The Miami Heat have never been shy about pulling the trigger on a big trade. Throughout franchise history, the Heat have targeted and secured some of the most important and talented players in the league. These days, trade rumors link the Heat to James Harden, an eight-time All-Star, three-time scoring champ and one-time league MVP.
Although recent reports indicate talks between the Heat and Houston may have stalled, Miami may pounce at any time. The Heat have a long history of trading for disgruntled stars in their prime. For Miami, it’s a matter of leverage, and rarely have the Heat lost this type of trade.
Blockbuster deals litter Miami’s history and each has seen the franchise vault into championship contention. Here’s a look at the five most important trade days in Heat history.
Heat Trade History: November 7, 1994
Arguably the most consequential trade in Miami Heat history came on November 7, 1994. On this date, the Heat dealt a young, future All-Star, Steve Smith, and a franchise cornerstone, Grant Long, with a 1996 second-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for All-Star forward Kevin Willis and a 1996 first-round pick.
The Heat were coming off their first winning season and second playoff berth. They sported a talented young core and seemed to be on the rise in the Eastern Conference. But things soured with managing partners Lewis Schaffel and Billy Cunningham as the two embarked on a sudden roster retooling.
They traded Rony Seikaly to Golden State for Sasha Danilović and Billy Owens on November 2nd, then followed that with the Willis deal.
“I think there’s not one person in this world that has had any relationship with Lewis Schaffel that has continued to stay friends with Lewis,” Seikaly said after the trade.
Smith, then 25, was coming off a 17.3 points-, 5.1 assists- and 4.5 rebounds-per-game season and a summer appearance with “Dream Team II.” Smith criticized the Seikaly trade, only to find himself shipped off two games into the season.
This would be the last trade Schaffel and Cunningham would make for Miami.
The ’94-95 Heat flopped and the two would sell their club interest to franchise patriarch Ted Arison’s son, Micky, before the season even ended.
As the new managing partner, Arison hired Dave Wohl as GM. Wohl fired head coach Kevin Loughery and replaced him with Alvin Gentry on an interim basis to try to shake up the 17–30 Heat.
Heat fans may barely remember Willis’ tenure with the club. He averaged 14.2 points and 10 rebounds-per-game over parts of two seasons before being dealt away.
But this is one of the most important trades in Heat history because not only did it lead to Micky Arison acquiring controlling interest in the club, it also directly led to two other integral moves.
Enter Pat Riley
Following a disappointing ’94-95 season, new Heat management sought to reshape the franchise and looked to bring in Pat Riley. The former New York Knicks head coach had suddenly resigned after the ’94-95 season, reportedly rejecting a five-year, $15 million contract extension to stay in the Big Apple. Riley had one year left on his deal, but sought more control of the roster in New York, something team president Dave Checketts and GM Ernie Grunfeld weren’t willing to cede.
Riley reportedly negotiated a $40 million deal that included a 10 percent ownership stake with Micky Arison secretly. As a result, tampering charges were filed and the Heat were forced to surrender $1 million and a first-round pick to the Knicks.
The pick they sent? The one they’d landed in the Willis deal, Atlanta’s 1996 first round pick.
The “trade” officially posted on September 1, 1995, then Riley came on board in Miami. The city celebrated his arrival with a parade and shortly thereafter, Riley remolded the roster in his own image.
The Knicks, meanwhile, selected Walter McCarty with the No. 19 overall pick in 1996. McCarty played one season in New York, 35 games, averaging 1.8 points-per-game. He was traded to Boston ahead of the ’97-98 season. He played 10 seasons in the NBA, mostly as a reserve, and averaged 5.2 points and 2.6 rebounds-per-game for his career.
Heat Trade History: November 3, 1995
Pat Riley entered his Heat tenure aiming to make Miami a contender. So he did, for the first time, what would become his pattern: Riley targeted a disgruntled All-Star in his prime.
Alonzo Mourning had rejected a seven-year, $70 million contract extension in Charlotte earlier that offseason and things seemed destined for a breakup with the Hornets. Mourning reportedly wanted $13 million-per-year, but Charlotte couldn’t afford that after signing forward Larry Johnson to a 12-year, $84 million contract extension in 1993. (That deal made Johnson the richest athlete in the history of team sports at that point in time, and Zo wanted more.)
Riley identified Mourning as the centerpiece for his rebuild, a player in the mold of Patrick Ewing, his center in New York. Mourning came to Miami as a two-time All-Star and a someone who’d averaged over 21 points, 10 rebound and three blocks-per-game. So he flipped the final piece of Miami’s initial young core for the future Hall-of-Famer.
On November 3, 1995, the Heat sent Glen Rice, Matt Geiger, Khalid Reeves and a 1996 first-round pick to Charlotte for Mourning, Pete Myers and LeRon Ellis. Mourning immediately agreed to a four-year, $44 million contract extension and the rest is history.
Rice, meanwhile, left Miami as the franchise leader in points and games played. He’d won Miami’s first 3-Point Shootout crown the year prior and remained on an upward trajectory. Rice would go on to be a three-time All-Star for the Hornets and a two-time All-NBA performer. Rice would win a championship before Mourning, getting his lone title as part of the 2000 LA Lakers squad.
Deadline Day, 1996
Zo needed a running mate and Riley found him one later in that first season with Miami. On deadline day in 1996, Riley and the Heat made three separate trades to bolster the roster. The biggest deal landed Miami Tim Hardaway and Chris Gatling from Golden State for Bimbo Coles and Kevin Willis.
The Heat had started that season well, going 11-3 through the first 14 games. But they languished after that, heading into the deadline at 24-29. Riley then reached for another disgruntled star Hardaway. He also landed veterans Gatling, as well as Tyrone Corbin, Tony Smith and Walt Williams in separate deals.
