LeBron James has signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. I know, whoa. It really happened. But that isn’t even the first thing that comes to mind. Here’s what does, however–Dan Gilbert is such a bad owner.
Seriously. He’s one of the National Basketball Association’s worst. In 2003, he lucked into the greatest player since Michael Jordan’s retirement (likely ever), put mediocre pieces around him for seven seasons, treated him like a runaway slave when he left (you remember the letter), somehow lucked into him (and a title) after multiple lottery picks between 2011-2014, then lost him AGAIN.
It’s no wonder the Cleveland Cavaliers suck. Dan Gilbert owes any basketball-related wealth he’s attained since 2003 to the sweat off LeBron’s brow. Who’s going to want to go there now? Which star will decide, in the future, that he wants to win a title in Cleveland? It’s not a crazy thought to believe that their years of relevance have come to a close for a long time.
Ultimately, LeBron James is finally free. He’s finally where he needs to be. It’s not Miami (like I wanted), but it’s the next best place. I’m thankful for him and so happy he now has the chance to keep building his empire in Los Angeles. LeBron, go get you some more rings. I hope you retire with seven titles.
Moving along, let’s talk about why you’re here…
Okay, so LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker. With news of a late-night meeting between LeBron and Magic leading to an agreement, Pat Riley, a man known by many HEAT and [old school] Knicks fans as The Godfather, wasn’t even given the chance to schedule a sit-down meeting with a high-profile free agent. When was the last time that happened on multiple occasions?
Folks, we’ve seen him, at the very least, always seem to get at least a sit-down in past free agency periods, with LeBron, Mo Williams, LaMarcus Aldridge, and so on. The two highest-rated free agents this time around, LeBron and Paul George (who has agreed to a long-term deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder), both committed before Riley even came close to making his pitch.
Perhaps this means that both players already had personal agendas independent of whatever franchise planned for them. Perhaps this may be a changing of the guard in terms of which negotiator has the most mystique. We’ve talked about Pat Riley’s recent out-of-character moves.
These sentimental deals have been out-of-character for Pat Riley, as sports writer (and Five Reasons Sports Network founder) Ethan J. Skolnick has previously stated on numerous occasions. Some view this as signs of decline. Others view it as a unique (and rectifiable) gaffe. Goes either way.
What we know now is that there is an opportunity for the Miami HEAT to retool in the coming years, especially with potential splashes between 2019-2021. Free agency, as we’ve seen in the last two days, is unpredictable. You’re better off trading for someone if you can. Players demanding to be traded somewhere, only to land somewhere else, rarely actually leave for the initially-desired place.
I haven’t any idea if Miami is close to trading for Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, or even if they have a chance. What I do know and understand that everyone on the HEAT’s roster is up for grabs at the right price, as intimated by Riley at his end-of-season press conference. Miami has, at the time of this piece, has Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Bam Adebayo as young prospects.
It’s increasingly likely that some (or all) of them will be on the trading block in order to bring in a star. Miami’s best-case scenario has all three blossoming into star-level talents, but that’s optimistic thinking. Perhaps Richardson, but he’s already in his mid-20s.
Bam Adebayo appears to possess the most potential out of all of them, due to his versatility, athleticism, and raw ability. There’s a lot to be harnessed with him, and his future as either a power forward or center remains to be seen. He’s gotten multiple comparisons to Shawn Kemp and others.
Ideally, the Miami HEAT will soon field a lineup of Goran Dragić, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, and Hassan Whiteside, where everyone is able to work together, Winslow’s outside shot fully develops into a respectable threat, and guys like Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, and James Johnson become either solid off-the-bench options or trade bait (perhaps the latter, at least for Waiters).
The hope is that the aforementioned lineup is what develops into Miami’s future, with replacements for Dragić and bench players easily plugged-in with either a free agent or draft pick, many of which we now have thanks to the Dragić trade nearing its official completion. HEAT Nation hopes for this sort of thing.
Pat Riley has long discussed the wish to develop from within, but the ceilings of some of these players have become clear. Tyler Johnson, someone I’ve championed since he first appeared in summer league four years ago, actually regressed last season. He’s set to make around $19 million next season thanks to the poison-pill restricted free agent offer sheet he signed with the Brooklyn Nets a few years ago.
Even in this free agent market, that’s way too much for someone with his abilities. He’s remarkably overpaid, especially considering what he brings to the table. It’s another example of Miami refusing to let certain players go for sentimental reasons. We may have to make that decision again this summer with Wayne Ellington, who, after a record-breaking season, has offers from elsewhere. Shooters are at a premium today.
This one might hurt, but if the price gets too high, we have to let him go. As much as he’s helped us out this past season, we cannot keep committing starter-level money to role players. It crippled us this summer and, one would presume, kept LeBron from coming back to Miami. We cannot let that happen again. Time is of the essence, and 2019 and 2020 are looming free agent bonanzas in the making.
We also have questions regarding our continuing logjam on the wings. Will Dwyane Wade return? What happens to Dion Waiters’ role with Josh Richardson establishing himself as a starting-caliber, All-NBA Defensive Team-worthy SG? What about TJ and Rodney McGruder? What about our other wings? Where do they fit in?
As it stands, there are only fifteen roster spots, and a large chunk of that is tied up in bad contracts. Will there be a cap-clearing trade this summer? Does anyone actually want our pieces? I haven’t the slightest idea. HEAT General Manager Andy Ellisburg is always working feverishly to make something happen, as he always has.
There is a good chance we may regress this coming season, even with LeBron now moving to the Western Conference. Riley has stubbornly refused to allow his team to bottom out, instead choosing to invest in veterans. We now have Bam Adebayo instead of Jayson Tatum because of that.
Perhaps this is HEAT Culture blasphemy (at least to Riley), but I am of the belief that sometimes, allowing a complete cleansing to take place is necessary. We will have a consistent line of draft picks for the first time, and I firmly believe that what we know and love as HEAT Culture must evolve its strategy. Draft picks are extremely useful. There were players worth buying picks for, both last summer and the one before that.
We must have a more balanced approach moving forward. In many ways, Riley stopped coaching because his style eventually dried out in the face of a changing league, necessitating Spoelstra’s ascent. Shane Battier is hopefully next in line in the front office. Riley must recognize this reality.
In spite of all the doom-saying, our future remains positive, if not for the promise of a major trade, because we have some young guys we can watch grow. We’re not entitled to championship seasons every year, but we are entitled to a good product (or at least, one worth tuning in to watch). I firmly believe that we’ll be fine in the long run.
We’ve had a lot to be thankful for in the last 15 seasons, more than most fan bases can honestly say. We’ll stay the course. Hopefully management keeps working to improve as they always have. Change is coming in some form. What we know as HEAT Culture is here to stay, so let’s enjoy the ride for as long as we have it.