It is one of the stranger facets of NBA free agency this summer, especially from a Heat perspective. By all measures, Kelly Oubre is a decent enough player, a wing who can defend a little, can shoot a little and can certainly score in the right circumstances—he averaged 20.2 points last season with Charlotte with key players Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball out.
But here in mid-September, Oubre remains unsigned, still a free agent. He’s gotten offers to sign minimum contracts elsewhere, but according to veteran reporter Marc Stein, Oubre is holding out for a Miami Heat-Damian Lillard deal, with Oubre heading to South Beach when/if it is finished.
“Multiple teams I’ve spoken to recently expect free agent swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. to ultimately land with the Miami Heat … provided that the Heat are ultimately successful in their quest to trade for Portland’s Damian Lillard,” Stein reported this week.
Lillard Trade Remains Uncertain
Getting a Lillard deal done is still an uncertain prospect in Miami, though it remains the most likely outcome. Insider Shams Charania reported this week that Miami and Portland are the only two camps to which Lillard would report when training starts in less than three weeks. That bodes well for the Heat.
But the sides remain dug in, and there are fewer options on hand to break the stalemate. One problem is that, now as we approach mid-September, the window for getting other teams involved in a trade is closing, if it has not closed all together.
The crux of the problem is that the primary piece the Heat would put in a Lillard deal—Tyler Herro—has no value for Portland. Herro lost trade value around the league when Miami made its run to the NBA Finals with Herro injured, and teams saw how much better defensively the Heat were in those games. Getting Herro to a third team and acquiring assets that way would help, but there is not a very big trade market out there for Herro as the season approaches.
The Heat could help the situation by taking on Portland center Jusuf Nurkic in a trade, but that option has not gotten a deal over the line, either.
Wing Depth is Lacking in Miami
If a deal does come, Herro will likely be elsewhere and the Heat will be very thin on the wing behind Jimmy Butler and returning free agent Josh Richardson—especially if 2023 draftee Jaime Jaquez is in the trade.
That’s where Oubre comes in. Wrote Stein:
“The presumption is that Miami is likely to have a clear need on the wing if it can eventually manage the requisite trade package to pry Lillard from the Pacific Northwest after a frustratingly quiet summer on that front for the Heat. Oubre is by far the most accomplished player available on the free agent market to address such a need after he nearly cracked the top 50 in scoring last season by averaging 20.3 points per game with Charlotte.”
One of the offshoots of making a Lillard deal is that it is possible Miami clears out some weighty salaries and actually creates more wiggle room under the luxury tax’s so-called second apron, which would free up more money for Oubre than just a minimum deal.
It’s his hope, at least. And, frankly, the hope of most Heat fans by now.