The Miami Heat is pushing hard for a playoff spot, but anyone who has followed the team during the Pat Riley era knows the Heat isn't a franchise that sits around waiting for good fortunes to just happen. Though Dwyane Wade's return has given the franchise a shot in the arm, the reality is the Heat still has a ceiling with the talent on its roster.
In the past, Riley has proven he's willing to cash in a handful of small bills for a larger one. Riley has also proven one of his go-to moves is to take a disgruntled star off another team's hands. It just so happens that one of the top players in the NBA is likely to be available this offseason, and the Heat seems to have something that just might interest him.
Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs seem destined for a breakup, and the Heat should pounce by offering them Hassan Whiteside and
Rumblings of Leonard's growing split with the Spurs have grown louder as the season has progressed. Leonard is upset over how the Spurs have handled his lingering quad injury over the past two seasons, and there is a sense he wants out. The Heat should be the first in line when the bidding begins, with a franchise center and young defensive-minded forward in hand.
Before scoffing at the idea of a Whiteside-Leonard swap, consider a few reasons why this trade makes sense for both teams.
Under Greg Popovich, the Spurs have a history of winning championships with teams built around an elite big man. From David Robinson to Tim Duncan, for two decades the Spurs dominated the NBA with an inside-out approach to offense. Whiteside would be a better fit in their system than he has ever been with the Heat.
And a Kawhi-Whiteside swap is more than a win-now trade — it's a win-later move for the Heat. Though it might seem like Leonard is much older than Whiteside, that's only because he's been through so many playoff wars with the Spurs since 2011. Leonard is only 26, and Whiteside is already 28.
Miami also has Bam Adebayo, who has shown he's ready to be a starting NBA center. He's already proven that much in his rookie year. With another offseason under his belt, where the Heat will work with him on a few shortcomings in his game, he should be ready to increase his minutes next season.
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Leonard makes $11 million less than Whiteside over the next two seasons, which is an incredible value for a player who is one of the best in the NBA when he's healthy. It also makes much more sense in today's NBA to pay a wing player $20 million than it does to pay a hulking center nearly $28 million.
Winslow is still only 21 years old and would be a nice project for the Spurs to undertake. Some experts compared Winslow to Leonard, but those comparisons have missed the mark worse than a Winslow layup. The Spurs would be buying extremely low on a player who would still likely be taken in the top of the first round of this year's draft.
Leonard is the perfect fit for the Heat culture. Leonard is a soft-spoken, lead-by-example sort of guy. There is no reason to believe Miami would swallow him or change him. He'd fit right in.
If Leonard and the Spurs are really heading toward a divorce, the Heat should be the first team to make a call to San Antonio. He could be the whale Riley has been trying to lure for years, and he'd come at a bargain-basement price.