Maintaining a holding pattern is always the easy thing to do, and the Miami Heat and Pat Riley never choose the easy path, even if it rubs some people the wrong way. (see: Leaving Dwyane Wade out to dry as Riley & Co. attempt to woo Kevin Durant, resulting in Wade’s feeling unwanted and eventual departure.)
Getting better is always going to be Plan A for the Heat. The question is how much better can the Heat get? Let’s meander through a few degrees of improvement.
Miami will reportedly have around $35 million to throw at guys. And with Chris Bosh off the books and Willie Reed declining his player option for 2017-18, the Heat only have one real big in Hassan Whiteside. Enter:
Plan A.) Serge Ibaka ($12,350,000 in 2016-17, closer to $18-plus million in 2017-18)
Not exactly an advanced statistics darling, Ibaka hasn’t taken that next step as a player with his time away from Oklahoma City. Still, he’s a guy that has shown he can play some defense, switch out on the perimeter and stretch the floor. Perhaps most importantly, he’s never played less than 63 games in a season; and he’s played at least 73 games in six out of his eight years in the NBA. The Heat was plagued by injuries last season, which is part of the reason their first 41 games — at 11-30 — went so poorly.
Ibaka would also add some depth to the front court. Staggering minutes between Whiteside and Ibaka could allow a capable big to be on the court for most of the game. Ibaka could also bolster some of Miami’s small-ball lineups due to his ability to get up and down the court and 3-point shooting (39-percent in ‘16-17).
Plus, if you thought Ibaka looked like a basketball Adonis now, just wait until Miami’s training staff gets ahold of him. Still, it’s no question. Miami needs another big.
Plan B.) Jeff Teague ($8 million in 2016-17; estimated $13 million in 2017-18)
You can never have enough ball-handlers. Contrary to popular belief, Miami only really has one — and that’s Goran Dragic. At .926 points per possession in the pick-and-roll, Dragic was the only Miami operator that even got close to being efficient in basketball’s favorite action, per Synergy Sports. The rest of the lot either can’t pass or can’t score that well in the pick-and-roll; watching Josh Richardson go left is painful, Tyler Johnson is a combo guard, not a point guard, and Dion Waiters isn’t efficient enough and can’t get to the line.
Last year, there were 24 players in the NBA who orchestrated more than 450 pick-and-rolls — A.K.A. ran a s--t ton of them — and Teague is No. 4 out of those 24 players in points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. At .978 points per possession, Teague sits above Kemba Walker, DeMar DeRozan and Chris Paul in pick-and-roll efficiency. That’s elite. Not to mention Teague is a career 36-percent 3-point shooter.
Whether Miami decides to keep Dion Waiters or not, the Heat need more ball-handling, and Teague is hard to ignore.
Plan C.) J.J. Redick ($6,938,750 in 2016-17, more like $13-plus million in 2017-18)
One of the big reasons the Heatles took off in act two of the regular season was their 3-point shooting. At times, Coach Erik Spoelstra even went to the extent of playing four guards at once to stretch the floor.
J.J. Redick is a guy any team would want in 2017. He can zip around screens like a Hot Wheels car and has shot over 42-percent from downtown in his last three seasons with the Clippers. He’s not exactly a plus defender, but name a 3-point-shooting specialist that is? (Don’t say Malik Monk. It will trigger me.) Miami feasted on opponents with raw effort during the second half of the regular season, and that fits Redick’s M.O. — running opposing defenders ragged through screens, playing “now you see me, now you don’t” through pillars of boulder-shouldered shields.
Plus, imagine the havoc Redick-Wayne Ellington floppy sets would wreak. By the end of Miami’s season, Ellington garnered a gravity of his own, pulling opposing defenders from their posts, desperate to make sure the marksmen couldn’t get a good look at the basket. Add in Redick, and things could get interesting.
Plan D.) Jodie Meeks, Patrick Patterson, etc. (Estimated $11-12 million in 2017-18)
If Miami can’t land any of the whales, there’s still talent to be had this free agency; lesser versions of the players listed above do exist; guys that can do 75-percent of what you want in exchange for paying way less. A player like Jodie Meeks, a talented shooter — who’s hit over 40-percent from 3 in three of his last four seasons — should fetch much less than Redick and still knock down open shots.
Patrick Patterson is another 75-percent-er. He can play a convincing stretch 4. A plus defender and capable shooter, Patterson is a guy that can fit in anywhere. At 6-foot-9, Miami could use the size and versatility he brings.
There’s also this guy from Utah everyone has been talking about. Regardless, whether Miami lands a game changer or a few pivotal cogs, this free agency should be quite the shuffling of the board. There’s a lot of talent to be had, and Pat Riley & Co. know it.