If the Miami Heat’s playoff run in the Disney bubble — combined with the organization’s sterling reputation and history of success — weren’t enough of a recruiting pitch for All-Star players with wandering eyes, then allow ESPN’s Tim Legler to make the case:
“Every year we talk about Miami as a destination for free agents and usually it’s based on the climate; we talk a lot about South Beach and those kinds of things and it seems like the Heat are always in the mix. But. … you can win a championship there, as they have done in the past. What you saw out of this group — and what Erik Spoelstra got this team to do — and the way that they played, if you don’t love the way the Miami Heat play, then you just don’t understand the game of basketball.
“Because when I watch them play, I see a group of guys that absolutely know … they can count on each other to be there for them as teammates defensively. The ball will get moved to the open guy when it’s supposed to. That builds trust and when you’re watching that from afar, whether you’re a star player or role player or All Star or whatever it may be, you watch that style of play, you absolutely look at that and say, ‘That is something I want to buy into’ because those guys won, they look like they really like each other, they’re having fun doing the work every day.
“You know they’re exceptionally well coached. And there’s something about playing in that style, where you know you walk in that locker room and you can trust the people around you. That’s what players are looking for ultimately. So they should be at the top of any destination for a free agent because that player can make a difference and put them back on top as NBA champions.”
So what additional key piece or two could the Heat end up with in the next 13 months, before the start of the 2021-22 season? Exploring the options and what it would take:
THE MOST AMBITIOUS 2021 UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT TARGETS THAT MIAMI IS EXPECTED TO PURSUE
▪ Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo: Let there be no doubt: He remains the Heat’s No.1 target in 2021 free agency, and the Heat will do nothing to impede its ability to get him. ESPN’s Jalen Rose, in a whimsical segment, recently predicted that Antetokounmpo will join the Heat if the Bucks don’t make the 2021 NBA Finals.
The Bucks can offer him a max extension this summer but reportedly won’t trade him even if he turns it down.
While Antetokounmpo expressed respect for the Heat, there has been nothing tangible to suggest any specific interest in playing here, putting Miami on par with potentially Dallas, Toronto and a few others if he decides to leave Milwaukee.
At the very least, his respect for Bam Adebayo (they share the same agent) and the Heat’s cache would very likely earn a meeting in 2021 if he bypasses a Bucks extension this summer.
▪ Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard: He has a $36 million player option for 2021-22 but never displayed any strong interest in Miami when he pushed his way out of San Antonio. It would take another Clippers playoff disappointment to make Kawhi-to-Miami any sort of possibility.
▪ Clippers forward Paul George: He has a $37 million player option for 2021-22 but could opt out for the security of a final long-term max deal next summer.
There has always been Heat admiration for his game, despite the early playoff exits with OKC and the Clippers the past three years.
Just a season removed from being first team All NBA, George (21.5 points and 41.2 percent shooting this past year) has the size (6-8), shooting skills and defensive pedigree (2018-19 All Defense First team) that Miami covets. But he must rebound off a year that was disappointing by his standards.
A modern age lineup of Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, George, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson — without a natural power forward or point guard — would spread the floor and take a back seat to nobody in the East.
The question is whether George, 30, would leave his native Southern California two years after his ballyhooed return there last summer.
Note: LeBron James would obviously be very high on any 2021 free agent list but a return to Miami appears highly improbable.
THE MOST REALISTIC 2021 UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT TARGETS IF THE ABOVE DON’T MATERIALIZE
▪ Indiana guard Victor Oladipo: A source said Oladipo likes Indiana and would be happy staying there with a big new contract, but that if he were to leave, Miami would be No. 1 on his list.
But Heat interest will depend entirely on how he plays next season and Miami’s success in trying to lure a bigger fish.
Indiana could trade him over the next year - rather than lose him for nothing - but it’s doubtful Miami would sacrifice major assets for Oladipo in a trade, partly because nobody knows if he will return to his former All Star form.
A rusty Oladipo averaged just 14.5 points per game and shot 31.7 percent from threes in 19 regular-season games, then played better against Miami in the playoffs, after returning from his ruptured quad tendon in January 2019.
