Leverage play: Who holds the cards? Heat, Thunder, Westbrook?

Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

LAS VEGAS -- In the end, amid the NBA's latest spectator sport, the Russell Westbrook Waiting Game, it comes down to leverage.

In what appears to be a stalemate, all involved can claim an influence advantage in the high-stakes game that includes the Miami Heat's Pat Riley, the Oklahoma City's Sam Presti, and the prime protagonist himself, get-me-out-of-here Westbrook.

At the moment, no one is pushing all their chips to the middle at the table.

At the moment, there is no reason, with the next meaningful game still three months away.

Where it stands with those with a stake in the game:

-- Miami Heat: For a team that seemingly has precious little to put into play after the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Heat do hold a prime hole card: the expiring contract of Goran Dragic.

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With salary-cap relief clearly a priority, if not a necessity, for the Thunder, acquiring the final, $19.2 million season on Dragic's contract would provide both a short-term replacement for Westbrook and needed cap relief starting next summer.

But the Heat also could find takers elsewhere for Dragic, particularly having moved forward with the experiment of Justise Winslow as their starting point guard of the future.

If the Thunder attempt to call the Heat's bluff when it comes to a seeming refusal to toss prospects into a deal (Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo), Dragic could wind up headed to another team in the interim, which seemingly was an initial play in the Butler trade machinations.

Salary-cap relief wears No. 7 for the Heat, but only as long as he is available from the Heat.


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