Wrapped into Pat Riley’s end-of-season press conference were several comments about the importance of the NBA Draft, something that Riley’s Miami Heat have not historically prioritized. However, that seems to be changing.
“The draft is important,” Riley said. “Younger players on rookie-scale contracts who can play.”
During his 35-minute media session, Riley remarked on the league’s new CBA, which prohibits the higher-salaried teams from using key roster-building tools such as the mid-level exception, picking up buy-out players and combining salaries in trades. These limitations make the draft the best resource for adding cheap talent.
When asked what the Heat might be looking for on draft night, Riley said “Wing size and length and multi-position players, especially ball-handling players.”
The Heat will go No. 18 in Thursday’s draft — an unusually high pick for a team that just made the Finals. The last three times, when the heat has come after a final round, they chose 20th, 26th and 27th place, for example. After last season’s Eastern Conference finals, they selected Nikola Jovic at 27. This will be Miami’s highest pick since taking Tyler Herro at No. 13 in 2019.
“There’s a lot of good players there,” Riley said.
There seems to be a changing perspective among the front office when it comes to the draft. In the past, the Heat have been willing to part with picks for veteran players or even use future draft capital to shed unwanted salary.
In 2015, the Heat traded two future first-round picks for a then-28-year-old Goran Dragic. In 2017, the Heat attached a future second-round pick to shed Josh McRoberts’ contracts, and last season used another second-round pick to move KZ Okpala.
They’ve also flipped rookies they picked on draft night to avoid having to draft and pay them, most recently with Bol Bol No. 44 in 2019. From 2011 to 2014, the Heat traded away every single one of their draft night picks. choice.
But when Riley and the Heat were given the opportunity to offload the contracts of Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson at the February trade deadline, they declined because it would have cost draft capital.
“We’ve done it (trade drafts) in the past to shed salary,” Riley said when asked about what was available at the trade deadline. “I’m not interested in doing that right now.”
There is also a changing perception of what is available in the draft. On the heels of finding high-level contributors Bam Adebayo (No. 14, 2017) and Tyler Herro (No. 13, 2019) in recent drafts (Riley called them both franchise “anchors”), there’s a new appreciation for , what young players can achieve. Nuggets rookie Christian Braun was a factor in the Finals.
“This generation of players is more talented than they’ve ever been. Younger guys are coming in more finished, more polished,” Riley said. “I think our development program has proven that these guys can play if you expose them to big moments.”
There are several options that could be available at 18 that fit Miami’s stated need for wing length and versatility: Marquette’s Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Kentucky’s Cason Wallace, UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. and G League Ignite’s Leonard Miller have been teased to the Heat by various outlets.
None of this is to say the Heat wouldn’t part with the pick in a trade that could yield a superstar like Damian Lillard, but as they showed in the Bradley Beal consideration, it will take a player of Lillard’s caliber to trade what Miami increasingly regarded as a valuable resource. That means if Lillard isn’t available, the Heat are less likely to trade picks for even a borderline All-Star since the age, contract and fit aren’t perfect.
The Trail Blazers are reportedly committed to taking the best player available with their third overall pick, and there is a growing sense that Lillard will part ways with the Trail Blazers, based on conversations with multiple league sources. The Heat backed out of Beal negotiations in part to prepare for the possibility of Lillard becoming available. They have prepared a package, per league sources. Any deal would likely have to include Herro and the contract of either Lowry or Robinson, plus picks.
Trading draft picks isn’t off the table for the Heat, but it will take a lot more than in the past to get Riley and his front office to give them up.
With the NBA draft set for tonight, here are some final lingering thoughts.
- As mentioned before, Prosper, Wallace and Jaquez Jr. names that have been linked to the Heat in mock drafts. Jaquez Jr. has been mocked by both The Ringer and The Athletic, with The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor writing, “This place with the heat is the highest springs he’s associated with, so for the purposes of this mock, he lands here.”
- Two more names I would keep an eye on are Michigan’s Jett Howard and Santa Clara’s Brandin Podziemski.
- The history of players selected at No. 18 is not inspiring: Dalen Terry, Tre Mann, Josh Green, Goga Bitadze, Lonnie Walker IV, TJ Leaf, Henry Ellenson, Sam Dekker, Tyler Ennis and Shane Larkin are the final 10. Best. scenario for the Heat would be someone like Mann or Green who could be good role players on a struggling team. The last All-Star selected at 18 was David West in 2003.
- There remains the possibility that the Heat could trade down from 18, with the Boston Celtics reportedly looking to move up from the 25th overall pick they acquired from Memphis in the Marcus Smart-Kristaps Porzingis deal. One trade that has been floated out there is Boston’s No. 25 pick and guard Payton Pritchard for 18. Pritchard is making $4 million in the final year of his contract and could be a cheap way to add guard depth.
- What the Heat do on draft night could be an indication of what will happen with Gabe Vincent and Max Strus. Both are unrestricted free agents and are expected to receive offers around $10 million per season. As Riley said, the draft is a way to add cheap, young talent. If they choose a shooter, it could mean that Strus is gone. If it’s a ballhandler, there’s less need to bring Vincent back.
- Other teams that would like to move up: Brooklyn (picks 21, 22) and Charlotte (picks 27, 34, 39, 41).