Disclaimer: This is speculation. Me thinking out loud, if you will. You’re not an idiot, so let’s just let our minds explore options that could take place. After all, we’re all fans in this business. We want this team to succeed. Also, I’m a person that wants Hassan Whiteside to stay in Miami long-term. I’m a big fan of what he can do and what he can become. But we have to explore every option that could result in the best interest of the team. Keep that in mind as you read and share this piece. Now that we’ve taken care of the basics, let’s talk HEAT.
Imagine for a moment that it is July 2016. Free agency is rapidly whirring into motion and the Miami HEAT, led by Pat Riley, are getting ready to make an enormous splash once again. We’ve talked about the possibilities of Miami’s two biggest targets, Kevin Durant and Hassan Whiteside, and scenarios that involve them wearing HEAT colors next season. However, if there is one thing this franchise’s loyal fan base must understand, it is to expect the unexpected. Isn’t that what free agency is all about?
Come back with me to the the 2005 offseason when the Miami HEAT and its fans were searching for new ways to improve the roster after a tough Game 7 loss to the then-defending champion Detroit Pistons. Dwyane Wade, in just his second season, emerged into a star in his own right, teaming up with Shaquille O’Neal (acquired in the summer of 2004) to propel the HEAT to an Eastern Conference-leading 59-23 record, bolstered by the heralded return of franchise center Alonzo Mourning midway through the spring after recovering from the kidney ailment that prematurely ended his career.
But they fell short. Dwyane Wade, after standout performances in Games 2 and 3 vs. Detroit (scoring 40 and 36 points in each game), would suffer a rib injury in Game 5 that would force him out of Game 6 and severely limit him in Game 7. With third option Eddie Jones failing to deliver added support, Shaquille O’Neal, already dealing with a deep thigh bruise suffered during the previous series vs. the Washington Wizards, would be unable to deliver an Eastern Conference Championship for the first time in franchise history.
But that would change. Pat Riley, now revered by HEAT Nation as the modern-day Godfather, would swing a blockbuster deal that summer. Riley would transform Eddie Jones and his unmet expectations into Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, James Posey, and the 2005-06 NBA Championship, the first in franchise history. No one saw that trade coming. I know I didn’t, and I had been following HEAT news the best I could from my resort in Orlando that summer. The same thing happened again in 2010, but that’s a blog post that remains unfinished. It’s coming soon, I promise.
But let’s return to our story currently in progress. We know what this offseason could bring. We know about the looming free agencies of Hassan Whiteside, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and many more players. But a name that has been mentioned sparingly is one that we should take into consideration–Dwight Howard.
Here are some reasons why:
- Pat Riley has always been in love with franchise-caliber big men. We know this by his resume. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, and now potentially Hassan Whiteside. Dwight Howard, though not the consistently dominant force he was in Orlando, is still a player of that caliber.
- The Miami HEAT have been linked to Dwight Howard in the past, as recently as last season’s trade deadline, during a time when Whiteside’s future was in serious doubt after being suspended for another flagrant foul. Some say trade negotiations came very close to a deal. Some say otherwise. What is clear, however, is what Howard aired out on Inside The NBA a few weeks ago.
- Which leads us into this: After a frustrating series of stops in Los Angeles and Houston, Dwight Howard is believed to be looking for a fresh start to salvage the remaining years of his career. Pat Riley has made a career out of reclamation projects. He’s worked magic with John Starks, Mourning, P.J. Brown, Ike Austin, Lamar Odom, Chris Andersen, and many more players. You could easily argue that this is taking place right now with Whiteside. You have to think this is something being considered in Riley’s Situation Room.
So here is a question: Would this franchise’s future, along with the championship feeling of this team’s fan base, still be satisfactory if Pat Riley were to explore a franchise-altering option that involved Hassan Whiteside, Miami’s greatest free agent find since Lebron James and Chris Bosh, taking his defensive triple-doubles and overall social media swagger to another team? Would Dwight Howard be amiable to such an arrangement? Would Kevin Durant be interested in this scenario? Will Chris Bosh return? Am I wasting your time with all of these questions?
Taking the above exchange into consideration, what if Pat Riley were able to convince Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade to take a big enough enough pay cut if it meant Dwight Howard, seeking a stable franchise appreciative of his style of play and a championship atmosphere, would sign with the HEAT this July at a reasonable bargain (but not so cheap that his agent would seek the Baker Act)? Crazier things have happened in this league, and with Pat Riley at the helm, but assuming something this wild were to happen, this is what would materialize as a result.
PG: Goran Dragic – Tyler Johnson – Briante Weber
SG: Dwyane Wade – Josh Richardson – Marcus Thornton/Damion Lee
SF: Kevin Durant – Justise Winslow – Dorell Wright
PF: Chris Bosh – Luol Deng – Udonis Haslem
C: Dwight Howard – Kevin Seraphin – Amare Stoudemire
Death Lineup: Dragic – Wade – Winslow – Durant – Deng
Trees: Dragic/Johnson/Richardson – Wade – Durant – Bosh – Howard
Shooters: Wade – Thornton – Richardson – Durant – Bosh
Bench Mob: Johnson – Richardson – Winslow – Deng – Seraphin
Defense: Weber – Richardson – Winslow – Durant – Howard
Attack: Dragic – Wade – Richardson – Winslow – Bosh
Obviously, this is all being constructed as one big hypothetical pipe-dream, but in order for this roster to take shape like this, it would require championship-seeking pay cuts from Wade, Howard, Seraphin, Wright, and Thornton. It would also mean the HEAT would have to dump Josh McRoberts’ salary somewhere else. Anything is possible with Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg, so it could very well be possible that Durant and Wade are able to cooperate enough to construct a roster such as this one next season. But don’t mistake this for a rumor. It’s strictly speculation and nothing more. Now exhale.
On paper, this is a championship team built from the very whale-like moves Pat Riley has been known to swing throughout his career. A team like this involves a combination of veterans and young talent that maintains hope for the future and addresses championship aspirations in the here and now. There is no lack of shooting, perimeter defense, or rebounding. It can boast a speedy, Warriors-like death lineup or the trees lineup the Oklahoma City Thunder have been using to combat them.
It’s going to be a very interesting summer with many moving pieces throughout the league and beyond. I fully expect Pat Riley to make a big splash and hook this “whale” he spoke of during his season ending press conference. This franchise’s future is bright, whether or not Kevin Durant brings his talents to South Florida full-time. We don’t know where Dwight Howard, or even Hassan Whiteside will end up. No one knows for sure. What we do know, however, is that our front office will not let us down. We will succeed, and I am excited to see what happens next.