Ira Winderman: Heat can’t let history get in way of potential Donovan Mitchell pursuit

MIAMI —Damian Lillard. Damian Lillard. Damian Lillard. Damian Lillard. Damian Lillard.

(Wait, get me rewrite.)

Donovan Mitchell. Donovan Mitchell. Donovan Mitchell. Donovan Mitchell.  Donovan Mitchell.

(Because, yes, here we go again.)

There was a point, what now seems like decades ago (because it actually was), when the biggest of the biggest for the Miami Heat, the deals that actually happened, arrived as stunning revelations.

“Alonzo Mourning is coming . . . here?” (On the eve of Pat Riley’s first Heat season, no less.)

“They just traded the entire team for Tim Hardaway?” (In the middle of a season, no less.)

“The Heat are getting Shaq?”  (Some on the Heat coaching staff had no idea.)

“LeBron told Jim Gray what?” (Dwyane Wade to this day insists he, too, did not know.)

Now, of course, it is different. NBA “insiders” start at the point of conjecture and speculation, so as not to be left behind. Social media can make anyone one of those NBA “insiders.” Basically, it has become a Woj-eats-Shams world, with enough nuance to the debate shows to cast opinion as fact.

So what do we know at the moment of the chances of Donovan Mitchell becoming this summer’s Damian Lillard for the Heat?

We know the Heat will always circle a potentially available star, less concerned about perceptions of failure than of opportunity otherwise lost. Riley said as much in his recent season-ending comments.

“There’s no doubt we would go for it,” Riley said earlier this month when asked about another offseason star search. “We’ve always been that way.”

As they were last summer, when Lillard made it clear he wanted out of Portland and (a bit too clearly) that he wanted to Miami.

For weeks, months, the Lillard link to the Heat was real, even as Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin refused to take the Heat’s calls.

Then the Bucks jumped in, Lillard was relocated. And the Heat patiently waited for the next big thing.

Mitchell potentially is the next big thing.

No, no Lillard-like get-me-out-of-here ultimatum.

And, yes, potentially more amenable to simply first getting his money locked in on an extension with the Cavaliers and then considering, if desired, new vistas.

But for as much sense as Lillard, at 33, made last summer for the Heat, even more so does Mitchell, at 27. As it is, the Heat made a play for Mitchell before he was dealt from Utah to Cleveland two years ago.

Of course, the Heat getting the volume scorer they need does not necessarily mean Mitchell pushing to be the volume scorer the Heat want, nor does it mean the Cavaliers acquiescing to such a scenario (with it still very early in that stage of the game, and with a Riley-Dan Gilbert history far more complex than Riley-Cronin).

But with Mitchell on the clock with his contract, eligible to opt out in the 2025 offseason, there is far more of a hammer available to dictate destination. (With lessons learned from Lillard’s camp about how not to publicly dictate desired destination.)

As for the notion of the Heat lacking the draft capital to compete against the assets of the Knicks or Nets, consider that the Cavaliers, with Evan Mobley, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, are in win-now mode, with homecourt in each of the past two postseasons.

From that standpoint, the Heat have assets ready to go (Tyler Herro, Terry Rozier, Duncan Robinson, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Nikola Jovic, and enough draft capital to compete in that regard, as well).

In addition, with the dramatic changes in the new collective-bargaining agreement, Cleveland waiting for next season’s February trade deadline to consider a Mitchell move ultimately could prove dramatically limiting, with new rules going into effect limiting what teams can take back in trades (first apron) or even removing the ability to aggregate contracts (second apron) to match Mitchell’s $35 million salary.

Yes, the Heat getting themselves linked to a Mitchell pursuit could further extend the narrative of coming up short in another chase (think Kevin Durant 1.0, Kevin Durant 2.0, Kevin Durant 3.0).

But after such a public chase of Lillard last summer, how could the Heat not do their due diligence if there is even an iota of Mitchell shaking free? Remember, Lillard targeted the Heat because of his friendship with Bam Adebayo. Also consider, Mitchell has made a point of playing in the Miami Pro League in the summer alongside his friend Adebayo.

