Very Early NBA 2020-21 Season Predictions: Can Miami Lure Dragic And Crowder To One-Year Deals?
For Pat Riley and the Miami Heat organization, “too early” is not a phrase in the vocabulary. Their widely-documented 2010 heist to form the formidable trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did not come as a lucky accident. Reports have it that Riley and his people already imagined the possibilities even years before James appeared in national television to announce his infamous “South Beach” line.
While their focus right now is to continue their surprisingly great run this season, there is no doubt that Riley is already working behind the scenes, planning their future. Since that 2007-08 season when Wade missed the season due to a major injury, the Heat has never went through another full rebuild. Even when James pulled off another stunning move when he returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, Riley immediately brought in Luol Deng and other quality role players to cushion The King’s departure.
For the 75-year old Riley, we would obviously understand if he retires after this season after so many successful years of chasing and winning the championship. But the former player and coach said that is still uncertain when he would stop overseeing things at the franchise he has built, as per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
"I've spoken about this before, because I think this happens all the time to players, coaches, executives. This is my 50th year [in the NBA]. There's always something that brings you back in, there's something that sucks you back in.
You could tell yourself in September, 'This is my last year.' But by the end of the season, something happens that sucks you back in."
Now that we could assume that Riley will still be at the helm of the organization, we should expect Miami to again make the right, bold moves in the offseason. Should the Heat pursue another star or wait for the stacked 2021 free agency class? Bam Adebayo’s emergence to an All-Star season has satisfied the Heat’s itching to pair Jimmy Butler with another star. The signing of Andre Iguodala to a two-year deal should make it clear that he will be an untouchable in any trade talk, alongside rookie hotshot Tyler Herro.
The spotlight now shines on the Heat’s three key cogs who will become free agents in the offseason. Let’s take a closer look on the trio and predict if the Heat can and should retain them beyond this season.
Goran Dragic (PG/SG)
2019-20 season averages: 16.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 44% FG, 38% 3-pt, 77% FT
Coming off his lone All-Star appearance during the 2017-18 season, Dragic was supposed to be the focal point of the Heat’s offense the following year. But head coach Erik Spoelstra opted to try out Justise Winslow for the point guard position. Winslow shared ball-handling duties with young combo guard Josh Richardson, forcing Spoelstra to relegate Dragic to a sixth man role at the latter part of the season.
Dragic struggled with his newfound role as his production and efficiency dipped. Since serving as back-up to Kyle Lowry during their Houston Rockets days in 2011, the Slovenian point guard has always been assuming a starting role. It is a very difficult transition to go through, but Dragic stuck through it and eventually accepted that the Heat needed his leadership now more than ever.
Now that he has taken a permanent role of being a sixth man, Dragic has flourished. He has become the scoring punch and main facilitator of the Heat’s second unit, and Spoelstra has trusted him in closing out games in regulation. We all thought that the lefty scorer will be entering the twilight of his career, but we were all wrong.
However, Dragic will also become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Even with the Heat giving a two-year, $30 million contract to Iguodala right after trading for him, the team still has the financial flexibility to re-sign their veteran point guard. But Riley will be very careful with this one as he does not want to compromise his plans of bringing in a fully-fledged superstar in 2021. Signing Dragic to a multi-year deal will certainly vanquish any hopes of acquiring a max player 2021, so Riley should be able to encourage his vet to agree to a one-year deal and move forward from that.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote that a one-year deal is indeed a strong possibility for both parties.
“An associate of Dragic anticipates a large one-year offer from Miami this summer, potentially in the range of this season’s $19 million salary. The Heat values his contributions, professionalism and enormous offensive boost off the bench. And don’t overlook the fact Jimmy Butler and Dragic are close.”
With Dragic’s multi-dimensional offense and veteran presence, $19 million could be a relatively bargain deal. Moreover, it is also hard to imagine that he will garner that kind of hefty salary from another team. Dragic is now 33 years old, so not a lot of teams will risk offering a lot of money. As for the 6-foot-3 guard, this could be his last chance to ink a contract of that high amount.
On top of that, Dragic has been with the Heat organization for almost six seasons. He has developed lasting relationships with the people within the franchise, and the team’s winning culture should be difficult for him to leave. But as for the possibility of re-signing with the team after this season, Dragic reiterated that he is still far from confirming anything.
“We’ll see. A lot of different factors, my family, myself. I would say it’s too soon to talk about it. I’m not thinking about my next contract. I’ve always been a guy in the present.”
While a multi-year contract should provide more security to his future, the Heat will still give him a strong chance to chase his first Larry O’Brien trophy. Not a lot of elite contending teams have the cap space to give him a $19 million contract, so doing this short-term deal with the Heat should be a win-win situation for him.
Prediction: Dragic and Miami agree on a one-year deal
Jae Crowder (SF/PF)
2019-20 season averages: 10.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 38% FG, 32% 3-pt, 79% FT
Don’t let Crowder’s overall 32% clip from the three-point line fool you. Since being shipped to Miami as part of the Iguodala trade, Crowder has upped his long-range shooting to a solid 39%. He has partnered with Dragic to form a solid 1-2 punch off the bench, and his defense and intangibles encapsulate the Heat’s tough-minded culture.
