How the Miami Heat can replace Willie Reed

Oct 18, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward Willie Reed (35) looks on prior to the game against the Orlando Magic at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 18, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward Willie Reed (35) looks on prior to the game against the Orlando Magic at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

With Willie Reed possibly leaving in free agency, the Miami Heat will look to add the next Willie Reed-type player to backup Hassan Whiteside.

With the news that Willie Reed will opt out of his contract and become a free agent, the Miami Heat will be in the market for a backup center to Hassan Whiteside. Whether or not that player is Reed will be determined by how much the 27-year-old center gets in free agency. Miami may still be able to bring him back (possibly with their $4.5 million room exception) but, if Reed gets an offer much higher than that, they may not have the resources to re-sign him.

If that’s the case, the Heat have a few options to replace him. Reed averaged 15 minutes per game last season, providing Miami with rim protection when Whiteside rested on the bench. The Heat could replace Reed with another traditional rim protector, or give some of those minutes over the small-ball units (possibly with James Johnson at center, should he re-sign, or Okaro White).

Either way, Miami will look to add another traditional center to the roster, whether that player plays 15 minutes or five per game.

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The obvious answer is Keith Benson. Benson, who has played well for the Heat’s G-League affiliate the Sioux Falls Skyforce for the last two seasons, is pegged as one of the best centers in the developmental league. This may be Miami’s cheapest option, too, as he can be signed for less than the veteran minimum of about $2.3 million.

Benson could be a candidate for the new two-way contract introduced in the new collective bargaining agreement. Starting next year, NBA teams will be able to sign players to two-way contracts that allows them to play in the NBA and the G-League (formerly the D-League).

NBA teams will be able to call up these players for up to 45 days. Players on two-way contracts, therefore, will help teams fill in their roster in the case of injuries. Because of the cap on the amount of days a two-way player can play in the NBA, Whiteside’s backup likely won’t be a player on such a deal.

So if the Heat wanted to make Benson the new backup center, they’d have to sign him outright as part of the 15-man roster. However, Benson will be 29 years old when next season starts, his game is limited to around the basket, and he isn’t as athletic as Reed, who thrived by setting screens on the perimeter and rolling to the rim. Benson is the sort of player who can get run off the court against more athletic bigs, and certainly won’t be able to play 15 minutes per game at the NBA level.

The Heat need to look at other options to acquire a backup center. Free agency won’t offer the same talent as last summer, and finding the next Willie Reed will be tough. There aren’t a lot of unrestricted free agent centers who will come cheap while also providing some upside. We’re looking at Roy Hibbert, Jeff Withey, Adreian Payne, Brandon Bass, Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger.

One name that sticks out to me is Christian Wood, a 6-foot-11, 220 pound center who could have some upside. He’ll be 22 next season. and played just 107 minutes for Charlotte this past year. In a small sample size, his stats compare favorably to Reed.

Christian Wood1310715.10.59114.315.514.
Willie Reed71103117.10.57813.722.

Wood played about a tenth of the time Reed played as a backup, so he’d be a project, but could be someone the Heat could get on the cheap and give an opportunity.

Next: James Johnson should play more center next season

There’s also the draft, which could provide the cheapest way to find a backup for Whiteside. While the Heat shouldn’t choose a groundbound center with the 14th pick, they could buy a second-round pick and take a center then. The Heat have worked out late-first, early-second round types like UCLA’s Ike Anigbogu and Indiana’s Thomas Bryant. If a center they like is available in the second round, Miami could use up to $3.6 million to purchase a pick from a team willing to sell. That, plus and the minimal salary paid to a second-round pick, could be the cheapest way to find a backup.