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One trade that would make the Heat legitimate contenders

The Miami Heat currently sit near the top with the third best record in the Eastern Conference.

Their blockbuster deal that sent Jimmy Butler from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Miami Heat in July thrust the team in South Beach to the next level. They’re reaping some of the benefits of that trade.

At 13-5, the “gamble” of shipping Hassan Whiteside out of town in favor of Butler has helped. The team seems like a legitimate contender in the East, but they seem to be a step below the upper echelon that includes teams like the Giannis-led Milwaukee Bucks.

If the Miami Heat want to seriously contend this season, they’ll need to make another blockbuster happen.

The good news for them, an underrated star could be all they need to take the team to that top level.

Though NBA fans have soured on him, Chris Paul would be a perfect fit for the Miami Heat. He isn’t a ball-dominant guard that would take away from the overall offensive scheme. And beyond that, his experience in the playoffs could be a positive for such a young team.

Despite being in his age 34 season, Paul is putting up similar or even better numbers than previous seasons. He’s averaging 15.7 points, 5.6 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game on an effective field goal percentage of 52.3%.

Those marks are all around his career averages.

The perception of Paul is what has muted his trade value. Since his exodus from Houston to make way for Russell Westbrook, NBA fans have written off the former “Point God” as being washed up. That seems far from the truth.

Perhaps Chris Paul cannot reach the all-star caliber that he was able to reach earlier in his career. But a tandem with Butler and a young, deep core would prove threatening in the playoffs.

Paul has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to elevate talent around him—especially young talent. He would not only work well in facilitating stars like Butler but would also alleviate pressures when Butler is off the floor.

Of course, part of what makes a trade for Chris Paul challenging is the remaining contract connected to him. Even after this year, Paul has two years and over $85 million dollars left to be paid. That’s a tough pill for any team trading for him.

The Miami Heat could offer to take on that contract in exchange for two similarly sized contracts that expire much sooner. A trade revolving around Paul for Meyers Leonard and Goran Dragic could almost completely offset Paul’s salary for this season.

The Thunder, who are overachieving during a rebuilding phase, will want to escape from that brutal Chris Paul contract. Money coming off the books faster is incentive enough for Oklahoma City.

For the Heat, a gamble on the aging facilitator may be all it takes to get over the hump. All the while, the smaller price tag would help preserve much needed roster depth.

It may only be a matter of time before the Miami Heat make another big splash.

When they do, it could make them legitimate contenders for the Eastern Conference crown.