But Crowder’s situation is the same with Dragic. He will also enter unrestricted free agency this offseason, another problem that the Heat has to deal with. The 29-year old swingman is still at the prime of his career, and he can indeed demand at least $15 million or even more. He can space out the floor with his outside shooting and be an anchor on the defensive end. Crowder is also a solid rebounder for his position and an underrated passer. Most importantly, he makes the right plays almost all of the time, making him a valuable catch for any team.
In short, Crowder has been the perfect fit for the Heat’s system. It also helps that the 6-foot-6 vet loves being in South Beach and plans to re-sign in the offseason, as per Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson.
“I really want to make this my home. I feel comfortable here, feel comfortable with the whole organization top to bottom. If everything goes as we plan, I’m sure everybody would like to stay together and build off what we’re doing this year and go into next year with the same mind-set.”
But the important question is how much does the Heat organization value Crowder as a player and as fixture even beyond 2020? This will be a trickier puzzle to figure out for the Heat. Unlike Dragic, Crowder is still in his peak and would certainly command a multi-year deal. Does Miami see Crowder as their essential glue guy in the years to come? If that is the case, then the Heat should absolutely give the vet what he wants.
Meyers Leonard, the stretch big man they received in the Hassan Whiteside swap last summer, also has an expiring contract. His $10 million earning will be removed from the Heat’s salary book this offseason, although there is still a possibility that the team would re-sign him. Leonard has been a decent anchor on the team’s frontcourt defense, and he can stretch out the floor pretty well. When he signed a four-year, $41 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers a few years back, it was expected that he would grow into a multi-faceted stretch big man. But Leonard has not developed into the borderline star player that the Blazers hoped he would be, and it’s now unlikely that he can command a lucrative contract again.
Of course, Leonard is not a lock for the Heat next season. Even though he is the team’s regular starting center, he is just logging in 20.1 minutes per game as Spo opts to sit him out in fourth quarters to employ a small-ball line-up with Adebayo as the man in the middle. Letting Leonard walk in free agency should give the Heat the flexibility to re-sign Crowder to a multi-year deal while not compromising their 2021 plans.
It’s not hard to think why Crowder has been this attached to the Heat organization. Butler is his former college teammate in Marquette, and Wade also comes from the same school. As per Joe Beguiristain of HEAT.com, Crowder also cites Spoelstra’s brilliance as a coach as one of the factors why he wants to stay in Miami.
“How he motivates us. I think his motivation to get the best out of his team, his players, is unique. It’s not to say he’s a better coach than everybody, but he definitely brings an aspect of the game at this level to get professionals to bring it each and every night. It’s tough to do in this league. And I think he does a great job of motivating us as a unit, demanding so much from us and expecting a lot from us. So, I think that right there sets the bar high of him already being one of my top coaches in my career. He helps me squeeze the most I can get out of that day, the most I can get out of a practice, the most I can get out of a game and how I can prepare for a game. He’s already put a great impression on me from just that aspect of the game.”
At the end of the day, Crowder’s two-way game will be hard to pass up for the Heat. The team’s system is built on making the right plays on both ends of the floor, something that Crowder does each and every night.
Prediction: Heat offers Crowder a multi-year contract
Derrick Jones Jr. (SF/PF)
2019-20 season averages: 8.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 51% FG, 27% 3-pt, 78% FT
Jones’ season may be headlined by his Slam Dunk Contest win, but he is not just a dunker anymore. The 6-foot-7 athletic combo forward has proved to be a Swiss Knife for Spoelstra’s system, and the team has rewarded him with a spike in his playing time. Jones is logging in a career-high 24.5 minutes per contest, and he has been a versatile weapon for Miami’s small-ball line-up.
But Jones’ contact will also expire after this season. He will also be a UFA, and we are already anticipating tons of teams to come after his services. The Heat has developed him into an all-around player, and his willingness to defend multiple positions will just further help his case.
In an interview with Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Jones emphasized that he has always liked playing against bigger guys, especially on defense. Despite being undersized and not having a bulky physique, Jones says that he is not scared to bang bodies in the paint.
“None. None at all.
They bleed blood just like I bleed blood. I ain’t got no fear for no man.”
But then again, it still boils down to the Heat’s financial flexibility. Even though the 23-year old Jones still has plenty of upside, Riley has a very difficult choice to make. Should he bank on Jones’ further improvement or prioritize the “now” and sign a proven vet in Crowder?
Crowder is a better player than Jones save for the latter’s elite athleticism. The veteran is a better three-point shooter, and ultimately has better instincts on the defensive end due to his experience. This will be a gut-wrenching decision for the Heat front office, but we see them choosing a more proven player. We have to remember that Butler is already 30 years old, and his championship window is slowly closing.
As for Jones, he could still garner at least $10 million in salary with any other team. He can still improve in terms of his perimeter shooting, but his versatility on defense will be his trump card in free agency.
Prediction: Miami lets Jones walk in free agency