mr. Riley pulled off one of the most incredible off-seasons in sports history, handing out three near-max contracts to star players. Two of them were to players that were about to head into their age-26 seasons (James and Bosh), and the other was to Wade, who took a slight pay-cut heading into his age-29 season. These three contracts alone took up $43.2 million of the approximately $68.5 million that the Heat spent on players in 2010-11, or 63% of the payroll.

Feb 10, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) and Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In filling the roster for the 2010-11 campaign, Riley signed swingman Mike Miller, forward/center Udonis Haslem, and center Joel Anthony to five-year contracts, chewing up much of the remaining cap space for the foreseeable future. Along with point guard Mario Chalmers, Miami suddenly found themselves with just seven players under contract and virtually no cap space to use for free agents.

Miami’s response was to fill their roster was to acquire veterans on the cheap. And not just veterans, but complete and utter has-beens that were simply searching for an easy championship ring before riding off into the sunset. The likes of Eddie House, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jamaal Magloire, Juwan Howard, Erick Dampier, Jerry Stackhouse, and Mike Bibby all signed veteran’s minimum contracts with the Heat, filling out the roster with old, slow, untradeable flotsam.

Now, I am not a huge fan of playing the “they drafted Player X at #18….look at all the great players they could have had! What were they thinking?!” game. The NBA draft can be cruel and is always somewhat of a crapshoot; teams can only hope to find the best ways to suck the most possible value out of the whole process. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at the Heat’s recent draft history.

2008

Miami took the consensus best player available, Michael Beasley from Kansas State, with the second overall pick. Coming off of a horrific 2007-08 season, they also would have held the 31st overall pick, or the first pick of the second round. Unfortunately for the Heat, however, the pick had been traded to Boston back in August of 2005 as part of the Antoine Walker trade.

The 31st pick had since been traded to Minnesota as part of the Wally Szczerbiak-Ricky Davis trade in January of 2006, and the Timberwolves selected center Nikola Pekovic from Montenegro. The Heat eventually completed a trade later in the second round, acquiring Mario Chalmers (#34 overall) from Minnesota for two future second round picks.

Drafted with picks originally owned by Miami: Nikola Pekovic

Players drafted by Miami: Beasley (No. 2), Mario Chalmers (No. 34)

2009

In October of 2007, the Timberwolves traded Ricky Davis and Mark Blount to Miami, acquiring a protected first round pick in exchange for taking back three contracts, including Antoine Walker’s. The pick was top-14 protected in 2008, but only top-10 protected in 2009. On draft night, Minnesota sent the pick (#18) to Denver in exchange for a future first-rounder, and Denver selected point guard Ty Lawson.

The Heat traded the rights to Stanko Barac to Indiana for Marcus Thornton (#43), and immediately traded Thornton to New Orleans for two future second round picks. Miami used the final pick in the draft, acquired as part of the compensation received from Orlando for hiring away coach Stan Van Gundy, to select Robert Dozier, who has never appeared in an NBA game.

Drafted with picks originally owned by Miami: Ty Lawson

Players drafted by Miami: Robert Dozier

2010

Going into the 2010 NBA Draft, Riley was in the final stages of plotting his massive off-season heist that would occur as soon as free agency opened. In fact, James announced “The Decision” exactly two weeks after the draft, and Riley was certainly in the midst of planning how he would go about surrounding his stars with complementary players.

November 15, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson (3) during the second half against the Miami Heat at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

On the eve of the draft, Riley sent the Heat’s lone first round pick (#18 overall) along with sharpshooter Daequan Cook to Oklahoma City for the 32nd overall pick. This move was made solely to create additional cap space, clearing Cook’s $2.17 million contract from the books, in addition to the guaranteed slot salary (around $1.5 million) that is attached to the 18th overall pick.

While the 32nd overall pick is not a terrible compensation prize, giving up Cook was somewhat of a head-scratcher. The Heat turned around and signed multiple players for more money and years that were not necessarily better fits for the roster that Riley was in the process of constructing, and Cook would have been an ideal fit as a specialty shooter and floor-spacer in an offense with James and Wade penetrating the lane and kicking the ball out for open shots.

At 32nd overall, Miami selected Dexter Pittman, a center out of the University of Texas. He has only played in 41 games over the past 2 ½ seasons for the Heat, but remains arguably the best selection that the Heat could have made at that particular pick if they had their hearts set on a center. Players such as Landry Fields, Lance Stephenson, and Jeremy Evans were all selected after Pittman, but the Heat were (and still are, for that matter) searching for help in the frontcourt.

