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What the Hornets can learn from the Heat in building a competitive roster

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Building a title-contending team doesn’t require the No. 1 overall pick or future Hall of Famers demanding trades to your city. The Miami Heat did it in less sexy ways, and there’s no reason the Hornets can’t to it too.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

As the Charlotte Hornets continue to rebuild they can learn a lot about roster construction from the 2019-20 Eastern Conference champions Miami Heat. Conventional logic holds that title contending teams need be loaded with former No. 1 overall picks or perennial All-Stars who often forced their way to a big-market team by demanding a trade (ahem, Lakers).

If we as Hornets fans believe teams must have multiple future Hall of Famers to be competitive we can get discouraged pretty quickly. Charlotte isn’t a destination for top-tier free agents. It isn’t a large market, doesn’t have a beach, and celebrities don’t attend games. All-Stars aren’t going to be demanding trades to end up in the Queen City anytime soon. If the Hornets are going to construct a competitive roster without, for example, Giannis Antetokounmpo coming here as a free agent they can still follow the path of the Miami Heat.

The Heat currently have seven players averaging at least 15 minutes per game in this year’s playoffs. Let’s look at what lessons the Hornets can learn from the Heat about smartly drafting, developing, and acquiring the right roster.

Bam Adebayo, C. Lesson: Nail picks in the mid-first round.

Miami drafted the versatile big man No. 14 overall in 2017, three spots after the Hornets selected Malik Monk. Adebayo and Monk were teammates at Kentucky so Charlotte’s front office had plenty of tape on both players, and they drafted the wrong Wildcat. Bam blossomed into an All-Star this year proving teams can land franchise cornerstones in the mid-first round of the draft.

Jimmy Butler, SF. Lesson: Develop young talent as trade assets.

The Heat traded for Butler, a five time All-Star, in a four-team deal prior to this season. One of the main reasons Miami pulled off the trade is because they were able to include Josh Richardson, a versatile wing player the Heat drafted No. 40 overall in 2015. Through smart drafting in the second round and great player development, Miami had a young, valuable asset in Richardson to include in a franchise-altering trade.

Goran Dragic, G. Lesson: Smart extensions to solid veterans age very well.

Miami traded for Dragic in 2015 then signed him to a 5-year, $85 million extension running through this season. A 5-year deal averaging $17 million per season seemed a little pricey in 2015, but it looks like a bargain in 2020. Cap space matters. When extending solid veterans the first couple of years are usually right in line with the market, then the final couple of seasons feel like a great deal for the team.

Tyler Herro, G. Lesson: Nail picks in the mid-first round (again).

As with Bam Adebayo, the lesson here is to nail the draft in the mid-first round then effectively develop young talent. Herro was the No. 13 pick in the 2020 draft (taken one spot after the Hornets took PJ Washington) and in this year’s playoffs he’s averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.

Jae Crowder, F. Lesson: Bring in the hired guns.

The Heat traded for Crowder in February 2020, landing a 29-year-old veteran in the final year of a 5-year, $35 million contract. For just $7.8 million in cap space Miami acquired a playoff-tested, rock solid veteran who can give them good perimeter defense with acceptable scoring and rebounding. Crowder is a hired gun, and the Heat are firing him in the right direction.

Duncan Robinson, F. Lesson: Find and develop overlooked specialists.

Robinson was a deadly three-point shooter at Michigan but went undrafted in 2018. Miami smartly signed him to their summer league team that year, then to a two-way contract, then let him develop throughout his 2018-19 rookie season in both the G League (33 games) and playing for the Heat (15 games). Now in his second NBA season Robinson has emerged as one of the league’s best three-point shooters, hitting nearly 45 percent of his 8.3 three-pointers per game. Miami found a gem the rest of the league overlooked then polished him into a diamond.

Andre Iguodala, G/F. Lesson: Bring in the hired guns (again).

Iguodala is 36, has won three titles, and played in 160 playoff games. The Heat acquired him in the same February 2020 trade that landed them Jae Crowder. He’s a “win now” player. Throughout the playoffs Andre has averaged just 4.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists, but his veteran impact transcends the box score.

The Miami Heat have done a masterful job of nailing the draft, developing their young players, and bringing in the right veterans. Their three young studs were drafted at No. 13 (Herro), No. 14 (Adebayo), and undrafted (Robinson). They traded for the right solid veterans (Dragic, Crowder, Iguodala) then went all-in in trading for the All-Star alpha dog (Butler). Throw in a top notch coaching staff and support personnel, and it seems like this is a model the Hornets could follow, too.

Teams don’t have to win the draft lottery and select the next LeBron James at No. 1 overall to build a title contender. They don’t need Giannis to force a trade to their big city market. It can happen in less sexy ways like having an eye for talent in the draft, developing young players, and having the assets available to pull off the right trades.

The Heat did it. Let’s hope the Hornets are next.