There’s no denying that South Beach has been floated as a potential landing spot for Chris Paul following his acquisition by the Oklahoma City Thunder but several hurdles would need to be cleared before the Miami Heat formally take on his substantial contract if they even wanted to.
According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, the Heat intend to listen to offers that Thunder general manager Sam Presti presents them. Miami, after all, is apparently Oklahoma City’s focus, which Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported earlier this morning.
Just because the Thunder would like to flip Paul over to the Heat, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will. The Heat have to be willing partners and there’s been no confirmation that they’re eager to do any more than their due diligence.
While the combination of Paul and Jimmy Butler is an intriguing one – and the Heat are one of the few teams that could possibly onboard Paul in a moderately rational way – Miami would be hamstringing itself in offseasons to come thanks to the $120-plus million Paul will earn through 2021-22.
Many NBA teams need to build through trades or the draft because they’re not a popular landing spot for free agents. The Heat don’t have that problem. Investing in Paul would limit their ability to land a max free agent in 2020 and even in 2021.
Put simply, Jackson writes that the Heat just don’t have a strong interest in Paul. That supposed reluctance could be little more than convenient posturing as they try to eke more out of a possible trade but it’s not hard to imagine why Miami may actually be content heading forward as they are.
Sam Amick of The Athletic expressed his uncertainty about Oklahoma City’s chances of convincing Miami to commit to Paul’s contract in a radio appearance earlier today.
The Heat were heavily involved in trade talks for Russell Westbrook, Jackson writes, but ultimately refused to include combinations of Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo or Justise Winslow.
While they wouldn’t likely need to dangle those young assets in order to acquire Paul, they would need to be cautious that they aren’t jeopardizing the long-term health of the franchise for the short-term satisfaction of netting Paul. This is a franchise that’s actually in a decent spot because of the organization’s ability to optimize its assets.
A more likely trade haul in a hypothetical Paul-to-Miami deal would involve draft picks. The Thunder recently acquired two Heat picks from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Paul George trade. Those picks initially landed in Miami in separate deals four years apart.
Miami’s 2023 first was sent to the Clippers in exchange for the role they played in the four-team deal that yielded Jimmy Butler last week. Their 2021 pick was initially sent to Phoenix back in 2015 as part of the deadline deal for Goran Dragic and has changed hands several times since.
If Miami were to get involved in a Paul deal, it’s likely that the reunion with those draft assets and the potential for salary cap relief would play a significant role. The Heat are hard-capped as a result of the Butler sign-and-trade. If Oklahoma City is eager enough to get out from Paul’s deal, they could offer those picks as well as the obligatory myriad of substantial but still more palatable contracts.
SLAM’s Chris Crouse wrestled with possible trade scenarios for Russell Westbrook prior to the blockbuster yesterday and landed on a three-way scenario between the Thunder, Heat and Rockets in which Miami would take back the $45-plus million owed to Dragic, James Johnson and Dion Waiters. Westbrook is obviously already Houston-bound but the major pieces of that hypothetical swap could still play out in two separate moves.
In that scenario or several similar variations of it, the Thunder would break Paul’s deal into smaller, more easily moved pieces, all of which expire at least one season earlier than Paul’s. That would position Presti to wheel and deal his way to cleaner books, faster while also granting Miami relief from the hard cap they face, alleviating log jams on their depth chart and giving them access to a Hall of Fame point guard in the twilight of his career.
Is that enough for the Thunder to fork over two of the 15 draft picks they’ve amassed between 2020 and 2026? Would Miami handcuff themselves to an unknown and potentially volatile pairing of polarizing stars for any less?
At this stage in the process there’s little to base speculation on other than the fact that the Thunder would like to get out from Paul’s albatross contract. Of course they would, why wouldn’t they? There’s no doubt that the veteran is a plus-player on any team’s depth chart but that’s little consolation for a team in Oklahoma City’s position with their sights fully set on a long-term rebuild.
If we’re going to see Paul land in Miami, something the Thunder are reportedly so committed to, they’ve got their work cut out for them. Perhaps it will involve a third team, as Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel suggested in his own account of the Paul discussion, perhaps it drags on into the season and Pat Riley pulls the trigger if it looks a top-four seed in the East is within reach.
At the end of the day, as the dust settles on a wild first two weeks of free agency, the thought of Paul alongside Butler on an Erik Spoelstra-led squad is intriguing for basketball reasons but the Heat aren’t obligated to bite just because the idea fits into the zeitgeist of NBA Twitter.