NBA blockbusters don’t occur in vacuums, but they do leave a wake that ripples throughout the league, including, in this case, all the way to the Biscayne Bay shores of AmericanAirlines Arena.
Yes, the Miami Heat considered the possibilities of James Harden, If they didn’t, the team never would have come out and said at the start of the season that they were out of the process.
Only, there was and is no avoiding the implications for Pat Riley and his staff, on multiple fronts.
The immediate future: With the Brooklyn Nets bolstered by Harden, there is no question about living in the moment.
While Harden-Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving might not be the two-way big three of the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo-Jrue Holiday-Khris Middleton, it clearly sets a regular-season Nos. 1-2 hierarchy in the Eastern Conference when it comes to the top seeds.
Factor in what the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers have shown, and the question is where the Heat fit into the regular-season mix.
Yes, the Heat emerged from No. 5 to last season’s NBA Finals, but there again is the threat of the Indiana Pacers, who finished No. 4 last season, and an expected revival from the Toronto Raptors (perhaps in their two games against the Heat this coming week in Tampa).
And keep in mind that if you fall to No. 7 this season, you fall into the play-in round. A couple of bad nights (or one ill-timed injury) and no playoffs.
The next step: Because the Heat acknowledged talks with the Rockets, it means Houston has done its Heat homework.
Victor Oladipo, acquired in the Harden deal by the Rockets and an impending free agent, is known to have a strong interest in the Heat, and there appears to be mutual interest from the Heat.
Still, it’s not as simple as considering whether to trade Tyler Herro for Oladipo straight up (plus cap filler from the Heat). With Herro on his rookie-scale contract, it means the Heat could go into the offseason with Herro and major cap space. Flip Herro now for Oladipo, and both Herro and the bulk of that cap space go away (if Oladipo is retained).
With a slight concession from Oladipo in free agency this offseason, it is possible the Heat can stretch their cap space to eventually wind up with both Herro and Oladipo.
— The futures market: With the Nets trading their draft future for Harden, it rekindles the debate about playing the futures market with first-rounders. It certainly backfired for Brooklyn when it came to acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Celtics (hello Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown).
But it also is a reminder of the Heat dealing a pair of future first-rounders for Goran Dragic in 2015. The first of those picks turned into Zhaire Smith at No. 16 in 2018, who is out of the league. The second of the two picks comes without lottery protection in this year’s draft. Barring a fall into the lottery by the Heat, the value realized in Dragic far exceeds the draft capital.
— The Stepien Rule: Among the NBA’s nuances is the Stepien Rule, which prohibits teams from trading consecutive future first-round picks. It is named after former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien, who, shortly after purchasing the team in 1980, traded away, over a five-month span, his team’s first-round picks in 1982, ’83, ’84 and ’85, with James Worthy, Derek Harper, Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf, among those taken with those selections.
To guard against such future shock, the Stepien Rule was adopted. But now NBA executives have somewhat circumvented by agreeing to pick “swaps” in the years the first-rounders aren’t dealt, as was the case in the Rockets-Nets deal for Harden.
Considering such arrangements still could leave teams bereft of quality draft capital well after current management, coaching staffs and perhaps even ownership are gone, it could be time to close that loophole, as well.
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