With a depleted roster after the deadline, the Heat faced Michael Jordan and the (eventual) 72-10 Chicago Bulls with just nine active players. The Heat upset Chicago 113-104 in what marked most memorable victory in franchise history at that time. Rex Chapman led the Heat that night, going for 39 points including 9-of-10 shooting from three.
Hardaway arrived soon thereafter and promised Mourning a playoff berth. He and Zo turned the season around and helped Miami make its third playoff appearance. The two would develop into one of the most potent tandems in the league and helped get the Heat to the top of the Eastern Conference over the next several seasons.
Heat Trade History: July 14, 2004
The course of Miami Heat history would change trajectory again in July of 2004 when Riley set his sights on yet another disgruntled star. Shaquille O’Neal’s falling out with the Lakers led to Riley pouncing on the future Hall-of-Famer. O’Neal and Bryant’s relationship soured, and the Lakers elected to appease their bright young star instead of the aging big man in the wake of the 2004 NBA Finals loss to Detroit.
The Heat featured an intriguing young core led by Dwyane Wade and were coming off a Conference Semifinal appearance. Miami flipped much of that young core to get their hands on Shaq. The Heat sent Caron Butler, Brian Grant and Lamar Odom (three starters), plus a 2006 first-round pick and a 2007 second-round pick to LA for O’Neal.
This seemed like a steep price for a player many felt was on the back end of his prime. But this trade led directly to Miami’s first NBA Championship. O’Neal should have been the league MVP in 2004-05 and had Wade not injured his ribs, this group may have hoisted two titles.
Interestingly, the Heat reacquired Steve Smith and Alonzo Mourning that season as well. Smith would retire after the ’04-05 season, but Mourning stayed around to help the Heat win the title in ’06. That ’06 title team took shape after Riley engaged in the largest trade in NBA history, a five-team trade that saw Miami land James Posey, Antoine Walker and Jason Williams.
Heat Trade History: July 10, 2010
The Heat shocked the sports world in 2010 with the arrival of the Big 3. While most tab these moves free agent signings, the acquisitions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh were technically sign-and-trade deals.
For James, the Heat shipped out a 2013 first-round pick, a 2016 first-round pick, and second rounders in 2011 and 2012, as well as the rights to a pick-swap in 2012. Of those four draft picks, Milan Mačvan, Jae Crowder, Nemanja Nedović and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, only Crowder played for Cleveland, but that wasn’t until 2017, several years into his NBA career. Luwawu-Cabarrot pick, though, helped facilitate the Cavaliers trade for Kevin Love in 2014.
The Bosh deal featured a pair of 2011 first-round picks going to Toronto, one which the Heat eventually reacquired and one which originally belonged to the Raptors.
The pick that eventually became Jonas Valančiūnas, the 2011 fifth overall selection, landed in Miami as part of a deadline deal 2009. That trade saw the Heat ship Shawn Marion, Marcus Banks and cash to Toronto for Jermaine O’Neal, Jamario Moon, a 2011 first- and a 2010 second-round pick.
The pick that eventually became Norris Cole made its way through three other franchises before returning to Miami. The Heat sent to Toronto in the Bosh sign-and-trade, then the Raptors sent it to Chicago for future Heat player James Johnson in February of 2011. The Bulls picked Cole in 2011, then traded him to Minnesota with Malcolm Lee for Nikola Mirotić.
The Heat acquired Cole from Minnesota on draft night in 2011. Miami picked Bojan Bogdanović with the No. 31 overall pick (second round) and used that to land Cole. Interestingly, the Heat had the choice of Cole or Jimmy Butler at that point in 2011.
The Big 3 Era Pays Off
The Heat floundered in the wake of their 2006 championship. O’Neal’s relationship in Miami deteriorated and saw the big man moved to Phoenix in a trade. Riley retooled the roster around Wade and O’Neal but never found the right combination before trading Shaq away in 2008.
The pieces he landed in that deal were Marion and Banks. Those two were integral in later trades for Jermaine O’Neal and the 2011 first-rounder which helped facilitate the Bosh sign-and-trade.
The Heat won two NBA titles and made four straight Finals appearances before seeing James walk in free agency. It took some time, but the lean years post-Big 3 era led to another interesting young core. Riley then used it as trade assets yet again.
Heat Trade History: July 6, 2019
The Miami Heat’s long history of targeting disgruntled stars led to the trade acquisition of another such All-Star in July of 2019. After engaging the Minnesota Timberwolves in trade talks for Jimmy Butler in 2018, the Heat got their man nearly a year later in a four-team deal with Philadelphia, Portland and the LA Clippers.
The Heat shipped off their own malcontent in Hassan Whiteside to the Blazers and Josh Richardson to the 76ers. They also sent a 2023 first-round pick to the Clippers to help facilitate the deal. In return, Miami landed Butler and Meyers Leonard. Also involved in that deal was current Heat forward Maurice Harkless, who almost came to Miami then but went from Portland to the Clippers instead.
On that same day, the Heat sent three future second-round picks (2022, 2025 and 2026) to Indiana as part of a three-team trade. The Pacers landed TJ Warren from Phoenix, while Miami received KZ Okpala from the Suns.
This trade helped solidify the young core in Miami and the Heat went on to a surprise NBA Finals run in 2020. Led by Butler, the Heat won the Eastern Conference Championship and took the LA Lakers to six games in the Finals.
There’s no telling when the next big trade will happen. But if there’s a disgruntled star out there, rest assured that Pat Riley will be engaged in trade talks. And if the Godfather is involved, the outcome always comes out in Miami’s favor.