Hyde: Heat add help in Ariza while washing hands of Leonard | Commentary

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Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·4 min read
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Remember last week’s firestorm around the Heat when Meyers Leonard used an anti-Jewish slur and the question was what would happen to him?

Well, that’s answered.

And you know the question with the Heat about having enough perimeter defending for deep in a playoff series against a three-headed lineup like Brooklyn?

That’s taken care of, too.

In one simple move — Leonard and a 2027 second-round pick to Oklahoma City for Trevor Ariza — the Heat painlessly accomplished two necessary ideas.

It moved on from the Leonard embarrassment in a manner anyone around the NBA knew was coming. It also fortified a lineup that always could use some experienced fortifying.

This was a layup by Heat president Pat Riley’s trade standards. A gimme putt. Leonard returned this season at a bloated two-year, $19 million to be possible salary-cap ballast in a mid-season trade.

Then he got hurt, which guaranteed that idea.

Then he inserted sneaker uncomfortably in mouth, which made it a rush order.

So he was traded to Oklahoma City, where he’ll be cut when the deal’s paperwork clears. He’s salary-cap space. There’s no need to have a character assassination here considering he did that to himself.

This isn’t the sneaky smart trade Riley made last season dumping Justise Winslow to Memphis for veterans Iguodala and Jae Crowder. It brings the same idea of a veteran professional, though.

Ariza, at 6-7, is 35 with a portfolio to match. He’s played everywhere. He’s considered a great teammate everywhere. He won a title with Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in 2009 and has played in 102 playoff games.

Where his role is and whose minutes he takes will be interesting to watch when he gets in shape. He’s played in a year, skipping the bubble season to be with his son and sitting out this year as Oklahoma City waited to trade him. But what makes him a fit for the Heat is he’s a respectable 3-point shooter (37.2 percent before the bubble last year) and an old-school defender with a streak of nasty.

He’s always had that nasty. As a young player in 2008, he fouled Portland’s Rudy Fernandez so hard in a playoff series a stretcher was needed. Last year, he fouled Trae Young with a hard forearm after the Atlanta rookie attempted to dribble the ball through Ariza’s legs.

Tough? Experienced? Here’s a quote from Ariza to ESPN last year when he watched his Portland team against the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs: “When you’re playing against guys like LeBron [James], you need to try to take them out of their comfort zone. Get them out of their routine, bother them as much as you can.”

Here’s what he said after Game 4 of that series: “Everybody’s tired right now. Tired can’t matter. You gotta lock it in and trick yourself into being great.”

You can find a role for that player — assuming his game returns after a year off, assuming he’s kept in some shape at 35 and assuming that proper role is found amid the larger roster by the playoffs.

It’s not that the Heat’s perimeter defense is troubling. It ranks 10th with opponents shooting 36.2 on 3-point shots. But come the playoffs the need for professional defenders increases. Avery Bradley was expected to supply that, but he’s been hurt most of the year.

Brooklyn has three elite scorers and ranks second in the league in shooting 40.5 percent on 3-point shots. Milwaukee tweaked its lineup after losing to the Heat last playoffs and ranks fourth on 3-point shots at 39 percent.

They could have used a bigger body with a shooting touch. The playoffs last season suggest that much. They also need some help return to their to their fundamental identity of a 3-point shooting machine on offense. To wit:

Last season: 2nd in the league on 3 1/4 u2032s at 37.9 percent.

This season: 25th at 34.5 percent.

What happened? Opposing defenses caught up to the Heat’s way. They’ve turned it on recently in winning 11 of 12 games, a good stretch that coincided with Jimmy Butler’s return and a downhill stretch of schedule.

So this deal was one of finding the right dance partner. Oklahoma City needed to get something for the no-show of Ariza. The Heat needed some help for the playoffs and needed Leonard off their hands.

It was a trade that made more than sense. It was predictably necessary for both sides.