In wake of how the Big Three Era ended it’s no secret Pat Riley wants to pump out another contender before his NBA window is sealed.
It’s also practically impossible to win a title in this league without an elite player or four (Golden State) among the 10 to 15 best hoopers in the world.
Considering those two truths, along with the fact that the aforementioned player is most likely not present on the Miami Heat’s roster, Riles has to be actively compiling a list of whales to target.
Superstar free agents like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul are pipe dreams. That next tier of Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, and Paul Millsap are high-quality and fantastic players but can you really contend in the Eastern Conference with any of those as your top guy? All will warrant max contracts and as long as LeBron James is in Cleveland and playing at an MVP level that answer is a definitive no.
As for the NBA Draft, the Heat is still unlikely to land a Top 3 pick, which is typically where the league’s next wave of future superstars are slotted. Even then it’s no sure thing, and if Riley were to land one of those picks it wouldn’t be illogical he’d be thinking trade on draft night.
Judging from Riley’s history of superstar acquisition outside of LeBron and Chris Bosh, his method has been trading for disgruntled stars who are unlikely to re-up with their current team.
Disgruntled stars like Boogie Cousins.
A Top 10 talent, DeMarcus Cousins is tearing up the league on a terrible Sacramento Kings squad, averaging 29.1 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting an astounding 40 percent from behind the arc. It would certainly be logical if Riley is eyeing DMC, unquestionably among the league’s most talented (and available) big men.
Cousins has two years left on his contract, paying him a bargain sum of around $32 million. Riley could always wait until the Summer of 2018 if he’s hot for Boogie but I’m not sure the 71-year-old has that kind of patience.
There are some questions over the fit and what it would take to get him.
Can Whiteside and Cousins coexist?
Let’s say the Kings are so enthralled with Goran Dragic they’re willing to give up their stud big for the Dragon in addition to a young wing and Miami’s first-round pick. Theoretically speaking, also assume Miami wants to stick with Whiteside in the long-term in this scenario.
Would Riley be ballsy enough to gamble on a Whiteside-Cousins front court? Humor me for a second.
In a league where big man aren’t as coveted with the rise of small ball (which was spearheaded by the Heat in Year 2 of the LeBron Era), could they go the unorthodox route again, this time throwing out two seven-footers who happen to be former teammates taken together in the 2010 Draft? Perhaps convince Cousins to drop 20 pounds and embrace the 4?
For one, it wouldn’t have been worth even thinking about if Cousins couldn’t shoot, but he’s an offensive specimen who has elevated his perimeter shooting this year to unforeseen levels, converting at a 40-percent clip while taking an average of five threes a game. Spreading the floor wouldn’t be an issue.
Unlike Whiteside, Cousins is a much bigger playmaker on the ball — he can handle and create offense for his teammates. While Spo would surely stagger the duo as much as possible, who the hell in this league of six-foot-eight bigs is going to slow down that duo offensively and on the glass? Defensively, they’d probably have serious issues but would engender flashes of the David Robinson-Tim Duncan tandem in San Antonio — a poor man’s version.
The duo working together in harmony on an emotional level would be an even bigger risk than the experiment on the court (that’s A LOT of personality in one front court) but I’m intrigued by the thought of it.
The deal: Dragic, Richardson or Winslow, and a first-rounder for Cousins.
Note: The Heat cannot trade its 2017 first-rounder until after the pick is made so any deal including it would have to come on draft night.
The Heat probably don’t want to give up on Winslow yet and they shouldn’t, but you can’t trade scraps for a superstar. It might require this type of an offer to bring Sacramento to the table. Then again, they are the Kings, one of the worst run organizations in sports. Maybe Dragic and McBob would do the trick (while Riley gets Vlade Divac hammered)?
The trade might not necessarily make them significantly better now but with another solid addition this summer, they’d have a fine core capable of contending. Now, let’s consider a scenario where Miami is willing to move Whiteside to get Cousins with Sacramento being reciprocal.
Is Cousins a legit upgrade over Whiteside?
When Whiteside is truly engaged, there isn’t a more intimidating defensive presence at the rim in the Association. He’s holding opponents to 40 percent within six feet, which leads the league, per NBA.com. Cousins will never be that type of rim-deterring threat.
However, Boogie’s multi-dimensional offense is so far ahead of Whiteside from a skill standpoint, all things equal I would make the swap in a second. The most valuable players in this league are two-way threats sure, but the special talents make everything easier for their teammates just by presence. Cousins checks that box.
Outside of the catch-and-slams and offensive put backs, Whiteside isn’t that efficient of a player with the ball, converting just 41 percent of shots in the post this season, ranking 18th of 23 players averaging at least three attempts per game.
Let’s say Sacramento wants to be in full-blown tank mode, gearing up for the top overall pick. The following could work and would make the Heat a contender in the East on paper. Keep in mind, the Kings don’t envision Rudy Gay’s return (player option this summer) so they could intertwine him in there or he could be a nice complementary signing for Miami this summer.
The deal: Hassan Whiteside and 2017 first-rounder for DeMarcus Cousins and filler
Miami’s optimal lineup of Dragic, T.Johnson, Richardson, Winslow, and Cousins looks pretty sweet on paper. Cousins would be a better fit with Winslow offensively because of the big man’s newfound 3-point shooting and they could add another solid piece in Free Agency.
Boogie to Miami?
Of the two scenarios, I’d prefer swapping Whiteside for Cousins and would throw in the Heat’s first-rounder on draft night to do it, barring it’s not in the Top 5.
Cousins is also very attractive to Miami because of his relatively low salary, allowing them to still pursue their whale targets in the summer, especially if Bosh’s salary is cleared by then.
This is all theoretical of course, but in trying to decipher Pat Riley’s next target (at least via trade), Boogie Cousins is a prime suspect.