What if Miami Won the Derrick Rose Lottery?

Derrick Rose Heat

Every Wednesday, Pick and Popovich will dive down the rabbit hole and explore a different NBA “What if.” The only rule is that the scenario must come from a place that is somewhat realistic and grounded in at least somewhat believable rumor or hearsay. Otherwise, anything goes. 

Miami operates with a firm “best player available” rule. Michael Beasley may be a better fit as a forward next to Dwyane Wade, but through the draft process it becomes clear that Memphis point guard Derrick Rose is the better prospect. So when their No. 1 pick comes up in the 2008 NBA Draft, they don’t hesitate to take Rose and figure out the fit a bit later.

That hastiness doesn’t do Rose or the Heat any favors. He looks good when given the chance to attack the rim as he’d like, but with Wade monopolizing the ball those opportunities are few and far between. The tension is so thick that Rose’s hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, eventually calls Miami to make an offer for Rose. The Heat refuse, and Chicago winds up very thankful that they did. After all, had they acquired Rose they never would have entered the 2009 NBA Draft in position to draft a far better point guard, but coach Vinny Del Negro’s frustrating year and Chicago’s roster without scorers gives them the league’s seventh worst record and a desperate need for playmaking. So they grab Davidson’s Stephen Curry and never look back.

Year 2 of the Rose era is more of the same, and by season’s end the team becomes determined to deal him if their lofty free agency goals are met. So to clear the cap space necessary to sign Chris Bosh and LeBron James to join Dwyane Wade, they trade Rose to Minnesota for a future draft pick.

Minnesota is thrilled with the return on their meager investment. Rose turns his career around playing next to Kevin Love and even competes for an MVP award in Minnesota. It is eventually won by James, who goes on to win a total of five straight, but the Rose-Love combination finally gives the Timberwolves some hope in the post-Kevin Garnett era.

As his five MVPs suggest, LeBron wins quite a bit in Miami. They win the Eastern Conference in his first season with the team and the championship in his next two. But eventually, the Curry-Tom Thibodeau combination overcomes the old and worn down Heat in 2014. They lose to San Antonio in the NBA Finals, but in asserting themselves as the new conference leaders they essentially force LeBron’s hand in leaving Miami for Cleveland.

James, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins on one side, Curry, Jimmy Butler and Thibodeau on the other. No one can imagine a more intriguing Eastern Conference rivalry, especially with the winner likely to take on Rose and Love’s Timberwolves in the NBA Finals.

 

Goran Dragic is the 50th Best Player in Basketball

Dragic 50

Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: Point guards who can finish like Dragic don’t grow on trees. They don’t grow anywhere. It’s Dragic, Kyrie Irving, Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook and that’s about it. He routinely makes over 55% of his shots within three feet of the basket, and though he had a down year last season, most of that was due to sharing the ball with Dwyane Wade.

When Dragic has a chance to run his own offense, he’s one of the best point guards in the league. He’s topped a 35% assist rate and even with Eric Bledsoe playing beside him he made an All-NBA team in 2013-14. He’s still that same player. He just wasn’t on a team designed to let him prove it.

In a pinch, he’s still useful off of the ball. He made 40% of his catch-and-shoot three’s in the 2013-14 season with Phoenix. But he’s a waste in a slow-paced offense. Dragic is at his best making quick decisions against a scrambling defense, one so terrified that he might pull up from long distance that they allow him to skate past them for an easy layup. He’s one of the best fast-break players in basketball, and in a system better suited for his talents he’d prove it.

Why He’s Below No. 49 (Ben Simmons):

Yes, Miami’s system hurt Dragic last year, but he’s also 30. Point guards that rely so much on speed are bound to start slowing down at around that age. Maybe he would’ve been better on a team more suited to his talents, but he also might just be slowing down at a perfectly normal rate.

And everything we’ve said focuses on offense. Dragic is not a good defender. He’s not even a decent defender. He’s bad outright. Miami’s defense was more or less the same with or without Dragic on the floor, a fact that might seem favorable to Dragic before you remember he played most of his minutes with Hassan Whiteside on the floor. He also shared more than 1,000 minutes with rookie Tasmanian Devil Justise Winslow. Were he not protected by better defensive teammates, Dragic might border on legitimate defensive liability.

And finally, Dragic’s intangibles are at least in question. He forced his way out of Phoenix and onto Miami because he wasn’t satisfied with his touches on a point-guard heavy Suns roster. Will he eventually do the same with the Heat? Only time will tell, but there’s enough of a precedent to worry.

