You ever heard of a “Temp to Hire?” That’s what Victor Oladipo is with the Miami Heat.
When the Heat landed the two-time All-Star less than two months ago, right at the trade deadline buzzer, consensus was that the trade was necessary; some would even say it was a heist. Last month, Oladipo left with an apparent knee injury in his fourth game with the Heat, and hasn’t played since. Yesterday the team announced that Oladipo has opted for season-ending quadriceps surgery, ending his turbulent 2020-21 outing, in which he played only 33 games, spread across three teams.
In the deal, the Heat only parted with Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and a 2022 first-round pick swap, which is unlikely to convey because anyone breathing air would assume the Rockets will be the worst of the two teams next season. Bradley, who was injured when dealt, only played 10 games in Miami and has nearly doubled that during his limited time in Houston. In 17 games (and five starts) Bradley is logging 23 minutes per appearance despite only averaging 5.2 points and 0.8 steals per game while shooting 31 percent from the field and 27 percent from three. Basically, all of his advanced analytics are at least near career-lows, but that could partially be attributed to the underwhelming team he is on.
Olynyk is the point of contention because of his career-best outburst since leaving Miami. The 7-foot Canadian stretch-big had been averaging 10 points and 6.1 rebounds per game while with the Heat, mostly mirroring his career averages while putting forth shooting splits of 43/32/78. But through 25 games (22 starts) with Houston, he’s up to 19.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and even 1.4 steals per game while shooting 56/40/85.
It’s not like Olynyk was about to take this fluke upswing in Miami before the deal, and what he had been providing was around career-standard production. Furthermore, he’s diving headfirst into free agency this season. If he stays, the Rockets will overpay him. If he doesn’t, they’ll lose him anyway, and the Rockets will have turned Oladipo into… nothing.
Do we really think that Olynyk, at 30 years old with a career-high 22.4 usage rate, suddenly reached a new gear? That he isn’t on a team where somebody has to get buckets, benefitting from an NBA that is more offense-driven than ever before, where more than 30 players are averaging 20 points per game? Plus, the Rockets are 4-25 in those games he’s played.
What you traded for in Miami is an evaluation period, which was worth it because now you possess the intel needed heading into your arguable most crucial off-season in franchise history. You gave Oladipo a temp job, and now you know whether or not you should hire him full-time. By now, you probably have your answer. Plus, you’ll have close to $30 million in cap space, and having had Oladipo in your building, you know that if any of it goes to keeping him during his pending free agency, it won’t be what he wanted or what he rejected earlier this year.
Miami could see the defensive flashes Oladipo provided in minimal action, but they could also see that Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn are better suited to be on their 2021-22 squad than he is. Both are free agents this summer, too. Both are due for extensions, and the Heat could creatively make those happen without hindering their flexibility, as Greg Sylvander from 5 On The Floor notes:
If we play this out, the top player is likely Kyle Lowry, whom they almost acquired instead of Oladipo, but keep your eye on Kawhi Leonard as well. Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder after they blew a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals, and without an extension, Leonard’s name has to come up, especially since he’s someone who has already left a championship-winning team.
So, no, the Rockets didn’t win this deal because they’re still the Rockets, who are still led by Tilman Fertitta, and riding their futures around Olynyk months after losing James Harden doesn’t make you a winner. Miami, on the other hand, has the intel on Oladipo and has been playing much better as of late, heading into the playoffs. This is not some irrecoverable loss, unfortunate as it is for Oladipo’s career.