What the Houston Rockets had on offer this week on the NBA trade mill was this: one of the greatest scorers in league history who happens to be an out-of-shape malcontent, alienating his team, his coach and one of the NBA’s biggest global fanbases. A trade for that kind of player, especially for the Heat, always was going to be tricky to pull off.
Considering what the Rockets wanted from the Heat, there’s little question that Miami did the right thing in saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Here’s the package, as detailed by the Miami-based site, FiveReasonsSports.com: Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Precious Achiuwa, Kendrick Nunn, two first-round picks and four future pick swaps.
Houston’s asking price from Miami in a James Harden trade:
Two 1st-Round Picks
4 Pick Swaps
Miami was not interested
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 14, 2021
Heat president Pat Riley surely would have hung up the phone right there. But the kicker is, to make such a deal work, the Heat would have to add “salary filler,” because in the NBA, teams making trades must come close to matching the total salaries being traded.
The only realistic way to match salaries: Throw in Kelly Olynyk and Andre Iguodala. The Heat were being asked to trade 40% of their roster for Harden. That was never going to happen and stands as the reason the Heat, while remaining engaged with the Rockets, never came close to pulling off a trade.
Heat Package Far Superior to Rockets’ Final Haul
In the end, the Rockets wound up with a far weaker package than what they were seeking from Heat. Houston got guard Caris Levert (flipping him to Indiana for Victor Oladipo), plus little-used reserves Dante Exum and Rodions Kurucs and a package of four first-round picks and four pick swaps.
That was part of a wider pattern among teams that engaged with the Rockets on potential trade packages.
In Boston, it was reported that the Rockets wanted two key Celtics for Harden, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, plus draft compensation. Brown is 24 and averaging a career-high 26.3 points this season.
— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) January 14, 2021
Celtics president Danny Ainge, who rarely has anything in common with Riley, did deal with the same issue that the Heat front-office had when talking about Harden—the Rockets were not budging on their asking price.
“We had numerous talks, but the price really wasn’t changing,” Ainge said yesterday on a Boston radio station. “The price was really high for us, and it was something we really didn’t want to do. I’m not sure there was anybody — even the people within our organization that respected him and wanted him more, but I think unanimously, we decided it wasn’t the time for us and it wasn’t the price.”
Miami Heat Will Still Stay Active on Trade Market
The Heat may have done the right thing in the Harden talks but they’re still left with a team that has been depleted by the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and was not playing all that well even when healthy.
Breaking: The Heat-Celtics game tonight has been postponed.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 10, 2021
The big question is whether Miami goes back to Houston to pluck some other veterans to bolster the team’s depth. Oladipo could be available, and he has long wanted to land with the Heat. Veteran big man P.J. Tucker wants out, too, and could bring the kind of rugged defense and 3-point shooting the team lost when Jae Crowder was lost to free agency.
There will be other veterans the Heat can pursue, too. One limiting factor is that they have only one second-round pick available through 2026 and can’t, under NBA rules, trade a first-round draft pick in any of their next four drafts (teams can’t trade future first-round picks in back-to-back drafts, and Miami has already dealt away its 2021 and 2023 picks).
But the trade deadline is March 25. There is still plenty of time to find a good deal.
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