With Lillard, the Damian daily news began in earnest in late June, in the wake of what became a public trade push. With Mitchell, we stand six weeks ahead of that schedule.

So, for now, it is clear what comes next.

Trigger the Search and the Replace keys. For every “Damian Lillard” a year ago sub in a “Donovan Mitchell.”

In that regard, consider this an offseason of wash, rinse, repeat.


MATTER OF SEMANTICS: Whether it could be a potential play for a Donovan Mitchell or another elite trade target, Heat president Pat Riley attempted to warn about depleting depth for such a pursuit. “You get another star and then your bench gets weaker probably,” Riley said in his season-ending comments, perhaps to tamp down speculation regarding the impressionable likes of Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Nikola Jovic. And yet the ongoing playoffs paint a different picture, with Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau seemingly more than content to play whatever six are available, the Celtics having made it this far with a middling bench, and the Nuggets still alive in their pursuit of a repeat championship with essentially no bench. Benches are nice; stars are better.

AWARDS SEASON: The NBA will close out its award season this coming week by announcing three league-wide sets of teams, each with potential Heat implications. The All-Rookie teams will be announced Monday at 2 p.m., with Jaquez expected to be named to the first team. The last time the Heat had a first-team All-Rookie selection was Kendrick Nunn in 2020. On Tuesday at 2 p.m., the league will announce its All-Defensive teams, with Bam Adebayo, who placed third for Defensive Player of the Year, expected to therefore make the first team for the first time. The last first-team All-Defensive selection for the Heat was LeBron James in 2013. And on Wednesday at 8 p.m, the league will announce the 2024 All-NBA teams. Should Adebayo make any of those three All-NBA units, he would become eligible for a supermax contract extension this summer. For the first time, All-NBA and All-Defensive no longer are position specific. The media voting for all of the teams to be announced was completed before the start of the postseason.

NEW LIFE: While it did not work out in the NBA for Nunn after he left the Heat in 2021 free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers, with a brief stint following with the Washington Wizards,  the former Heat guard has found his footing in the EuroLeague with Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos, where this past week he was named All-EuroLeague first team. Nunn, 28, averaged 19.2 points in those playoffs in helping Panathinaikos return to that Final Four after a 12-year absence. Nunn’s 526 points in 33 games were the most by any player in his first EuroLeague season. Nunn has since renewed his Panathinaikos contract through 2026, with an NBA out clause. Rounding out the All-EuroLeague first team were Facundo Campazzo, Mike James, Nigel Hayes-Davis and Mathias Lessort.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Among those who maximized their opportunities at the NBA combine in Chicago this past week was Providence guard Devin Carter, the son of former Heat guard and assistant coach Anthony Carter. Not only did Carter, who previously played at Doral Academy, have the longest wingspan of any projected point guard at the combine (6-8 3/4), but also set a combine record for the three-quarters court sprint (2.87 seconds) and placed third in the agility drill. Carter, this past season’s Big East Player of the Year, is projected to go in the Heat’s range of No. 15 in the first round.

REVOLVING DOOR: With Heat assistant coach Chris Quinn on the interview circuit after completing his 10th season on Erik Spoelstra‘s staff, former Heat lead assistant David Fizdale again is facing another career change. Since leaving the Heat as Spoelstra’s top assistant in 2016 to become coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, Fizdale also has served as coach of the New York Knicks (from 2018 through 2019), served as a Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach (in 2021-22), served as Utah Jazz associate general manager (in 2022-23) and now is in flux after surviving as an assistant this past season under deposed Phoenix Suns coach Frank Vogel. Fizdale is in the midst of deliberating an offer to move into the Suns’ front office under former Heat forward James Jones.


.351. Max Strus‘ 3-point percentage in his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, after shooting .371 on 3-pointers in his three seasons with the Heat. Strus shot .347 for the Cavaliers in this year’s playoffs, after shooting .319 last year in the playoffs with the Heat.