If Dwyane Wade Is Really Considering Leaving Miami, Here’s Where He Might Sign

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Brian Windhorst is reporting that Dwyane Wade will field offers from outside teams when free agency begins on Friday. Obviously this publication predicted that he’d stay, but if he really is exploring other options, here are the teams he’s likely to consider:

Cleveland Cavaliers:

If money really is a sticking point then it would have to be a sign and trade, but if Wade wants to become a Cavalier there’s a very simple trade to be made:

Kevin Love to Miami, Wade to Cleveland.

Pat Riley would accept it in a heartbeat. Love fills in for Chris Bosh, but the pair could play together or even in rotation with Hassan Whiteside. Ultimately Love is just a younger star player than Wade, someone Riley would have an easier time building around. LeBron would move to power forward and either Richard Jefferson or J.R. Smith would play small forward. It’s very simple, and if Wade has his pick of any team, Cleveland is likely the choice. It’s just a matter of convincing Cleveland (i.e. convincing LeBron) to make the trade.

Dallas Mavericks:

One of the few conceivable teams for Wade that has both the cap space to sign him outright at this very moment and has enough of a reputation for winning to make it viable. Wade would hang out with Dirk and do old man things, and the Mavs would use the rest of their cap space on a center. Assuming Wesley Matthews is willing to play small forward (or Chandler Parsons returns) the roster makes a fair bit of sense.

Mark Cuban will make the call, it’s just a matter of what priority they assign to Wade. Getting a center is simply more important, so if they max out Hassan Whiteside Wade would have a slot of around $18 million left to take (again, assuming Parsons returns, there’s even more calculus involved here if he doesn’t). That’s obviously a lot of money, but Wade bristled over $20 million last season. If he wants a payday, Dallas isn’t the team.

Los Angeles Lakers:

HERE’S The payday team, and it actually isn’t a horrible basketball move. The Lakers would presumably trade Jordan Clarkson (or simply let him walk) and try to win now while developing D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram. It’s not the worst idea, giving up Clarkson might be worth it for a team that can realistically sign almost any free agent it wants. Those early playoff reps might be very beneficial for the youngsters down the line.

But they’re going to be first round reps and nothing more. Will Wade accept that? Or does he want to win another championship? He likely can’t have his cake and eat it too, if he wants a max salary the Lakers are the one of the only realistic teams that can give it to him.

Boston Celtics:

And here’s another one, and it’s a perfect fit on a one-year deal. Wade gives Boston their end-of-game scorer, but they’re deep enough that he can sit plenty of games and never play more than 30 minutes. The Celtics get to give themselves more credibility with stars next summer without sacrificing flexibility, Wade gets his payday now. The fit is nearly perfect, the only potential downside is any lingering organizational animosity over the rivalry back in the LeBron days. Otherwise, there’s no reason Boston wouldn’t chase Wade as a major piece of their offseason.

 

 

Why Hassan Whiteside Will Sign With the Portland Trail Blazers

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I’m not quite sure how Portland went from “lost four starters in one summer” to “one star away from legitimate contention,” but here we are.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the foundation of an offense that’s ready to win the championship right now. They finished seventh in the NBA in points per possession and should only get better as that duo gains more chemistry together. Put any three dunderheads with them and Portland will score well enough.

Defense is the problem. Lillard and McCollum might as well be a pair of eager leprechauns on that end of the floor. They’re too small to do much of anything, and while there’s quite a philosophical argument to be had about whether it’s even possible to win a championship with that sort of backcourt, for now we know Portland plans to move forward with it so we just have to assume that every other move they make will be built to support it.

Few defensive players can make enough of an impact to offset the losses of that backcourt. Hassan Whiteside might be one of them. He’s rough around the edges. He misses rotations to chase blocks far too often for anyone’s tastes, but his background suggests he has plenty of room to grow. He played college ball at Marshall and then only 19 NBA games before joining the Heat. Those 19 NBA games were for the Kings, so they don’t even count. He’s really only had two years of coaching. He’s going to get even better.

Even if he doesn’t, he already blocks four shots per game. No other player in basketball comes close. The amount of surplus value that adds in shots altered and overall fear among opposing players to attack the basket is priceless. He might be the one center in basketball, besides offensively-illiterate Rudy Gobert, who makes Portland’s backcourt viable. Who cares if Klay Thompson wants to post up McCollum, he’s not getting easy layups with Whiteside looming.

Portland is going to chase Whiteside, that’s a given, but whether or not he comes is going to largely depend on the recruiting process. If Miami offers him the max from Day 1, he’s probably staying. It’s more money and it’s free of state income taxes.

