At the 2020 NBA trade deadline, the Miami Heat almost got Danilo Gallinari. The deal reportedly fell apart because Gallinari wouldn't agree to a one-year extension that would have set him up to be a free agent in the summer of 2021, but Miami still got better that day. In adding forwards Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala and Solomon Hill from the Memphis Grizzlies, Pat Riley's front office made the Heat more versatile defensively, more potent offensively and even tougher than they already were.
Few, however, realized at the time that this move would propel them to the Finals. In retrospect, Miami won the 2020 deadline, at least in terms of immediate impact, and history appears to have repeated itself on Thursday. Leading up to the 3 p.m. ET deadline, the Heat were in the mix for Kyle Lowry, but talks reportedly hit an impasse because they wouldn't part with Tyler Herro. They still managed to get better, though, because they stole Victor Oladipo from the Houston Rockets and rescued Nemanja Bjelica from the Sacramento Kings. They are reportedly close to picking up LaMarcus Aldridge on the buyout market, too.
Lowry would have transformed the team. Sign me up for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo sharing the floor with another tough-as-nails All-Star who affects the game equally on both ends and doesn't need the ball to be effective. (OK, none of them made the All-Star Game this year -- whatever.) There is no way that we will look back on the 2021 Heat and wonder if Lowry might have made them weaker defensively, which makes the Gallinari comparison imperfect. Considering how little their deadline moves cost them, though, and considering that they'd already traded for Trevor Ariza, it feels like they've won the day.
To get Oladipo, Miami sent Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley to the Rockets and agreed to a 2022 first-round pick swap. Olynyk has started for the Heat for almost the entire season, but Bjelica is an ideal replacement. Bradley was supposed to give Miami the kind of perimeter defense it didn't have, but he's sidelined with a calf injury, has only played in 10 games this season and there wouldn't have been real minutes for him with Oladipo in the mix. The pick swap could mean moving back in the 2022 draft -- according to the Houston Chronicle, Houston can swap any of the 2022 picks it currently owns, including the Brooklyn Nets' pick -- but this is as close as you could get to getting a free look at Oladipo before he hits free agency.
To get Bjelica, the Heat sent forward Moe Harkless and big man Chris Silva to the Kings. Harkless started at power forward on opening night, but has been mostly out of the rotation since then. It has been clear for months that he was not going to be their Crowder replacement, primarily due to his lack of gravity on the perimeter. He and Silva have played in 11 games apiece this season, and they've logged a combined 207 minutes. In three games with Miami, Ariza has played five more minutes than Harkless and Silva's combined total since the middle of February.
All of this front-office fawning must come with a massive caveat: We don't know how well Oladipo will fit in Miami. If he were playing at the All-NBA level he reached in 2018, no team could have even dreamed of getting him this cheap. This season he has taken 3.9 pull-up 3s a game and made just 28.6 percent of them. He's averaged a cool 20.8 points on a worrying 51.6 percent true shooting. Miami has a track record of helping players be their best selves, but that doesn't guarantee it will happen this time. Lowry's price tag was much higher because he's much more of a sure thing.
This is a trial run for Oladipo. He turns 29 in May and will be a free agent in the offseason. Bjelica and Ariza are also soon-to-be free agents, and since every player the Heat traded was either on an expiring contract or had a team option next season, Miami didn't have to give up any cap space to make this happen. Nor did it have to say goodbye to Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn or any future picks. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics traded two second-round picks and ate into their trade exception for Evan Fournier. The Portland Trail Blazers traded Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood for Norman Powell. The Philadelphia 76ers surrendered three second-round picks and Tony Bradley for George Hill. The Clippers traded Lou Williams and two second-round picks for one-and-a-half seasons of Rajon Rondo. Fournier and Powell are rentals, just like Oladipo.
That the Heat pulled this off and created two roster spots in the process is bonkers, if you're the type who cares about the dorky mechanics of NBA team-building. Assuming that they do indeed add Aldridge, I'm not even sure what they'd be looking for on the buyout market. As it stands, their rotation is stacked. Between Goran Dragic, Butler, Herro, Oladipo and Nunn, they have more than enough playmaking. In Ariza and Iguodala, they have playoff-tested vets who can guard multiple positions. If Erik Spoelstra is looking for a pick-and-pop guy when Adebayo is on the bench, he can choose between Aldridge and Bjelica. Does Robinson have to come off the bench now? Is Precious Achiuwa about to be squeezed out? I don't know how this is all going to work, but Spoelstra might be the best coach in the NBA when it comes to lineup-shuffling in the playoffs. It makes sense to give him options.
At the 2020 deadline, it was already obvious that Butler knew what he was doing when he went to Miami. There were some holes on the roster, but he correctly trusted the front office to fill them. The Butler acquisition itself required creativity, as the Heat didn't have the cap space to sign him. His decision only looks wiser now, and the moves they've made made since then should have reinforced his belief in the organization. Plan A doesn't always come together, but Miami always figures something out.