Where does Dorell Wright Fit In?
With Michael Beasley and Amare Stoudemire trade talk swirling and a constant look toward this summer's star-studded free agent class, Dorell Wright has become somewhat of an afterthought amidst the best season of his five year career.
While his numbers are modest on paper, Wright has quietly become the best small forward on the Heat’s roster and a significant contributor to the second unit. But his future is still very much in the air.
Since being drafted 19 th overall in 2004, Wright has been labeled as one of the franchise’s greatest failures; one that will forever be linked to Jameer Nelson and the never-ending “what if?” questions.
Nelson was selected one pick later by Denver and then traded to Orlando. While he has blossomed into an All-Star point guard, Wright has struggled to find his footing on the NBA stage and the Heat are still searching for an answer at the point.
This season has been one of the few times in which Wright has been a regular contributor to Miami’s rotation, excluding the horrific second half of the 2007-08 season. With the majority of their players sidelined with injuries, the Heat limped to the finish line with four players in the rotation who had participated in the NBA Development League that same year. On a team that finished 15-67, Wright was able to showcase his talent averaging almost eight ppg on .488 shooting.
Nevertheless, when the minutes mattered, Wright wasn’t getting them. Until now. The 24-year old swingman has shown great improvement on both ends of the floor this season. At 6-9, Wright is capable of playing both small forward and shooting guard, with stints at the point as well. He presents a mismatch on any given night and has been called the most athletic player on the Heat roster by both Team President and GM Pat Riley and Head Coach Eric Spoelstra.
With a wingspan over seven feet, Wright is arguably the team’s best perimeter defender. He regularly lines up against the opponent’s top offensive threat and has fared well on most occasions. Beyond his one-on-one contributions, Wright has excelled in help defense as well, many times providing the backside help when opponents penetrate the paint. A good shot-blocker and rebounder with nifty hands, Wright is a solid defensive presence off the bench.
In the first month of the season, he saw limited action and struggled in the few minutes he was able to get on the court. Since then Wright has averaged 7.3 ppg on .467 shooting (.378 from downtown) with 3.6 rpg in just over 22 minutes a night. Those numbers have secured a regular spot with the second unit as well as extended minutes in crunch time. Talk of dumping the fifth-year forward’s contract has quieted recently, but hasn’t disappeared entirely.
Wright is in the last year of his contract that pays him $2.8 million this season, but Riley has been adamant about the team’s wish to cut costs. Miami is operating well above the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax for excessive payroll and team owner Micky Arison has stressed his desire to shed salary amid economic downturn.
Where does that leave Wright though? Earlier in the season there were rumblings of moving him to a team operating below the cap to provide financial relief. Such a move would save the franchise roughly $6 million and with the way he’s playing it wouldn’t be hard to find a taker.
If Wright is included in a blockbuster deal, the point is mute. That would be an acceptable sacrifice. But in the event his salary is dumped, the Heat would be doing themselves a disservice. The second unit would struggle without Wright’s presence and the money saved wouldn’t go far to convince Heat fans the move was prudent; let alone convince the players.
Wright is a close friend of Dwayne Wade and a locker room favorite. Moving him would leave a bitter taste in the players' mouths and with so much dependant on the direction of the franchise, the front office would be sending a terrible message. Whereas in the past few years Wright has been a sore reminder of draft failures, he’s now starting to look more like a building block for the future.
Wright will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and while he’ll draw some attention, his services can be secured at a low cost. The California native has spoken of his desire to remain with the team and of his affection for South Florida so it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume the Heat can retain him for the 2010-11 season.
With Wade set to opt out of his contract, Miami will have only Beasley, Daequan Cook, and James Jones on the books next season. Jones has been a ghost this year though and will likely be cut loose after the season. The Heat also holds a team option for second-year guard Mario Chalmers, which they will likely utilize.
With all the talk of a free agent splash this summer, the remainder of the Heat’s rotation has been overlooked. Wright is still young, still developing, and still very hungry to prove himself.
He’s the type of player that thrives with talent around him and doesn’t need many touches to produce. He provides a high energy boost off the bench and maintains the pace for the second unit.
Simply put, Wright deserves yet another chance to prove himself. Hopefully Riley and the rest of the Heat front office recognize that as well. It would be a shame to see him lost as a free agent, but it would be even worse to see him dumped for nothing before the deadline.
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