But if they feel the need to chase Kevin Durant, which I suspect they will, Whiteside will look elsewhere. How is he going to feel when Portland recruits him heavily while Miami spends its time elsewhere? He went to Marshall and was a second round pick, he’s going to be so flattered by the love Portland gives him that he’ll sign on the spot.

Besides, we heard enough leaks during the regular season about Whiteside not fitting into the Miami culture that losing him probably wouldn’t bother them much anyway. Portland’s culture seems like a better fit. Damian Lillard has drawn rave reviews as a leader, but the Blazers don’t come with the same dogmatic discipline and conditioning rules Miami does. It’s a more relaxing atmosphere, better for younger players who want to enjoy NBA life.

Miami should just re-sign Whiteside and be done with it, but they won’t. Pat Riley’s eyes are bigger than his stomach. Once they start throwing their money around elsewhere, Portland is going to come in and steal him away.

Likely Contract: Four Years, Max

Why Dwight Howard Will Sign With the Miami Heat

Dwight Heat 1

Here are two parties that think they have far more clout than they actually do.

Dwight Howard thinks that because he’s Dwight Howard, eight-time All Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, teams should be lining up to give him the max. He doesn’t realize that teams don’t particularly like 30-year-old centers who demand post touches, can’t stay healthy and is a whiny little twerp.

The Miami Heat think that because they’re the Miami Heat star free agents should line up to sign with them for discounted salaries. They don’t realize that Goran Dragic is old, Dwyane Wade is older and Chris Bosh might never play again. They don’t see that they just aren’t all that attractive as a team right now.

So Howard is going to spend the first week of free agency looking around for the max and turning off every team he meets with while Miami spends the first week of free agency pitching Kevin Durant not realizing that they don’t have the talent to sign him. Howard won’t sign a contract. Miami will lose Hassan Whiteside. And thus, a fit will be born.

Miami’s going to need a center to maintain their illusion of competitiveness, Howard’s going to need a respected organization to help get his stock back up for free agency next year. So Howard will sign a one-year prove it deal, help get Miami back to the second round, and then both sides will amicably split to pursue flashier options.

And honestly it’s not exactly a bad move for either side. Howard needs some discipline. He needs Dwyane Wade yelling at him and Erik Spoelstra kicking his ass in practice. If he earns their respect more teams will look at him next season, and maybe he’ll actually win something in his career.

Miami should really just re-sign Whiteside, but since they won’t, aligning the ages of their major players makes some sense. Go for it for another year with Wade, Howard, Bosh and Dragic, and assuming that doesn’t work, tear things down and start fresh with cap space and the young guys over the next few years. There’s not really a downside.

And thus, the winner of the 2016 Rajon Rondo memorial one-year prove it deal is Dwight Howard signing with the Miami Heat.

Likely Contract: One Year, $16.5 Million

 

LeBron Can Leave Cleveland Now

LeBron Leaving

There are going to be a lot of stories today about LeBron James bringing Cleveland the championship he so often promised, about what a local hero he is to a city that hadn’t won much of anything for five decades, about how his legacy as a Cavalier is officially cemented and how no one will ever be able to question his commitment to winning or to Ohio for the rest of his career.

It’s easy to feel that way today because LeBron just won the championship. We saw him hug Kevin Love, we saw Dan Gilbert on the podium and Kyrie Irving make that game-winning three. Emotions run high in the heat of the moment. As overjoyed as he must be right now and as much as we all might think this is his happy ending, sooner or later that emotion is going to die down and he’s going to be faced with all of the same problems he had 24 hours ago. After all, he more or less said those exact words to his detractors four years ago.

Several months ago, I imagine sometime in the winter, after a loss in which Irving took too many shots and Love allowed too many to go in, James probably drove home in the snow and brooded in his living room (or lounge, or, dare I say, study) for a few hours. Maybe there was a deer’s head on the wall and a few logs roasting in the fireplace. For a split second he must’ve thought, “man, it’s not fun playing for Cleveland right now.” And then he probably thought, “I wish I could play with players who just get it.” And for just the briefest of moments, I have to imagine he realized something along the lines of “you know, I don’t have to stay in Cleveland once I win them a championship.”

So I’m going to present a very different type of story. What if this isn’t about LeBron coming home to win one for “the land.” What if this was about LeBron winning one so he could get out and never look back?

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The social contract LeBron signed with Cleveland was very specific. He promised to revive the city and he did it. He regretted leaving the team in embarrassing fashion and with a bare cupboard and now he can do so with neither. It was never about winning “not five, not six, not seven,” it was, in his own words, about “bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

Note the use of the word one. 

It might be arbitrary, but by now we should’ve learned to take LeBron at his word. He spent his entire Miami tenure croning about how badly he wanted to come back to Cleveland at some point to win them a title. Nobody bought it until it happened. He didn’t mention Andrew Wiggins in his letter returning to Cleveland, and then Wiggins was traded.

