LeBron James stepped up once again last night to guide the Miami Heat to their 31st victory of the season, finishing with 31 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in a 99-94 win over Charlotte.
Though it was the second day of traveling back-to-back for the team, the champions’ struggle with the lowly Bobcats, who are tied with Washington for the worst record in the league, showcases the fact that Miami is not where they need to be if they are going to defend their title.
The team needed an improved interior presence, so Pat Riley signed free agent center Chris Andersen. While Birdman has stepped in and provided improved defense around the hoop and helps the team rebound, Miami is still struggling to piece together performances that are convincing enough to turn detractors into believers. What the team needs now is an x-factor type player to come off their bench, but in order to find it, they’ll have to make a trade.
With just over two weeks left before the trade deadline, Riley will have to move quick if he’s going to find the final piece of this year’s championship puzzle. Certainly the Heat, as star studded and talented as they currently are, represent a likely Eastern Conference Finals candidate and on most nights will find ways to beat a lot of teams. But, when they finally reach that stage or even the NBA Finals, does this Heat team have what it will take to repeat? Perhaps, but if Riley can leave less to chance through a trade, he would likely pull the trigger.
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But for who? Can the Heat find a player that makes the team even better than they already are without inflating the wage bill even higher? Only one player comes to mind.
The Sacramento Kings are widely expected to remain quiet before the trade deadline as the uncertainty surrounding the franchise moving to Seattle effects business on the court, but the organization may have no choice but to entertain offers for Evans.
The former Rookie of the Year has an expiring contract and will likely garner some offers from other teams in the summer as he still possesses a good amount of athleticism and scoring ability. Evans says he likes playing in Sacramento and doesn’t particularly want to be traded, but when the season comes to an end, how much money the Kings would be willing to offer Evans is questionable.
The team currently has placed more stock in the young Isaiah Thomas who has displaced Evans to the role of a two guard. Kings management has made it clear they have no intention of trading Jimmer Fredette and they signed Aaron Brooks to a two year deal before the season started. With three point threat Marcus Thornton contracted through the next two seasons, it’s unlikely the Kings can really afford to give Evans the type of pay day he’ll seek just to have another guard in the lineup who hasn’t helped them win anything in four seasons. Rather than lose him for nothing just to hang onto him in a year where Sacramento has no chance of achieving anything, it makes more sense to listen to offers.
Miami currently has three players riding its bench that aren’t seeing much playing time and have made very little impact for the champs in Mario Chalmers, Joel Anthony and James Jones. Could a straight deal be done? Absolutely not, but all three are expendable for the Heat and could offer something to address the specific needs of certain teams around the league.
So how do the Heat end up with Evans? The first piece of the puzzle is Joel Anthony. The 30-year old veteran center would be the only Heat player heading to the Kings who lack sufficient backup for DeMarcus Cousins as they are currently relying on 6’6” Chuck Hayes for backup center minutes. Acquiring Anthony would give them another big body capable of competing for boards, a category the Kings currently rank 24th in.
Jones and Chalmers would be less appealing to Kings management as they don’t need another guard or a small forward with another year remaining on his deal. This is where a third team becomes crucial, but the Heat just have to look up I-95 to find the help they need.
Doug Collins tried to make it work with Dorell Wright in Philadelphia, but as of late has diminished the 27-year old’s playing time due to his lack of defensive ability. His $4.1 million expiring contract would fit nicely into Sacramento/Seattle’s offseason rebuilding plans while giving them some solid perimeter shooting for the remainder of this season.
For the Sixers, acquiring Chalmers gives them an experienced backup for starter Jrue Holiday. Currently going with Royal Ivey, the team needs leadership on the floor during non-Holiday minutes and Chalmers is a guy who can give them that as well as fit in to Collins’ defense heavy plans as he is one of the best point guards in the league at defending the pick and roll.
Jones could come in and provide the Sixers with a good perimeter threat off the bench as he is a two time three point shootout winner. He’s a much more cost effective option (at $1.5 million per year) than Wright but would likely play the same amount of minutes as Wright minus all the expectation.
The Heat come out of the deal with Evans on an expiring deal, but would have a true sixth man type player available off their bench who could be the x-factor in a championship run. If they like Evans enough, Miami has the entire offseason to figure out how they could finance a good offer for Evans, but thinking short term, the deal would allow them to trim about $4 million from their books this season.
The mark of a good trade is when everybody involved gets something they want. Miami gets the difference maker they need off the bench, the struggling Kings get backup for their star center and an expiring contract while Philadelphia gets backup for their All-Star point guard and a cheaper version of a guy who has proven to be nothing but a disappointment for them this season. It’s an unlikely trade that would catch a lot of people by surprise, but that is the beauty of making moves around the trade deadline.