To consider what the Portland Trail Blazers seemingly consider not enough for Damian Lillard is to also consider what the Miami Heat seemingly have considered too much over the franchise’s three-plus decades when it comes to trades.
Because for as much as the NBA has gone all-in in recent years with emptying the first-round cupboard in deals — Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, James Harden, Dejounte Murray, Kevin Durant, Harden (again) — the Heat, over their history, have never traded more than two first-round picks for a player.
In 2010, two first-rounders were sent out each for LeBron James and Chris Bosh, as in one player you will soon enough find in the Hall of Fame and one who already resides in Springfield.
The only other time two first-rounders were sent out by the Heat for a player was in 2015 for Goran Dragic.
The Heat’s reality is that the moves with James and Bosh ultimately were mistakes, the Heat rushing in with draft capital for an extra season of each player when each opted out before that extra season.
Now, as a potential Heat package of three first-rounders for Lillard (perhaps even four, if Tyler Herro is flipped for one) has been derided for weeks, consider that even in the Heat’s other biggest deals since Pat Riley’s arrival in 1995:
— Only one first-round pick was sent out when Riley acquired Alonzo Mourning prior to the start of 1995-96.
— Later that season, no first-rounders were put into play when the Heat acquired Tim Hardaway.
— From there, no Heat first-rounders were in the deals that landed Eddie Jones and Brian Grant.
— Only one first-rounder was required in the 2004 trade for Shaquille O’Neal.
— Then, in 2005, when the Heat were part of the largest trade in NBA history — a five-team, 13-player deal — not a single first-rounder went out in that transaction that brought in 2006 NBA championship components Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey.
— More recently, only one Heat first-rounder was put into play in the 2019 sign-and-trade transaction for Jimmy Butler.
Yes, times have changed.
Yes, draft picks now travel in triplicate, amid all-or-nothing ultimatums.
But for as much as the Heat have been free-spending over the years with future first-rounders, they also have kept in reserve enough for moments such as these.
Now the question is whether they give in to the gluttony of the Blazers and the increasing appetite of NBA general managers.
The subject of trading picks in bulk recently was raised by former Boston Celtics President Danny Ainge, who now is wheeling and dealing for the Utah Jazz.
On June 28, 2013, Ainge fleeced the Brooklyn Nets for four first-round picks for aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The acquired picks led to the drafting of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown,
Turns out, there is a Heat angle to that haul.
Speaking recently to The Players Tribune, Ainge revealed that he nearly turned around and dealt some of his pick haul for Butler, while Butler still was with the Chicago Bulls.
“Some of the best trades I ever made were the ones that I wasn’t able to make,” Ainge said. “Like, I was trying to get Jimmy Butler from Chicago when I was in Boston, but they wanted a lot. And so we didn’t do it, and it ended up would have been Jaylen and Jayson, both those draft picks that we got Jaylen and Jayson with. So that was one, like I loved Jimmy, was trying to get him.”
That’s not to say that a Heat package of picks sent to the Blazers for Lillard would amount to nearly as much. Portland already has made clear that it thinks little of the Heat’s first-rounders, based on the Heat’s success during the Riley Era.
But it also means that there is a time to draw the line.
The Nets’ package to the Celtics for Pierce and Garnett might already have been surpassed by what Ainge received for Gobert (four! first-rounders).
But the worst “trading a draft” dates to Oct. 12, 1989, when Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones maneuvered the Dallas Cowboys to arguably the most prolific package of draft picks in U.S. sports history. So off went Herschel Walker (pre-politics) to the Minnesota Vikings for eight draft picks, including three first-round picks and three second-round picks.
The ultimate haul from those picks (through selections and trades): Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Alonzo Highsmith, Kevin Smith, Darren Woodson. Three Super Bowl championships followed for the Cowboys; zero Super Bowl appearances for the Vikings.
The NBA has attempted to limit such first-round largesse with the adoption of the Stepien Rule, named after Ted Stepien, the then-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who at one point in the ’80s traded away five consecutive first-round picks, picks that, for other teams, turned into James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Detlef Schrempf, among others.
Under the Stepien Rule’s provisions, teams no longer are allowed to trade successive future first-round picks.
The rule: “No Member may sell its rights to select a player in the first round of any NBA Draft for cash or its equivalent, or trade or exchange its right to select a player in the first round of any NBA Draft if the result of such trade or exchange may be to leave the Member without first-round picks in any two consecutive future NBA Drafts.”
And, still, NBA teams have found ways to maximize hauls, futures still mortgaged.
So, yes, the Heat have every right to live in the moment. And it would be quite the moment for the Heat to be able to add Lillard to Butler and Bam Adebayo just months after playing in the NBA Finals.
But there also should be more to a trade than a team demanding all you’ve got when it comes to first-round picks.
To this point, it’s been a two-pick limit on Heat first-rounders.