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Since LeBron left, the Heat's touch goes cold in free agency

The Miami Heat believe in building through free agency and player development, relying on south Florida's views, weather and tax structure plus a disciplined and deep-rooted organizational support system to drive them.

It has been wonderfully successful the past two decades with Pat Riley and his top lieutenant Andy Elisburg making moves, and Erik Spoelstra coaching up the players. But these past few years the free agent part has hit a roadblock and, combined with injuries, the Heat have suddenly found themselves in the unsavory middle.

Dion Waiters has found a home in Miami after less successful stops in Cleveland and Oklahoma City. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Wednesday was great for Dion Waiters, a day he has been working toward his whole life, when he finally cashed in on a big contract. It's four years and about $52 million according to multiple reports, including ESPN. Congrats to him -- he earned it by showing out on a small one-year deal with the Heat last season after being abandoned by both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder the previous two years.

Actually, it's a pretty good deal for Miami. If Waiters continues to play at the level he did last season -- and several teams had interest in him so the Heat aren't alone in seeing it that way -- the $13 million per season tag might end up looking good.

Plus Waiters proved to be a nice backcourt mate with Goran Dragic because of his spot-up shooting success and his willingness to attack the basket, refreshing Dwyane Wade comparisons Waiters has been getting since he was at Syracuse. He was an engine in Miami's 30-11 record in the second half of last season that has the team believing it will return to the playoffs in 2018.

But honestly for the Heat, this isn't the greatest news. They're officially on a free agency losing streak. They lost out on LeBron James in 2014, Kevin Durant and Wade in 2016 and now Gordon Hayward in 2017. They'd hoped to pitch some other guys this summer, namely Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin, but they never got the chance. And they need such a player to both take them to the next level as well as be a drawing card for the second star championship-level teams must have.

This summer's miss is particularly hurtful as the Heat look forward. Last year they signed Hassan Whiteside to a $100 million deal and they matched the odd offer sheet to Tyler Johnson. Between this season and next, Johnson's contract balloons by $13 million to a $19 million number. With Whiteside, Dragic and now Waiters, it's a lot of money for a team that isn't a contender, really.

Soon they might lock up James Johnson, another journeyman the Heat polished into a desired player, and encumber their cap space even further. And for the time being, it means they'd have spent the bulk of their cap space this summer and haven't added any new talent. They are also out two first-round picks coming up, the charge for the Dragic trade in 2015.

The injury and subsequent departure of Chris Bosh is a super-cruel blow that has really dramatically harmed the Heat. In fact, that they've even been as competitive as they have over the past two seasons is honorable and a compliment to Spoelstra and Riley, who has hunted the market for passed-over players like Whiteside, Waiters, Johnson and Wayne Ellington to name a few.

But there isn't a Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O'Neal, James, Wade or Bosh on the roster. There might not even be a Lamar Odom, the signing Riley made in 2003 that eventually enabled him to trade for Shaq. That is the type of move the Heat really need and why Hayward would've been great for them, even if it cost them Waiters.

Next summer might be the best free agent class since 2010 that might include Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, James, Westbrook and even perhaps Durant again. The Heat, at the moment, won't be in the game.

Maybe Riley's magic is wearing off in an era where player recruitment is more important than executive recruitment. Maybe that was even the case in 2010, for as much credit as Riley gets for that coup of the century, Wade was his salesman. Wade couldn't be his wingman last summer, he was waiting on the runway as Riley prioritized Whiteside and Durant ahead of him. Whiteside can tweet emojis and videos with music artists all he wants, but the roster drawing card just isn't there right now.

It is possible the Heat could use these assembled pieces to eventually make a trade for a star like the New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves and Thunder did recently. That's a legitimate reason for locking up these players to use later.

They will also continue to run their development machine and the success of Waiters and Johnson probably will get them cheap chances on the "veterans in the middle of their careers that need a jump-start" category.

But what they really need is a superstar -- that's what Riley schemes about as he watches sunsets in Malibu every summer. And yet again this year, the offseason looks to be coming to an end without him getting one.

Source: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/19845296/brian-windhorst-miami-heat-free-agency-losing-streak

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