Miami also held the 41st overall pick (from the Thornton trade in 2009) and the 42nd overall pick (part of the Shawn Marion-Jermaine O’Neal trade in January of 2009). They selected Jarvis Varnado and Da’Sean Butler with the picks, and neither played a game for the organization until Varnado re-joined the team in 2013. The Heat also held their own second round pick at #48, which they used to select Latavious Williams, who was then  traded to Oklahoma City for a 2011 second round pick.

Drafted with picks originally owned by Miami: Eric Bledsoe

Players drafted by Miami: Dexter Pittman (No. 32), Jarvis Varnado (No. 41), Da’Sean Butler (42nd)

2011

The 2011 NBA Draft was a twisting, winding, confusing ordeal, mainly caused by Timberwolves’ President of Basketball Operations David Kahn’s massive sell-off to raise money to buyout head coach Kurt Rambis. Take the 28th overall pick, for instance, originally belonging to Miami but was sent to Toronto as part of the Chris Bosh sign-and-trade deal the previous summer. The Raptors traded the pick to Chicago in exchange for James Johnson prior to the 2011 trade deadline (5th overall pick was also Miami’s as a result of the Marion-O’Neal trade from years before, but went back to Toronto in the Bosh deal along with the 28th overall pick.)

Chicago then drafted Norris Cole, a point guard out of Cleveland State, and traded him and Malcom Lee (43rd overall) to Minnesota. The Wolves turned around and sent Cole and a future second round pick to Miami in exchange for the rights to Bojan Bodganovic. After four trades over the course of a calendar year, Miami recovered their 28th overall draft pick and hung onto Cole. The Heat also traded the #58 overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for the rights to Patrick Beverley, who would never wear a Heat uniform.

Drafted with picks originally owned by Miami: Norris Cole

2012

The Heat again returned to offering up first round picks for the purpose of saving money, trading the 27th overall pick, Arnett Moultrie, to Philadelphia for the Justin Hamilton (46th overall) and a future second round pick.

Drafted with picks originally owned by Miami: Arnett Moultrie

Players owned by Miami after draft night: Justin Hamilton

To Recap….

From 2008 to the present, I give you the players selected by other teams using picks that were originally owned by the Miami Heat:

Nikola Pekovic, Ty Lawson, Eric Bledsoe, Arnett Moultrie

As part of these draft night trades, Miami also gave up Daequan Cook and Marcus Thornton. Not a bad group of players, especially considering that the present day edition of the Heat are sorely lacking a point guard and a center. Lawson and Pekovic, anyone?

Obviously, Riley had to clear cap space to sign James, Bosh, and Wade. First round picks and their guaranteed contracts can certainly be a burden on a team that is trying to win a championship. But it is hard to give him a complete pass when he turned around and signed Miller, Haslem, and Anthony to five-year contracts, chewing up a huge amount of cap space and unnecessary long-term commitment. Understandably, Riley wanted to boost his title chances with a host of veteran role players, but he cast aside a number of valuable assets in the process. Imagine the Heat with Lawson or Pekovic on a rookie contract, or with a second round pick like Landry Fields on an affordable deal.

Again, it is not fair to lambast Riley and the Miami front office over draft selections alone, especially since the trades involving the 2008 and 2009 picks were made before the attempt to sign James and Bosh. But the series of moves in order to create additional space since then have been questionable at times, to be sure. In addition, the Heat have yet to use their amnesty clause on a contract such as Mike Miller’s, and valuable cap space has been wasted on aging, oft-injured players.

More than anything, this is an entertaining exercise that traces the value of draft picks that originally belonged to a single franchise, and it remains mind-boggling to consider what could have been. To be clear, Pat Riley and the Heat have not merely put together a contender, but they have assembled a perennial title favorite – certainly nothing to sneeze at. But it most certainly does not forbid us from indulging in scintillating thoughts revolving around a Ty Lawson-Dwayne Wade-Lebron James fastbreak. Because after all….it could have been.

Tags: Chicago Bulls Denver Nuggets Los Angeles Clippers Miami Heat Minnesota TImberwolves NBA New Orleans Hornets Oklahoma City Thunder Philadelphia 76ers

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