The Miami Heat and two-time All-Star guard Victor Oladipo delivered some tough news on Wednesday after the club announced that their most recent star acquisition is bound for a season-ending surgery on his right quadriceps tendon.
Dipo has been out since injuring his right knee during an April 8 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, but it seems this was a reaggravation of an injury he first suffered amidst his 2018-19 All-Star campaign with the Indiana Pacers. It set him back a full year, and after returning for 19 games with the Pacers in 2019-20 (and nine more games in 2020-21), the charismatic, song-singing guard has since been twice traded this year alone: Indiana to Houston, and Houston to Miami.
It has been a series of unfortunate events for the elite scorer and defensive stalwart, and there’s little question long-time Heat President/General Manager Pat Riley acquired him to put alongside guys like small forward Jimmy Butler and power forward Bam Adebayo to create a new “Big Three.” In the Heat/Rockets trade, Riley shipped guard Avery Bradley, forward Kelly Olynyk and the first-round swap rights in 2022 for Oladipo’s talents—and expiring four-year, $85 million deal.
Expected to test the free-agent waters this upcoming offseason, Riley and the Heat might be tempted to resign Oladipo after not only trading for him, but only getting to see him play in a Miami jersey four times before his injury. Drafted in 2013 by the Orlando Magic, the former Indiana Hoosiers star is a lifetime 17.5/4.6/4.0 NBA stud on 43.8 percent shooting from the floor and 34.7 percent from the arc, and if Riley got even 80 percent of that for the next four years, it’d be a welcome addition.
But honestly, Oladipo needs a fresh start, and it’s not like Riley gave up the farm for him. He has only played in 52 games since his difficult 2019 setback, and though his 2020-21 season has been a roller coaster, he just turned 29 last week. Should he return to full health, he’s easily got another five-to-six years of high-quality hoops left, which will entice some other club to overpay for the “last big contract.”
As it stands (per spotrac.com), the Heat already have Butler, Adebayo, Andre Iguodala, Tyler Herro, Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala on the books barring release/retirement—leaving *roughly* $28-30 million in potential cap space for the 2021-22 season, and maybe more.
From the Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang, prior to the start of the 2020-21 NBA campaign:
“The Heat is on track to have cap room for one max free agent in 2021 to potentially add to its All-Star core of Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, even with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting NBA economics,” Chiang said. “The cap is currently projected to rise to $125 million for the 2021-22 season, but that number will almost assuredly drop because of a dramatic decrease in league revenues caused by the pandemic.
“But the Heat could survive the 2021-22 cap dropping by as much as about $10 million from the $125 million projection and still achieve max space if it doesn’t add any other salary commitments for that season and declines Andre Iguodala’s $15 million team option for 2021-22 . And even if the cap drops by more than $10 million, the Heat likely would be close enough to open a max slot if needed.”
Duncan Robinson needs to get paid, and Goran Dragic should also probably return on a formidable deal. And what about Kendrick Nunn, who blossomed as a rookie in 2019-20, and sustained it for the most part during 2020-21 behind 14.3 points per game?
As for a “max free agent” to add into the mix? Riley could make a run at Atlanta Hawks restricted power forward John Collins or Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley for that slot, or maybe Phoenix Suns point guard and future Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul or Los Angeles Clippers forward (and also future Hall-of-Famer) Kawhi Leonard—if they opt in to free agency and spice up the offseason buffet.
Whatever permutation of free agents are available, Oladipo’s services will require a boatload of cash—regardless of his potential health concerns—and the Heat should find more efficient ways to spend it. The Eastern Conference is only getting more powerful, with the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks all currently above Miami in the 2020-21 standings in this moment. The Hawks, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets aren’t far off the trail, and teams like the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and Pacers have their own young pieces and won’t stay dormant forever.
Riley and the Heat need to be true power brokers this offseason, no matter what happens in the playoffs, after making the 2020 NBA Finals. Players like Butler and Adebayo don’t come around very often, and what good is Oladipo…if he can’t stay on the floor long enough to build something with them?