Heat Prepare To Underdraft, Be Underdogs Again

They might gain two decent prospects in tonight's draft, but Miami still looks to 2010 to make a run for it

With teams that are as far from a championship as Miami are, drafts are usually a much bigger deal.  But for the Heat, who they’ll pick at numbers 43 and 60 isn’t even the biggest question of the summer.

That distinction belongs to Dwyane Wade, and the will-he-or-won’t-he back and forth about his expiring contract. Pat Riley says there’ll be no major personnel moves until Wade’s future in Miami is secured; Wade says he doesn’t want to wait until next summer’s stellar free agency class for the franchise to build a title-caliber team around him.

"I'm [here],” Wade said last week. “Why not fast track this thing anyway while I'm there and let's not give it a chance to get to 2010? I'm in my prime right now…So let's not wait. …It's not about me signing a contract."

Ah, the eternal dance: Franchise President doesn’t want to throw around boatloads of cash until he’s sure the bedrock of the whole thing isn’t about to dine and dash; Bedrock of the whole thing wants to see how Franchise President is going to get him a supporting cast, and soon, before he agrees to stick around. It makes sense on both counts.

Here’s where the draft comes in: the Heat cannot get Wade his instant fix in the draft.  They have all the youth they would like to handle (somewhere, Eric Spoelstra mutters about Spongebob), and this year’s draft class is widely considered to be the weakest in years. With limited room under the salary cap, and the Heat very close to the luxury tax penalty, there isn’t really anyone worth wheeling and dealing for now that wouldn’t be outclassed in the 2010 free agency (or even draft).

Riley’s eye has long been on 2010, and he’s been trying to maximize the Heat’s salary cap space for just that. Miami is one player away from serious contention, but the draft cannot provide a proven, world-class guard like Chris Bosh, or even an athletic center. Next summer can, and it won’t come with the risk of putting all the marbles on a trade or first-round pick purchase only to be left Wade-less and without the means to replace him. In fact, the Heat may have two first-round picks in 2010 that create an insane amount of leverage.

Sure, Miami’ll pick up the best-fitting talent they can tonight in the second round, but the immediate impact will not be felt. With other teams trying to trade away picks for higher choices next year, there's a chance some very decent players will still be around when the Heat come to call. Have we mentioned JACK MCCLINTON JACK MCCLINTON JACK MCCLINTON? No?  There's also guards like the spectacularly-named Dionte Christmas (Temple), Jody Meeks (Kentucky), Danny Green and Wayne Ellington (North Carolina), and Patrick Beverley (Arkansas by way of Ukraine).

Might they make some surprising move?  Anything’s possible. The Heat have a $4.3 million trade exception, which means they could acquire a player in trade making that or less without having to shell out an equal amount.  But they also have 11 players under contract for next season, with qualifying offers out to restricted free agents Jamario Moon and Joel Anthony.  One surprising move might even be to draft players heading to Europe, where their salaries won't count against the Heat's total.

It's likely that Riley sticks to the plan: offers Wade the best he can as soon as possible in July, makes as much wiggling room as he can for next summer, and banks on both the team maturing as is and Wade’s stated desire to stay in Miami.

After all, who could leave all this?  If Wade waits, the Heat just bide their time, make as much room as possible, and go big next summer.  It'll cost them a little more where Wade's concerned, but he'll be worth every penny.

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