If the NBA Playoffs have taught us anything thus far, it’s that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have a ferocious headlock on the Eastern Conference (similar to the Warriors out west).
They look like they’re headed for another series sweep while boasting an absurd 118 offensive rating, which blows away Golden State’s league-leading regular season mark of 113.2. Compound this with the Boston Celtics — who are not only equipped with the No. 1 overall pick but also the cap space required to go whale hunting — improving damatically, and the Miami Heat‘s immediate path back to contention appears dire.
This has led some Miami fans (all over Twitter) and media alike (see Ira Winderman) to call for the raising of the white flag, and instead focus on the long view — think three to four years from now when LeBron inevitably shows sign of decline (we hope).
It’s a cowardly mindset, one I can say with 100 percent certainty, despite no inside knowledge, is not shared by Heat don Pat Riley. He’s a dreamer and a fighter. To suggest he should lay down because the game has been ratcheted to a super difficult setting is ludicrous.
All it takes is one injury for the entire landscape of the league to shift. Winning titles requires elite talent, sure, AND plenty of luck. It’s about seizing opportunities as they present themselves.
The thinking goes, Miami’s best case, even if they were to add a fine talent like Gordon Hayward this summer, is something like the Toronto Raptors of the past few seasons — a team that can tally 60 wins but — outside of LeBron blowing out his knee — has no real chance at beating the Cavs four times in a series.
That may be true. It also may be true that if last season’s Heat team were brought back in its current form — factoring in Justise Winslow’s return and the No. 14 overall pick — they’d have a good chance at winning between 50 and 60 games. After all, they did close the season on a stifling 30-11 tear.
But I’m going to toss the Miami Heat Fantasy GM hat on anyway and attempt to think like Riley. In the past, this hat led me to proffering out a way for Miami to add Carmelo Anthony and Hayward. But let’s think grander, knowing that intriguing group still probably wouldn’t be good enough to nudge LeBron off his Eastern Conference pedestal.
What if Miami acquired the most tradeable elite wing in the game in Paul George? Not only that, but what if they also added Hayward in Free Agency while retaining the do-it-all James Johnson? Miami’s optimal lineup in this scenario has to provoke some movement in your pants:
Before you piss all over said dream, consider the how and the why.
While George may very well be eyeing his hometown Lakers in the summer of 2018, still don’t rule out a team trading for him. That squad would obviously either be looking at a one-year rental unless they receive some sort of wink-wink agreement he’d re-sign, which he may not be inclined to give.
However, the Heat have acquired many high-quality players in the final year of their deals, including Goran Dragic, Alonzo Mourning, and Shaquille O’Neal. In each case, the player re-signed, however it’s likely these players hinted Miami would have an excellent chance at retaining their services before they parted with major assets to acquire them.
Considering George appears to want out of Indy, it’s highly unlikely the Pacers will want to risk losing him for nothing. But don’t expect some massive haul because of his one-year-rental status. If they do deal him, it could easily come on draft night and the cost may not be as high as you’d think.
While I’ve seen murmurs of Boston or Los Angeles potentially floating their first or second overall picks, respectively, it makes no sense. Boston wouldn’t trade that type of an asset for a one-year rental and while the George-to-Los Angeles narrative is no joke, the Lakers can’t afford to clear out the limited young talent they possess or they’ll be an even lesser version of the Pacers after George’s arrival.
The master plan (the first two steps occur on draft night):
1. Clear Tyler Johnson’s $5.8 million salary
Move Tyler for a mid-to-late first-round pick, clearing out his $6 million salary while adding a quality pick in a deep draft.
Miami’s cap space would now be at around $44 million after Chris Bosh’s salary gets wiped.
2. Trade for Paul George
Move the two first-round picks, Justise Winslow (if needed), and Josh McRoberts’ one-year corpse for Mr. George. Remember, Miami doesn’t need to match salary if they can absorb the salary, which they’d be able to do when the trade gets executed.
Miami’s cap space is now around $34-35 million factoring in minimum cap holds for the remaining required roster spots after some others are renounced. It may seem like a lot to give up for George knowing he could throw up the deuces after one season but sometimes you have to risk it to get the biscuit.
3. Sign Gordon Hayward
While Hayward can sign a maximum deal outside Utah at a starting salary of about $30 million, the hope here is he’d see the George addition and take a little less, perhaps signing a two-year deal worth about $50-55 million with a player option next summer.
It’s possible because Hayward’s top priority is winning, there’s no state income tax, winter wouldn’t exist, and it’d potentially allow Miami to squeeze in James Johnson (or Dion Waiters). Miami would gladly have him sign for more years if desired but this deal offers him flexibility if he wants it.
Now the Hayward-George addition could work without trading Tyler but I think the bigger Johnson would be more critical to their success. The lineup has some serious LeBron-dethroning potential.
Let this sink in…
TWO legit wing superstars — George and Hayward).
TWO All-Star caliber players — Dragic and Whiteside.
ONE swiss-army knife big who’s perfectly constructed for today’s game and impactful on both ends — Johnson.
This death lineup features four players who can hit the three and three elite defenders. The bench includes Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Okaro White, and some vets chasing a title. Toss in head chef Erik Spoelstra and Cleveland could be in trouble. Also, by acquiring George in a trade Miami would be getting his Bird Rights, meaning they wouldn’t have to sign him with cap space the following summer.
Many will say the hiccup is giving up assets for George despite knowing he’s “hell-bent” on Los Angeles, as the reports go, but the theory is this: Nobody leaves Miami in their prime (with one obvious and painful exception). LeBron is the only one to turn Godfather Riley down and Riley, like George, loves Los Angeles. I think he could sell him on living in Miami from October to mid-June and spending his summers in L.A.
Many will say Hayward’s a lock to join the Boston Celtics to reunite with Brad Stevens, his coach at Butler, but if Miami were to get George you can’t tell me Boston would offer him a better chance of contending. Markelle Fultz may become a superstar one day but we have no idea yet and likely won’t know for a few years.
Paul George and Gordon Hayward to the Miami Heat may sound like a pipe dream because it is. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t tickle the senses while remaining an unlikely yet mathematically plausible play this summer.