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Trade Candidate: Norris Cole

The Heat were hearing from no shortage of teams interested in trading for Norris Cole two days shy of last year’s trade deadline, but Miami issued a firm “no” to his suitors, as Shams Charania of RealGM reported then. It appears the point guard is again drawing a heavy volume of interest, but so much has changed in the past 11 and a half months.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami HeatCircumstances surrounding the Heat are certainly much different. LeBron James left town this summer, taking any reasonable shot at winning the championship with him. Cleveland is where James once more resides, and it’s also where Cole went to college. Cole hired Cleveland-based Rich Paul of Klutch Sports this summer, signing up with the same agent who represents James. A few months later, Cole and the Heat failed to come to terms on a rookie scale extension, setting him up for restricted free agency in the summer ahead.

It’d be a stretch to presume that Cole would have signed an extension if he were still with former agent Joel Bell or any representative other than Paul. Cole had ascended into the Heat’s starting lineup at the start of the season, but rookie scale extensions rarely happen for players who don’t have at least some measure of star potential, and Cole doesn’t fit the bill. Plus, the Heat have been wary of committing any money beyond next season, so they probably would have been reluctant to do an extension even with a player a step or two above Cole’s level.

The lack of an extension nonetheless seemed another sign that Cole isn’t a permanent fixture on South Beach, an idea further emphasized in the wake of a report around draft time that the Heat were dangling Cole in trade talk. Miami came away from the draft with No. 24 overall pick Shabazz Napier, a point guard who was a LeBron favorite. The Heat also re-signed Mario Chalmers later in the offseason, setting themselves up with depth at the point guard position that perhaps made Cole expendable. It hardly seemed that way earlier this season, when Cole became a starter, at times sharing the backcourt with Dwyane Wade, or Chalmers if Wade was injured. But the starting role didn’t last. Cole, who’d shot 34.9% from three-point range the previous season, saw that rate dip to just 24.6% in games he started. The Heat naturally struggled to win nearly as much as they did when James was around, but by Christmas, Cole was out of the starting lineup. His outside shot has only been worse since his benching. He’s connected on only 23.5% of his three-point attempts as a reserve for a team that no longer has the outside shooting it did during the LeBron era.

Cole was a healthy scratch Sunday against the Bulls, but he returned to play 25 minutes off the bench Tuesday in the absence of Wade, who might be out of action for a few weeks. Regardless, Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio reported earlier this month that Cole is once more on the block, writing that the 26-year-old “pretty much knows” the Heat want to trade him. That came shortly after Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports wrote that Miami had made Cole part of a proposal to the Nets for Brook Lopez. Riley last week denied that he made such a proposal and insisted that the Heat haven’t offered any players to anyone. However, he did indicate that he would listen, and a couple of teams soon found themselves in need of a point guard.

The Hornets have Cole and Ramon Sessions on their radar, Wojnarowski reported Monday in the wake of an injury to Kemba Walker that will keep him out at least six weeks. The Pistons are looking into trading for Cole, too, now that Brandon Jennings is lost for the year, as Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group wrote Tuesday. Still, neither club appears anxious to give up much in return to plug their gaps, and both are competing with the Heat for playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

The prospect of trading Cole to the Pistons or the Hornets might be more palatable to Riley than trading him to Cleveland. The Cavs have never been linked to Cole as a legitimate trade suitor, though the Cavs are reportedly seeking a backup point guard as well. They had a brief flirtation with the idea of signing Jordan Farmar before backing off, and they’re among the clubs interested in signing Will Bynum once he makes it back from China, according to reports. The Cavs are more likely to sign a point guard than trade for one, Amico wrote, but the notion that Cleveland would seek to fill a need with a client of the agent who represents LeBron would certainly be a logical idea.

It’d also be reasonable to suspect that Riley has no desire to help James win a championship so soon after he left Miami, so perhaps the Cavs are focusing on other targets for good reason. In any case, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Riley try to swing a deal to reap some sort of return for Cole, given his expiring contract. The Heat have the right to match offers when he becomes a free agent this summer if they extend a qualifying offer, which will be worth close to $3.037MM assuming he doesn’t return to the starting lineup and trigger the starter criteria. Chances are that any team interested in Cole this summer knows that the Heat don’t want to commit money past next season, so a multiyear offer sheet might make it easy to pry him away.

There’s a market for Cole now, even as his shot has deserted him, and Riley and the Heat may not have a better chance to make the most of one of the remaining vestiges of their decorated LeBron era. Trading Cole to the Cavs or one of the other Eastern Conference playoff contenders might not be an exciting proposition, but unless the Heat can find a Western Conference team willing to give them a better return, Riley ought to swallow hard and make the move.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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