NBA PM: Miami HEAT Search for Centers
At some point, the Miami HEAT will need to stop Orlando center Dwight Howard in the paint or prevent Chicago point guard Derrick Rose from driving the lane and hitting a high-arching layup. Erik Spoelstra’s team has to account for Pacers center Roy Hibbert, 76ers big man Spencer Hawes (if he ever returns) and/or the league leader in field goal percentage, Knicks center Tyson Chandler.
But after watching project center Dexter Pittman fumble through five awful minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers, it became overwhelmingly obvious that the HEAT are in no position to stop any offense once the ball is in the paint. As good as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Shane Battier are at defending, they can’t anchor themselves on a block and punish the throngs of players slashing to the basket. As odd as it sounds, the HEAT—arguably the NBA’s best team—have a glaring weakness in the middle.
Miami’s misfit centers include Joel Anthony, a gritty shot blocker who is undersized (6-8) and overplayed (23 MPG); Pittman, a soft-bodied seven footer who struggles to defend pick and rolls; Mickell Gladness, a 6-11 beanpole riding a string of 10-day contracts; and Eddy Curry, a former lottery pick who has supposedly been working on conditioning for the past five seasons, and yet, remains unfit to play even modest minutes on a regular basis.
HEAT fans know this crew well, and while they all might possess some element of potential, there isn’t a reliable option in the bunch. That’s why it came as no surprise when ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst reported the obvious after Sunday’s loss:
“According to league executives, the Heat have been calling around to gauge demand for reserve big men as the trade deadline approaches.”
The undermining factor in Miami’s efforts to acquire a center is opponents’ resistance to giving the HEAT the final piece of their puzzle.
Rookie Norris Cole has push starter Mario Chalmers and now the HEAT have a pair of viable point guards; the bench is loaded with 3-point shooters and smart defenders; and everyone is buying into the quicker tempo (Miami has gone from 21st in the NBA in possessions per game to eighth in the league this year).
The only problem left is the team’s -2.3 Player Efficiency Differential at the center position (according to 82games.com).
The HEAT can’t afford to take on much salary, so, naturally, they’ll hope that someone like Hornets center Chris Kaman gets bought out so he could sign for the minimum. Failing that, the HEAT could target poor 3-point shooting teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, New Orleans Hornets, Charlotte Bobcats and Detroit Pistons to see if anyone would take on the remaining three-plus years and $18 million-plus remaining on his contract (he has a player option in 2014-2015 that he’ll like take).
Grizzlies backup center Marreese Speights would be a good option, but the HEAT would really have to sweeten the deal and, perhaps, take on the rest of Quincy Pondexter’s contract.Obviously, sweetening the deal is an uphill battle because the Nets own the HEAT’s second-round pick this year while Cleveland owns Miami’s first-round pick in 2013.
Miami could also put one of its two point guards on the block, but that’s not likely to make the team better as a whole.
One interesting potential trade partner could be the Phoenix Suns. It’s unlikely the team would part with Marcin Gortat, who is having a career year (but will still cost Phoenix nearly $8 million in 2013-2014); however, they could be persuaded to deal 3-point shooting center Channing Frye or backup big man Robin Lopez. Frye’s deal runs through 2014-2015 when he’ll make $6.8 million, and while he doesn’t provide a great defensive presence, he could pull opposing centers out of the lane on offense, opening things up for Miami’s Big 3.
Lopez is a more practical option and if the HEAT are willing to take on Shannon Brown’s contract as well, that would make any deal much more feasible. Again, Phoenix’s interest in Mike Miller would probably be limited, but this year’s first-round pick or one of the team’s two point guards (who would eventually succeed Steve Nash) could be enough to get the job done. The question is, would Miami act so drastically?
Finally, the Golden State Warriors present an expensive solution. Center Andris Biedrins will make $9 million per season through 2013-2014, but could be acquired for a package revolving around Miller or Battier.
But perhaps none of these solutions is as attractive as keeping this year’s first-round pick and hoping for the best. As undersized as Anthony is at center, he doesn’t suffer for lack of effort. If Spoelstra can continue scheming around his centerless defense, the HEAT could be rewarded with another late first-round surprise like they got with Cole in the 2011 NBA Draft (they traded to acquire Cole).
Festus Ezeli, a seven footer from Vanderbilt, Duke center Mason Plumlee, Florida big man Patric Young and possibly Syracuse center Fab Melo could all be available after 25 picks or so this June. Obviously, Miami can’t count on that lineup being open to them, but being patient may be the best option.
Miami wouldn’t hesitate to include Miller, Battier or even James Jones in a deal, but teams aren’t jumping over themselves to acquire these guys anymore. Making Cole or Chalmers available is a huge risk unless they’re getting something solid in return. Ultimately, the problem is the HEAT are overextended with the players they do have and don’t have enough assets to really change their situation.
But of course, when president Pat Riley inked three players to near-max deals, didn’t we all know this would be the case?
No Impending Trade for Brook Lopez
Nets center Brook Lopez rolled his right ankle and will be out for three weeks, which means he won’t be getting dealt at the March 15 trade deadline. Lopez’s 38-point effort against the Mavericks last week seemed to invigorate rumors that he could get packaged off for Dwight Howard, but that likely can’t happen now.
Lopez, who had never missed a game before this season, broke the right metatarsal in his right foot during the preseason and only recently returned from that injury. He will be a restricted free agent this summer and has stated that he hopes to return to play for the Nets when they move to Brooklyn.
Rose, Lawson Named POWs
Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson have been named Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively.
Rose pushed the Bulls to a 4-0 week averaging 28.8 PPG, 7.5 APG and 1.75 SPG while Lawson helped the Nuggets to a 3-0 week averaging 20.7 PPG, 11.7 APG and, remarkably, 7.0 RPG.
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