▪ New Orleans guard Jrue Holiday: He can opt out of $26.3 million in 2021-22 and become a free agent next summer, and he would dramatically improve Miami’s perimeter defense and give the Heat more scoring punch. The Heat really likes his game. If he maintains this past season’s production (19.1 points, 6.7 assists, 35.3 on threes), Holiday would be in line for max money in 2021.
At 29, he’s only a year older than Oladipo and possibly the safer option because of the uneven nature of Olapido’s career. He likely would rank anywhere from three to five on any Heat 2021 unrestricted free agent target list.
THE MOST APPEALING OPTIONS THAT WOULD REQUIRE TRADES
▪ Utah guard Donovan Mitchell (potential 2021 restricted free agent): There is two-way respect there — “Tyler Herro is cold blooded. So is Jimmy,” Mitchell tweeted recently - but this only becomes a possibility if Mitchell informs Utah next offseason that he wants to be traded and if he includes Miami among preferred destinations.
And there’s no indication of any Mitchell unhappiness with the Jazz. Yahoo is reporting he likely will accept a max extension this summer.
SI.com’s Chris Mannix reported: “The relationship between Mitchell and Rudy Gobert has been rebuilt. Both seemed to have moved past the drama that unfolded last March, when Mitchell and Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, with Gobert admitting to recklessness when it came to the coronavirus. The two have never been best friends, but by all accounts, Utah’s two cornerstones are in a good place.”
Any Heat offer likely would need to start with Herro.
▪ Washington guard Bradley Beal: He’s signed through 2021-22 with a 2022-23 player option at $37.3 million.
Beal told me last year he has high regard for the Heat and gave a future in Miami a fleeting thought before committing longterm to the Wizards last October.
Beal recently told the “On the Road with Buck and Phil” podcast that he would love to make it work in Washington and finish his career there, “but my ultimate goal is to win. We got to win. And I know we can win.”
Like Mitchell, Beal to Miami hinges entirely on whether Beal decides he wants to leave Washington, and whether he specifically asks the Wizards to consider a deal with Miami.
With Beal averaging 30.5 points last season and entering his prime at 26, any offer would need to include Herro, likely Duncan Robinson and other assets.
▪ Philadelphia center Joel Embiid (signed through 2022-23): While Embiid’s tweets suggesting he misses Butler have raised hopes of some Heat fans, it’s difficult to envision a Heat/76ers trade, with Philadelphia very likely to demand Adebayo and Herro in such a scenario.
This might need to wait until free agency in 2023, if Embiid still hasn’t won big by then.
THIRD-TIER 2021 OPTIONS
▪ Brooklyn guard Spencer Dinwiddie: A potential 2021 unrestricted free agent, he would need to be on any Heat list if the aforementioned names don’t materialize. He averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists last season but the 30 percent three-point accuracy is worrisome.
▪ Phoenix swingman Kelly Oubre Jr.: A potential 2021 unrestricted free agent could fall anywhere from 8 to 12 on any Heat target list, after averaging 18.7 points and shooting 35.2 percent on threes. He has the size, at 6-7, to offer position versatility.
▪ Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry: It would be surprising if the Heat offer Lowry a multiyear deal when he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, at which point he’ll be 35. But a bloated one-year offer - similar to his $30.5 million Raptors salary next season - could warrant consideration.
▪ OKC point guard Denis Schroder: Falls in line with Oubre in the 8 to 12 range of any 2021 unrestricted free agent list. He averaged 18.9 points and shot 38.5 percent on threes in his best pro season. And at 27, he could be a Goran Dragic successor in 2021-22.
▪ OKC point guard Chris Paul: This is a possibility only under one circumstance: If Miami strikes out on its top targets in the summer of 2021 and if the Heat is willing to absorb the final year of his contract (2021-22 at $44.2 million) into cap space, with the Heat needing to send contracts worth at least $10 million back to OKC.
▪ Boston forward Gordon Hayward: Miami pursued him once and could again when he’s unrestricted in 2021, but at nothing close to max money. And he must stay healthy and productive to be a third-tier option for the Heat in a year.
▪ San Antonio power forward LaMarcus Aldridge: He’s no longer the All Star that Pat Riley took to dinner five years ago. But even at 35, he’s still quite effective, averaging 18.9 points and 7.4 rebounds last season and shooting 38.9 percent on threes. If the top names on Miami’s 2021 priority list don’t materialize, Aldridge would be a possibility on a one-year deal.
He also could be a trade option this offseason.
