The Miami Heat recently went through a fire sale of sorts when they unloaded several players.
Simply put, these moves were made for one main reason—to keep rookie Josh Richardson on the roster.
While another reason was the desire to shed salary due to the Heat being over the luxury-tax line, all three players were to earn just $3.9 million combined.
Salary purposes and the message that these three aforementioned players just did not fit into Miami’s plans for the 2015-16 season might have been reasons for the personnel moves, but it was the startling play and potential shown by Richardson over the summer that led the Heat in this direction.
During the summer league, Richardson was the only Heat player to play all 10 summer league games. He was one of the team’s strongest performers, averaging 11.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.7 steals in 26.1 minutes per contest. Not only was he consistent, he was also versatile—he played point guard, shooting guard and small forward during his two weeks in Orlando and Las Vegas.
It is no coincidence that all three players the Heat traded or waived played the small forward, shooting guard and point guard positions.
Considering Richardson is more than capable of providing more value to the organization than that of the aforementioned three players at a cap hit of just $2.5 million over three years, the move just oozes logic.
Let’s take a look at what Napier, Walker and Dragic contributed to the franchise in their lone season with Miami, while taking a look at what their roles would have been for the upcoming season.
Zoran Dragic, Shooting Guard
Dragic sparsely played during the last two months of the 2014-15 season after being acquired at the trade deadline from the Phoenix Suns. He made just 10 appearances for Miami, averaging a mere 2.2 points, 0.5 rebounds and 0.4 assists on 40.9 percent from the field.
The most action we saw out of Zoran was in the regular season finale versus the Philadelphia 76ers and in the summer league.
In his lone start of the season versus the Sixers, the 26-year-old scored 22 points while showing off his long-distance shooting by going 3-of-7 from beyond the arc.
During the summer league, the younger Dragic showed off more of his scoring ability and propensity to shoot three pointers as he averaged 12.25 points and attempted 4.5 treys per game during the Orlando Summer League.
While he would have likely seen a few more minutes per game this upcoming season, the Heat were loaded at the guard and small forward positions. It would have been unlikely to have seen Dragic contribute as a key player in the rotation for the 2015-16 season.
As the highest-paid player of the three that were sent packing at $1.5 million, the move made perfect sense when considering Zoran’s limited upside and the presence of Richardson.
Henry Walker, Small Forward
Similar to Dragic, Walker was acquired in February when the Heat went through a major roster overhaul.
Unlike the Slovenian however, Walker was signed by Miami after playing for the organization’s D-League affiliate Sioux Falls Skyforce. He was initially signed to a couple of 10-day contracts before being signed for the rest of the season.
In the Heat’s push to make the playoffs toward the end of the season, the 6’6″ forward ended up playing a key role for the team, making 24 appearances while starting on 13 occasions. He averaged 7.3 points while averaging over 26 minutes per contest.
However, his shooting was absolutely abysmal as he converted on just 34.5 percent of his shots.
Of all of the players on the Heat’s roster last week, Walker was the one most likely to be let go. Despite being on the summer league roster, he failed to make a single appearance as he struggled through an ankle injury.
While the Heat were able to acquire draft picks for Dragic and Napier, they simply waived Walker likely due to a lack of interest in the small forward from teams around the league.
Shabazz Napier, Point Guard
Of the three players mentioned in this article, Napier easily had the most value.
A 24-year-old point guard just entering his second season, the University of Connecticut product was expected to be the Heat’s franchise point guard.
After an underwhelming rookie season that saw him bounce in-and-out of the D-League, Miami decided that they had seen enough when they traded the young point guard to the Orlando Magic for a 2016 second-round draft pick.
Following the trade, it was reported that Napier was traded for virtually nothing because Miami didn’t think “he was good enough.”
“One NBA general manager who spoke to the Heat said Heat brass realized Shabazz Napier ‘was not good enough. At that size (6-1), you have to be really quick or a very good shooter, and he’s neither.’”
The 6’1″ point guard could very well prove the Heat wrong as he looks to become a key player for the Magic. While there’s still potential for Napier to become a good player in the NBA, it became clear that the organization lost trust in him.
When Miami re-signed Goran Dragic to a multi-year deal earlier this month, it cemented the notion that Napier wouldn’t be a starter for the Heat any time soon.
With Tyler Johnson being more than capable of providing backup at the point position, and Richardson being so versatile that he can play both guard spots combined with small forward, it made the former 24th overall pick expendable.
Why Richardson Makes Sense
This is as simple as simple can get—Richardson is cheap, versatile and has potential.
Outside of Napier, the Heat had already seen enough from Walker and Dragic. At the age of nearly 28, Walker reached his potential a long time ago. The younger Dragic might not even have a future in the NBA past this summer.
The University of Tennessee product is just 21 years old. He shot 38.6 percent from three-point range in the summer league, is an excellent defender, and can play multiple positions. His upside is tremendous for a second-round draft pick.
Heat assistant Dan Craig complimented the rookie’s ability to contribute in several categories during the summer league:
“He’s a tremendous player, on both sides of the floor. We were really happily surprised with how quickly he was able to evolve into the NBA game, particularly from the point-guard standpoint.”
Despite losing three veteran players, the Heat more than compensated by replacing the trio with an unheralded rookie from the University of Tennessee.