The Big Picture: Difficult Decisions Loom In 2016 For Pat Riley, Shape Future of Miami Heat
Allow me to qualify this entire forthcoming conversation by acknowledging that things can change. Trades occur, teams gel in unexpected ways and if the ball bounces right, anything can happen.
We have seen a team with pieces that didn’t quite fit win a title in Miami before. Look no further than the 2005-06 NBA Champions.
We know it can happen, because it has. If it does, maybe the topic I am about to elaborate on becomes moot. Winning cures all, right?
An interesting dynamic exists in the background of this Jekyll and Hyde 2015-16 Miami Heat season and has been the catalyst for somewhat of a divide between many Heat fans on social media.
This dynamic is complex, emotional and most of all, it’s important. Important to the direction and future of the Miami Heat in their quest to get back to being great. Pat Riley won’t settle for merely being good, not at this stage of his tenure.
On one hand, you have the players that are under contract and committed to big money. Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic.
Coincidentally, these two players’ style of play fit together and the team appears at their best when they are both playing well. They are also both players locked into deals made before the large cap spike coming in 2016, with games that project to age well.
Pat Riley won’t settle for merely being good, not at this stage of his tenure.
On the other hand, you have franchise legend Dwyane Wade and promising big man Hassan Whiteside. Both players are approaching unrestricted free agency with outside options and decisions to make.
Whether it’s Wade weighing how to balance spending the twilight of his career in Miami while also receiving a contract at his perceived market value, or Whiteside facing the prospects of cashing in on a once in a lifetime maximum salary payday.
The initial reaction to this situation is probably similar for most Heat fans on some level. What’s the big deal?
We want to keep all four of them. Nobody wants to lose a 26-year-old league-leading shot blocker for nothing. Who would? And Wade leaving? It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Heat and Wade couldn’t find common ground.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Whiteside Snapchats the entire recruitment process from every team this summer riding next to DJ Khaled on a jet ski. When Whiteside says he is “built different,” I think that may include how he will approach the first max offer that arrives at his agent’s desk in July.
As far as Wade, all I know is what happened last summer was a real disconnect. Chris Tucker a.k.a. “Smokey” once said so eloquently in the movie ‘Friday’ – “Why you bringing up old sh*t?” Who’s to say that relationship doesn’t get weird again if the Heat and Wade do not see eye to eye on what his next contract should look like?
Even if Whiteside and Wade plan to stay, is that what’s truly best?
Through this season’s first 32 games, the quartet of Bosh, Wade, Dragic and Whiteside has not been one that appears to fit together like the four potentially highest-paid players on any team should.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Whiteside Snapchats the entire recruitment process from every team this summer riding next to DJ Khaled on a jet ski.
Erik Spoelstra, equipped with far more information than anybody likely to be reading this, often staggers these four players, particularly late in games. More often than not, the team uses Whiteside and Bosh opposite one another as anchors of one big man lineups rather than in tandem.
The team also seems to just look better and play better when the usage of Dragic is at an equal rate to Wade. Oh and that tends to happen when they are not playing in tandem, as well.
The league as a whole appears to be in the midst of a paradigm shift itself, with teams deploying smaller lineups, placing a premium on spacing the floor via outside shooting.
I think this points to a very interesting dilemma: In a salary cap league, can the Heat really afford to lock themselves into these four players long-term, when in most instances, especially late in games, it is unlikely you can play all four together?
On paper, the answer is yes. You want to acquire as many impact players as possible – whenever possible. But despite looking good “on paper”, the metrics and the eye test tell a different story to me.
In a salary cap league, can the Heat really afford to lock themselves into these four players long-term, when in most instances, especially late in games, it is unlikely you can play all four together?
The recently deactivated Twitter account named after an “implement consisting of a small, shallow oval or round bowl on a long handle, used for eating, stirring, and serving food,” told you about box scores and teams on paper. Did you learn the game?
The Heat has gone with a top-heavy approach in the past, particularly during the Big 3 era. Although now, the lack of a true A+ player among this core makes it much more difficult to ignore the elements of the team that is also missing (shooting/spacing among others).
So, that is where we arrive at the crossroads:
• Is it in the best interest of the team to retain Whiteside (and to a lesser extent Wade) at their market value and continue to work to improve the cohesiveness and chemistry of those two players alongside Dragic and Bosh, despite indications it isn’t a perfect mix?
• Does it make more sense to instead use whatever flexibility presents itself during the 2016 free agency period on long-term players who fit better and also can play together?
• Or do you trade Dragic instead? I think we can agree Chris Bosh isn’t going anywhere.
Of course, the number one option is to entice another A+ player to join the team and then build around that player at whatever cost is associated with securing a commitment from someone the caliber of a Kevin Durant.
While Pat Riley should never, EVER, be underestimated, the likelihood of that transpiring has to be measured with some level of tempered enthusiasm and realistic expectations.
So taking into consideration that possible reality, what does the organization choose? Do they even have a choice?
It’s not an easy decision and it’s likely Heat fans will be having the dreaded “head vs. heart” type of debates when assessing what the best course of action is.
Luckily for Heat fans and the organization as a whole, the man charged with making these tough decisions is Patrick James Riley. The Godfather. And in this case, better him than me having to make this call.
In Riley We Trust. Especially in this New Year of 2016.