▪ San Antonio swingman DeMar DeRozan: Assuming he exercises a $27.8 million player option this summer, DeRozan would fit in the third tier in the 2021 unrestricted free agent class — a player Riley once vigorously pursued but one who lacks the three-point shooting touch that is so valued today.
Few are as efficient in the mid-range as DeRozan — who averaged 22.1 points per game last season -but he’s a 28.2 three-point shooter, making only 9 of 35 last season.
▪ Philadelphia swingman Josh Richardson: He averaged 13.7 points and shot 34.1 percent on threes in his first year away from Miami - starting 53 of 55 appearances - and there’s still high regard inside the Heat for a two-way player who was needed to facilitate the Butler sign-and-trade.
He figures to opt out of $11.6 million for 2021-22 and would be a Heat consideration if Miami surprisingly cannot land an All Star target.
▪ Detroit power forward Blake Griffin: Also an unrestricted free agent in 2021, Griffin averaged 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds two years ago before dropping to 15.5 and 4.7 in 18 games this past season and again being shelved by injuries. He’s only 31 but his injury history would make him unappealing with anything more than a one-year deal.
UNLIKELY BUT DON’T TOTALLY DISCOUNT
▪ Portland’s star guards: Neither a trade for Damian Lillard nor CJ McCollum is going to happen anytime in the foreseeable future, but this becomes at least a possibility if the Blazers disappoint next year and if either player wants out.
When former Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant recently tweeted: “I can see Dame Lillard with the Miami Heat,” Lillard responded: “They hoopin. Jimmy doing his doogie.”
Lillard is signed through 2023-24 and even if Portland ever makes him available, it would take Herro, Robinson, multiple first-round picks and sizable cap fillers, for starters.
McCollom — who likes playing in Portland but also holds the Heat and South Florida in high regard (according to an associate) — also is signed through 2023-24.
▪ Sacramento point guard De’Aaron Fox: A 2021 restricted free agent, Fox would be appealing if some of aforementioned players go elsewhere and if Fox tires of the losing in Sacramento and expresses a preference to join fellow former Wildcats Adebayo and Herro in Miami after watching them thrive here.
There’s no indication he wants to leave, but Fox (21.1 points, 6.8 assists) would warrant consideration if Herro isn’t in any trade package. The concern? His three-point shooting dropped from 37 to 29 percent this season.
▪ Atlanta power forward John Collins: A potential 2021 restricted free agent, Collins hasn’t shown any interest in leaving Atlanta. But if he loses faith in the Hawks’ rebuild, keep in mind that he attended high school at Cardinal Newman in West Palm Beach. He averaged 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds and shot 40.1 percent on threes last season, and as is the case with De’Aaron Fox, a trade would be needed.
▪ Any of this summer’s top unrestricted free agents: Serge Ibaka, Danilo Gallinari, Joe Harris, Montrezl Harrell and Fred Van Vleet.
All would be helpful, and Miami likely would jump if any of the five surprisingly accepts a one-year deal at the mid-level exception (about $9.5 million). The Heat also likely would be amenable to two-year deals at the mid-level, should any of those players very surprisingly accept those terms.
But it’s dubious if Miami would do big multi-year deals with any, because 1) it would eliminate the Heat’s cap space to sign a max free agent outright in 2021 and B) in order to create the cap space to sign any of those players to more lucrative deals this summer, Miami likely would need to renounce Dragic’s Bird Rights, which isn’t likely.
Here’s the caveat: If any of those five settled for two- or three-year deals starting at the $9.5 million mid-level exception (unlikely), I could see the Heat signing them with the confidence that Miami could deal them - or others - to create max space if a star wants to sign here in 2021.
▪ Who’s highly unlikely? Boston’s Jayson Tatum (a restricted free agent in 2021), Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons (signed through 2023-24) and Utah’s Rudy Gobert (a 2021 unrestricted free agent). The idea of a Heat trade for Tatum is ludicrous and Gobert (0 for 3 career on three-pointers) wouldn’t be a fit alongside Adebayo unless Bam develops a three-point game.
Here’s my Tuesday piece with Adam Beasley on the Xavien Howard and Ryan Fitzpatrick situations regarding trade talks.
Here’s my Tuesday piece with Beasley with lots on Tua Tagovailoa.