So what has LeBron said? Well, in that same famous letter he stated that his goal was still “to win as many trophies as possible,” and it’s fair to wonder if Cleveland is the best place to do that. Remember, had Draymond Green played in Game 5, it’s possible that the Cavs lose the series then and there and we aren’t having this conversation. Cleveland still has to reconfigure their roster to fit better against Golden State next year, when a suspension is unlikely and the Warriors will likely be healthier.

It’s also fair to wonder if his best shot at grabbing a few more rings might come through something else he said. I’ll present this quote from Howard Beck’s Brotherhood story earlier this season without comment: “‘I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together,’ James said. ‘At least one, maybe one or two seasons—me, Melo, D-Wade, CP—we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that.'”

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He and Wade are both slated to be free agents next month, and both spent last year—and will likely spend most future years—playing with the flexibility of one-year contracts. Carmelo Anthony is eminently acquirable considering his age and the likely direction of the Knicks’ franchise. And Chris Paul is going to be a free agent one year from now.

We looked it over in April and deemed Houston the likeliest team to unite the super friends. But realistically, LeBron could hop right on his banana boat back down to South Beach this summer along with Wade and get Pat Riley to trade Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic for Anthony. From there it would be a simple matter of waiting for Paul next summer and a few pay cuts to make it all possible. The same could be said of the Lakers, and the Knicks already have Anthony and could easily create the cap space to fit James and Wade in.

These are all cities that athletes would much rather live in than Cleveland. These are all cities that can accommodate James’ other interests—be they film, business or who knows what else—far more than Cleveland can. And most importantly, these scenarios all involve players that LeBron actually seems like he wants to play with. James never subtweeted Dwyane Wade in Miami. He never called out Anthony’s defense during the Olympics.

And frankly, there’s something much more interesting for LeBron to do with his buddies somewhere else anyway. Robert Horry and John Salley are the only players ever to win championships with three different teams. If James feels that he can’t catch Michael Jordan’s total of six, then the next best thing might creating an entirely unique resume of his own to change the conversation.

Who knows, he might even just retire. Maybe he wants to try football for a year, he hasn’t exactly been shy about his interest in doing so in the past. His beloved Dallas Cowboys could use another pass-catcher. There’s an argument to be made that he’s done everything he can do in basketball anyway. Why not try something new? He may be too far away from Jordan to become the greatest basketball player ever (though I don’t subscribe to that theory), but winning a Super Bowl could make him the greatest athlete ever. That’s not a bad distinction.

None of this is to say that LeBron is headed elsewhere right now. But rather, the terms of LeBron’s unspoken deal with the city of Cleveland have been met. He is free to do as he pleases from this point on, and there are more than a few signs that suggest playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers isn’t on top of that list.

Why Dwyane Wade Will Return to the Miami Heat

Wade Heat

We talked about this in February, but there’s a reasonable chance Pat Riley doesn’t want Dwyane Wade anymore.

Shooting guards who can’t shoot aren’t black sheep in the modern NBA. If Riley wants to chase a superstar he can’t afford to do so while retaining both Wade and Hassan Whiteside, and 26-year-old centers are more valuable than 34-year-old guards. It might just be time to start building around different players. Wade isn’t going to be good for very much longer.

Miami probably isn’t going to get a superstar. If Chris Bosh’s health were more certain they might, but as it stands right now their roster isn’t desirable enough. The difference between Wade and Whiteside is that Whiteside is far more desirable on the open market. The Heat can’t waste any time on him, and in fact probably will lose him while they’re fawning over Kevin Durant.

But Wade? Nobody’s giving Wade a multi-year deal. It just doesn’t make sense. Guards don’t maintain star status into their mid-30’s. He’s going to fall off sooner rather than later, and at this point in his career he’d only play for the sort of contender that doesn’t just have $20 million lying around to give to a one-year player.

Where would he even go? Chicago? The basketball fit makes no sense. Dallas isn’t good enough. A fit doesn’t exist.

And when Miami strikes out on Durant and realizes they aren’t winning the championship next season, their best bet is going to be playing for PR. So they’ll give Wade his one-year lump sum and go through the same dance again next year. But one of these seasons, they’re going to need to use their cap space on actual long-term basketball matters rather than public relations. Eventually, Wade is going to be forced out, and it’s going to be ugly.

On the off chance it happens this summer, Dallas and Chicago are the two teams that possibly come to mind. But in all likelihood, Wade’s headed for one last 59-game Miami rodeo.

Likely Contract: One Year, $17 Million