7.08.2017

Ainge forces Riles Hand, Inflicts More Pain

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Missing out on Gordon Hayward in free agency Tuesday would have been far from a disaster if he had stayed in Utah.

The real problem for the Miami Heat is Hayward choosing Boston, an Eastern Conference rival that is strong and getting stronger.

So Pat Riley, always craving the big signing, the big trade, the big upgrade, went a little deeper than probably was wise in getting Dion Waiters' agreement to a new Heat contract Wednesday.

The reported figures of four years and $52 million show a long commitment to a player who has been in Miami for a very short time, and whose frequent absence with injuries last year makes it seem even shorter. Waiters started 43 games in his one Miami season and played very well but he missed 33.

Feels more like a deal lasting one or two years would have been the way to go with that in mind. These are probably the terms it took, however, to fend off the siren song of negotiations with the Knicks and Lakers, so Waiters, the same shooting guard who got $2.9 million from Miami last year on what amounted to a trial run, will be paid closer to $12 million next season.

The money always makes you flinch, especially when news comes of someone like Otto Porter, Jr., of the Wizards receiving an offer of $106 million over four years to join the Nets. Washington is expected to match that max rather than lose a good 3-point shooter who averages 13.4 points .

Waiters, a good 3-point shooter who averaged 15.8 points for the Heat last season , might turn out to be a value with this agreement. Either way, Miami, like Washington, had no big additions to report in free agency and couldn't psychologically tolerate a subtraction. This is how things quickly get out of hand.

Remember last summer, when the Heat got a max deal with Hassan Whiteside but couldn't make Dwyane Wade happy enough to stay? Suddenly, the Nets came sniping for Tyler Johnson, a kid guard with just seven NBA starts. Sullenly, Miami matched Brooklyn's exorbitant offer of $50 million over four years, with all but $11.6 million owed in the final two seasons. Soon that contract will need unloading.

Back to today, James Johnson reportedly is close to re-signing with Miami. From here it looks like he is the player Riley needs most to retain, but Johnson had fewer suitors, so the Waiters negotiations took precedence.

Everything moves quickly once the major free agents are all gobbled up. Not exactly a frenzy or a panic but a high-pressure moment for teams that invested a lot of time and effort in getting one of them but failed. Because of Boston getting Hayward, Riley's feeling the pinch more than most.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has hoarded assets for so long that he really can have it both ways, playing for a championship and looking forward to the draft lottery at the same time.

Through a series of trades and a willingness to wait, Boston has acquired bonus first-round draft picks from a variety of teams stretching through 2019.

The Cleveland Cavaliers rule the NBA's Eastern half, in other words, but the Celtics are positioning themselves to take over if LeBron James decides to take his talents elsewhere next summer, or any time after that. Consequently, the Heat join the Wizards and the Raptors and other teams in drawing up plans for rapid improvement but seeing no path to the NBA Finals.

It's tough down there on the treadmill, sweating to shed fat and gain muscle but never seeing a real change in scenery

Luckily Miami has a coach in Erik Spoelstra who can stand up to that challenge. He'll work with any level of talent in pursuit of a playoff spot and never find a rationale for letting up.

By whiffing on all the major free agents of 2017, however, and because Chris Bosh's health put the end to a perfectly good Heat blueprint, Riley has left Spoelstra with the task of one more season competing at a high level with no superstars in his lineup. Back on the treadmill, in other words. Strengthen the core. By next summer, we'll be irresistible to the next wave of free agents and the next grand movement of basketball fate.

Gets old after a while, the wishing. Now we can add another one, that Waiters will regularly perform like he was expected to as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Oh, and the next time Miami is within a few victories of clinching a playoff spot at season's end, here's a wish that Waiters will be more available than he was last March and April.


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