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Officially, NBA players and teams aren’t supposed to be able to begin free-agent negotiations until 6 p.m. ET this evening. Unofficially, this is one of those rules no one seems to abide by and the league seems to be wholly uninterested in meaningfully enforcing (Bogdan Bogdanovic aside). Per a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski just this side of vague, it seems the pieces are already in place for a sign-and-trade between the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, sending Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa (and maybe more?) to Toronto, with Kyle Lowry going to Miami.
Again, this is a complicated transaction with multiple moving parts and one that has probably been developing for days — the Heat picking up Dragic’s option was a key element and they did that yesterday. Woj has all but confirmed but it will be officially reported within hours of the 6 p.m. deadline passing and we’ll all (including the NBA) just pretend all the conversations happened on over a late dinner on Monday night. As an outsider it’s not entirely clear what would make this different than the Bogdan Bogdanovic to Milwaukee sign-and-trade that was unraveled by the league last offseason after being reported early, but whatever.
Does Kyle Lowry make the Miami Heat a contender?
I supposed you could argue that Lowry makes the Heat a contender, but only insofar as they were already a dark-horse “contender.” The team now is not all that meaningfully different than the one that went to the 2020 NBA Finals but the landscape has changed. Lowry, alone, as an upgrade over Goran Dragic, wouldn’t see to move the Heat into the same tier as the Bucks, 76ers or Nets. Both players are 34 and per-36 minutes their numbers were virtually indistinguishable last season. Lowry is a better defender and probably slightly more experienced and comfortable in a complementary offensive role. But it doesn’t feel like a huge upgrade.
One of the big variables though is that acquiring Lowry (and sending Dragic to Toronto) keeps him away from Philadelphia and other playoff teams. On paper, Lowry would have been a perfect addition for the Lakers but that ship had sailed after the Westbrook trade. If Chris Paul does indeed return to the Phoenix Suns the 76ers will have to dig deeper for a point guard upgrade and may need to get more creative in exploring Ben Simmons’ trades.
What comes next for the Miami Heat?
The Heat extended qualifying offers to both Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, making them free agents, but will likely have to match some much bigger contracts for both players to keep them on the roster for next season. There are also carefully worded reports to avoid exposing any rule violations, that they may be exploring ways to acquire DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan is about to turn 32 and but has improved significantly as a creator and defender, and is still a reasonably efficient 20-point scorer. He’s not quite in the phase where he’s likely to take a huge discount to chase a ring (and he could probably find a better scenario for that than Miami anyway) which means the Heat could have to make a significant investment there.
Together, he and Lowry would add plenty of play-making and veteran experience and potentially make them appealing to other ring-chasing veterans but, again, neither moves seems like it would clearly move them ahead of the 76ers, Nets or Bucks. These are all positive, floor-raising changes. But the Heat may still find themselves in the position of rolling into the playoffs hoping for lightning-in-a-bottle.
While the 2021 NBA free agency class isn’t loaded with star power, there’s plenty of talent worth pursuing in restricted free agency.
Russell Westbrook may raise the floor for the Los Angeles Lakers. He may also raise the level of difficulty, significantly, for LeBron James.