Will Pat Riley Dig into Bag of Tricks at the Trade Deadline?
The Miami HEAT (25-21) currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, but only a game behind the fourth-place Atlanta Hawks for the Southeast Division crown. If it weren’t for a rash of injuries decimating the team’s roster (and an extremely hard schedule this month and next), Miami would have much better footing in the conference’s playoff race.
Mind you, this comes just a year and a half after four-time league MVP LeBron James opted to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency after four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals as a member of the HEAT. While most teams would have plummeted to the league basement for years and years after losing a talent like James, team president Pat Riley was able to retool and avoid a lengthy rebuilding project.
A few of Riley’s biggest wins over the past 18 months involved persuading Chris Bosh to re-sign with the franchise, luring former All-Star Luol Deng to town and finding emerging center Hassan Whiteside (as well as guard Tyler Johnson) off the scrap heap.
With just a few weeks remaining before the trade deadline, all eyes are on Riley and his next objective to strengthen his roster. At least year’s deadline, Riley was able to secure guard Goran Dragic from Phoenix to solidify Miami’s backcourt.
But what will the team do at this year’s deadline?
From a salary standpoint, the HEAT currently have $90 million on the books, placing them in luxury tax territory. However, the squad has just $48 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season.
Dwyane Wade ($20 million), Deng ($10.1 million), Chris Andersen ($5 million), Udonis Haslem ($2.8 million), Beno Udrih ($2.2 million), Whiteside ($981,000) and Amar’e Stoudemire ($947k) will all be headed to unrestricted free agency this summer.
The amount of expiring money in hand, in typical situations, would give Riley more than enough ammunition to potentially pull off a meaningful deal at the deadline. But the squad must be careful about adding significant future money to the books because of Whiteside’s impending free agency and not possessing his full Bird rights. This means they will have to use cap room to re-sign him – limiting their chances of signing another big name if they keep the promising big man.
Riley has consistently made it known that his vision for the franchise is competing at a title contention level. The veteran executive has a history of making deals or refurbishing discarded talents. Will he add another one to the mantle at the deadline?
LeBron James: Coach Killer?
In many ways, former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt was doomed to fail. He was hired before the franchise signed four-time league MVP LeBron James in free agency and acquired Kevin Love. The team got off to a slow start last season and he made numerous miscues in the playoffs that left many scratching their heads.
However, the Cavaliers came up just two wins short of a NBA title and were leading the Eastern Conference when team management decided to remove him from power.
In the aftermath, there have been numerous reports tackling the involvement level of James in the process of Blatt’s departure. Cleveland’s front office maintains James wasn’t consulted. James has held the same public stance. But a recent comment from Miami HEAT minority owner Raanan Katz implying James once attempted to have Erik Spoelstra removed during his time with the team cast a cloud over his image.
HEAT team president Pat Riley denies James ever expressed an interest in having Spoelstra removed from his position during his time in Miami, where the team reached four consecutive NBA Finals – winning two titles.
“Not from him to me, ever,” Riley said according to Michael Wallace of ESPN. “So a lot of stuff is following him out the door. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s just the nature of it. But as far as that goes, no, he never, ever walked in and said anything.”
While Katz has recently backpedaled away from his original comments, saying they were taken out of context, the court of public opinion has continued to ride the “James as a coach killer” narrative.
Mike Malone Redeeming Himself in Denver
The Denver Nuggets (18-29) are a rebuilding team that will likely miss out on the playoffs this season and be a participant in the draft lottery. However, for head coach Mike Malone, he’s been able to redeem himself after being unexpectedly fired by the Sacramento Kings last season.
“I’m definitely motivated. No one ever wants to get fired. I don’t care what your job is. I don’t care if you’re working the graveyard shift at the junkyard,” Malone said according to Michael Lee of Yahoo! Sports. “But the way it turned out in Sacramento was kind of a blessing. You couldn’t have asked for a better script, the way their season turned out … it became a nightmare. By the end of it, I became John Wooden.”
From a year-by-year results standpoint, the Nuggets are faring worse in the win-loss column. However, veteran guard Jameer Nelson believes the team’s trajectory is headed in the right direction regardless of the mounting losses.
“It’s funny because I told him in my eyes, I feel like the team is better,” Nelson said. “Even though we’re not winning like we want to win, the team is better. Some of the games we were involved in last year, we would’ve given up. We haven’t given up any games this year. We’ve fought to the very end.”
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