Now that the Dwyane Wade retirement tour is over, the Miami Heat faces a troubling reality — next year's team is sure to look a lot like the one that missed the playoffs this year, only without the pleasant distraction of Wade. Unless the front office does some serious maneuvering this offseason, a heaping bowl of the same mediocrity the franchise has experienced since LeBron left is likely on the way.
Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic will probably both opt in on the final years of their deals. And the concrete cinderblocks of James Johnson and Dion Waiters' contracts will continue to be tied to the team's salary cap ankles. So there are few reasons to be optimistic Pat Riley can make big changes to this Heat roster and turn the team into a contender.
So it's either a waiting game until contracts come off the books, or the young players such as Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten, who dominated the G League, need to develop quickly.
But maybe the Heat could deal this year's first-round pick to a team such as the Cleveland Cavaliers, who say they are open to taking on contracts from teams willing to pay them handsomely for doing so. That would expedite the Heat's improvement. Cashing in the first-round pick for salary-cap relief would be a semi-reset button the Heat badly needs.
Cavs general manager Kob Altman now refers to J.R. Smith as a "trade chip," mostly because although Smith is owed $15.7 million for the 2019-20 campaign, he’s only guaranteed $3.8 million. So the Heat could send James Johnson and Dion Waiters to the Cavs for Smith, then turn around and release the former Knick for next-to-nothing owed.
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Could the Cavs' salary cap space and the Heat's desperation to unload salary be a match made in heaven? It's worth exploring, especially for a team that has signed players off the street, then turned them into something unexpected.
Any trade of the Heat's first-round pick would obviously happen after Miami sees where it will select. The Heat has a 1 percent chance of landing the first-overall pick in next month's lottery, and a small percentage better of a top-four pick. Either scenario would mean cashing the pick in for a potential star, salary cap space be damned. But if the pick is where it's slotted to be — say, 12 to 14 — then the Heat could use it to escape the salary cap hell it's currently in.
Trading a first-round pick to the Cavs for garbage would hurt, but it would also let Miami start over and get closer to competing right away, instead of in two more years. Capitalizing on the young core of Winslow, Richardson, and Adebayo while they are affordable must be a thought, too.
A trade with Cleveland would be a good way for Pat Riley to start undoing some of his wrongs from offseasons past. Otherwise, fans should get used to seeing James Johnson and Dion Waiters in Miami.