In all of professional sports, there are only a few things that really snag my full, undivided attention more than the NBA trade deadline. The clock ticks down, the tumbleweeds roll along – silence. Some radar blips go off here and there, but nothing to really move the seismograph. Then suddenly, franchises that have been bluffing for months start to sweat, tanking teams that have been looking for an opportunity to get even worse start making calls, and a series of sometimes extremely questionable decisions begin to make their way onto the internet for self-proclaimed experts to evaluate.
This year was no different, aside from when all hell broke loose in the final few minutes and 20+ players changed hands in the blink of an eye. However, none were as happy to have been moved as Goran Dragic, the odd man out in the three man system in Phoenix after they acquired Isiah Thomas this off season. With Dragic to Miami, Phoenix could now roll with Thomas and Eric Bledose without having to force themselves to play so small (for reasons unknown, Phoenix then traded away Thomas about 15 minutes later, which seems to have defeated the purpose of trading Dragic).
The aftermath of the trade deadline seemed to have a few common themes among writers and talking heads:
- Oklahoma City acquired a solid piece in Enes Kanter while shedding Kendrick Perkins and simultaneously avoiding Brook Lopez’s crumbling feet (agreed);
- What the hell is Phil Jackson doing with the Knicks (in Phil I trust)?
- Javale McGee is now so bad that he required a first round draft pick traded with him just to get him off the Nuggets (kind of amazing, actually);
- Pat Riley is a god amongst men, stealing Dragic for pennies on the dollar with the Knicks and Lakers in hot pursuit, and making off like a thief in the night (TBD);
I really like Dragic. The guy’s got killer vision, a natural propensity to push the ball, and has shot over 50% from the floor the last two seasons (yea that’s correct – over 50% as a guard). I, too, was looking forward to a potential Eastern Conference playoff matchup of Lebron and his new amigos coming back to Miami, at least until Chris Bosh (get well soon!) was ruled out for the remainder of the year. But there are certainly many aspects of this trade that make Miami considerably better.
But let’s get one thing straight – this deal was nothing special. Pat Riley, as much as I respect (and simultaneously fear) the guy… how much GM magic is really required when your 3 championships of the last decade are made up of 3 gigantic free agent signings. The same way Doc Rivers was considered a great coach for “coaching” 2 hall of fame free agents in Garnett and Ray Allen to a championship – in retrospect, shouldn’t they have won one or two more?!? But I digress, but not without reminding Spoelstra to enjoy it while it lasts (lasted?).
This is the part where I make my bold prediction and pray I can come back to it in 3 years and say I wasn't crazy: this trade is going to bite Miami in the ass.
Player, system, and fit: will this move be as much as a simple change of scenery, or is there more lurking behind the scenes? I fall into, if I’m not the full on president of, the latter camp. Dragic isn’t simply a plug and play kind of guard; his talents are utilized best in a system that gets the ball up the floor quickly and into the hands of shooters. Last season, Phoenix and Dragic made a living doing just that - his kick outs were pin point, coupled by his ability to cut into the lane and consistently draw away defenders from the baseline (and subsequently making Miles Plumlee a lot better than he’ll ever be for the rest of his career). As such, Phoenix was the #1 team in fast break points last year, the first time even cracking the top-10 since 2009 when a very similar style (hall of fame) player was wreaking havoc on NBA defenses on a nightly basis.
Miami last year in the fast break? 17th. I guess that’s not atrocious, and you’d almost expect it to be a little higher with Lebron bullying his way down the court. Well Lebron is gone now, and Miami sits second to last in fast break points this season. Will Dragic come into Miami and reestablish a threat coming up the floor? Maybe… but what if in all actuality, Dragic has been overvalued because of the system he thrived in, not necessarily because of the player he actually is?
Like every trade, there’s a general risk/reward. Dragic turns 29 in May, notable not necessarily because of the age, but because of how long it’s taken him to get on people’s radars. He’s been in the league since 2008, and has strung together two consecutive seasons of above-average play while struggling some this year by those standards (his current assist to turnover ratio currently ranks in the 90’s – not even close to where he should be at that position).
I have little doubt that the combination of Wade, Deng, Bosh, Dragic, and the absolutely out-of-nowhere Hassan Whiteside could really be a force. But if this season was any sort of fortuitous sign, this fairytale will strike midnight much sooner than people might suspect. Wade just turned 33 and just can’t seem to stay on the court for any more than a week. Chris Bosh turns 31 in March - he’s still got plenty left in the tank, but his freshly minted 5 year, $122 million dollar contract will probably start to hurt sooner rather than later.
That said, the Heat have some major decisions coming up. As great as it is that Whiteside has come on, it’s easy to forget this dude was waived by the Grizzlies just 4 months ago. If he turns out to be the real deal (I still have my doubts – centers putting up these numbers just don’t appear out of the blue), the Heat are going to have to pony up AGAIN in what is looking to be a hot summer for free agency in 2016. A lot of question marks loom around this team, and none bigger than Dragic himself. Having given up 2 first round draft picks to acquire his services, you would have thought he’d have been locked into a discounted 2 year deal. Nope – Dragic is free to walk this summer.
One thing I’m willing to wager on, regardless of whether Miami locks up Dragic this summer: the Heat are in the twilight phases of what was, not what is. Ask yourself these questions:
- How much longer can Dwayne Wade realistically handle 30+ minutes a game?
- Can Bosh get back to 100% after this setback? If he can, is his 100% even 70% of what he was a few years ago?
- Will Whiteside turn back into a pumpkin, or force Miami’s hand next summer?
- Will Dragic shake off the ghost of Isiah Thomas and approach last season’s numbers? Better yet, will he even stay with Miami this summer?
Given those variables, is it that far-fetched to believe these 1st round picks given up for Dragic, a week ago believed to be throw away picks at the end of the round, could actually turn out to be much more than Riley and the Heat would have been willing to give up?
My answer: absolutely not, and Phoenix will be laughing its way all the way up to the podium with its top 15 pick from Miami in 2017.