After last night's 105-100 win against the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat fans find themselves between a rock and a hard place entering the last week of the season. Heat players keep dropping like flies, and even the supposedly healthy guys like Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic aren't 100 percent. This team doesn't look ready to win a single playoff series, much less make a run.
It's time to admit the truth: The Heat should stop trying to win games. Rest the stars the rest of the way, fall back into the bottom-ten teams in the NBA, and the Heat will be rewarded — they'll get to keep their top-ten draft pick, who otherwise goes to the Philadelphia 76ers.
There are sound arguments why the Heat should keep striving for the playoffs. For those of you into intricate draft rules, I highly suggest this reading. That article, written by an incredibly informed Heat fan, details the pitfalls of tanking. They are plenty, but the CliffNotes version is that because of NBA rules, the Heat wouldn't be able to trade a first-round pick for a long time. These are the situations a team finds itself in when it's constantly trading multiple first-round picks to acquire stars, as the Heat did in the recent Dragic deal.
But even considering those negatives, the Heat should shut down its stars. You can call it "tanking." I call it "living in the now." Here's why it makes sense:
Dwyane Wade is only getting older
There is no other way to put it: Your days of watching Dwyane Wade play stellar basketball are nearing an end. A player selected in the top ten might not be guaranteed to help Wade much in 2016, but at the very least the Heat could start grooming his replacement. Lottery picks are dirt cheap compared to any player the Heat can afford to add in free agency this offseason. Goran Dragic is a free agent after this year, and Hassan Whiteside is a free agent after next. The Heat needs to find all the value it can to fill out the rest of the roster if the team wants to remain a player in the East. Having a first-round pick to trade in 2017 is all fine and dandy, but realistically, the team will be without Wade by then. Use those assets now.
The pick the Heat owe Philadelphia will be much lower next season
The Heat's Philly-linked pick is top-ten-protected through 2017, but it's hard to imagine the Heat having this bad of a season between now and then. So this season's pick will probably be the best of the bunch. Sending a mid-20s pick to Philly in the summer of 2016 would hurt much less than it would watching the team pick 11th this season, with the Heat needing all the help it can get. Next summer, the Heat will be figuring out how to spend millions of dollars in cap space, with multiple stars on the market. Having a cheap lottery pick with a year of experience in the team's back pocket would be a terrific asset to add to those moves.
Arguing that the playoffs would be a good experience for younger players is way overblown
It seems to be a universal assumption that making the playoffs would be good experience for the younger Heat players. But which ones exactly? Luol Deng, Dwyane Wade, Chris Anderson, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts, and Mario Chalmers are all veterans and are not in need of an ass-whooping-teaching-moment of a playoff series. It comes down to three guys who would benefit: Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, and James Ennis. Johnson and Ennis have flashed skills, but neither is worth the tradeoff. Only Whiteside would benefit, and it's not clear if he would able to play at full strength in a playoff series. The giveaway for a short playoff run just isn't worth the loss of a lottery pick.
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This is one of the deepest NBA drafts in years
Chances are, nearly every quality player you just watched in the Final Four will enter this years NBA draft, so yeah, it's fair to say there is some talent in this year's lottery. For instance, Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, a seven-footer who drains threes on the regular, is projected to be available after the first ten picks are taken. Kentucky alone will probably send five quality players into this draft. This draft is loaded with talented picks, so it's safe to assume a top-ten pick is much more valuable in this draft than a mid-20s pick would be in a draft that's much shallower in years to come.
Pat Riley, not the next guy, would get to use this draft
Pat Riley continues to hint that he's getting too old for this building-an-NBA-team stuff and that it might be time to retire soon. At 70 years old, Riley must feel like his career as Mr. Everything Miami Heat is coming to an end, and that end could coincide with the end of Dwyane Wade's tenure. Riley may not have the best track record in the draft, but wouldn't you rather he take one last stab at helping his last few teams than some new GM tearing it all down to rebuild it? Nobody is getting younger on the Miami Heat, from Riley all the way down. The biggest pieces are win-now pieces, not rebuilding pieces. A lottery pick in a stacked draft would go a long way toward prolonging Wade's and Riley's careers and setting the organization up for life afterward.