Heat trade Meyers Leonard to Thunder for Trevor Ariza

Sports
Meyers Leonard

FILE – Miami Heat forward Meyers Leonard, center, greets his teammates before an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Miami. Leonard made an ethnic slur while streaming a video game, a comment that was quickly condemned by the NBA shortly after it learned of the matter Tuesday, March 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, file)

MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Heat have turned Meyers Leonard’s contract into an opportunity to see if Trevor Ariza can help them for the rest of this season.

And for their trouble, the Oklahoma City Thunder got yet another draft pick.

Leonard — who had likely played his final game for the Heat, even before drawing widespread criticism for using an anti-Semitic term while livestreaming a video game last week — was traded Wednesday to the Thunder in exchange for Ariza and a second-round pick in the 2027 draft.

“Meyers was a key part of our team that made a run to the NBA Finals and we will always be grateful for his contributions and leadership last season,” the Heat said in the statement announcing the trade. “His recent comments were very hurtful and disappointing, but, we are encouraged that he has spent this last week meeting with community leaders, rabbis and Holocaust survivors to greater understand the impact of his words and we hope that his education will continue.”

The Heat also said they wish Leonard and his wife Elle “the best of luck in the future.”

“He’s going to do everything that he possibly can to grow and get better from everything this week,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We appreciate his time with us.”

The Thunder have no plans to keep Leonard, and may either trade him in the coming days or simply elect to not pick up his $10.2 million option for next season. He “will not be an active member of the organization,” the team said.

Ariza has not played an NBA game since March 10, 2020, but the Heat clearly felt he was worth the low-risk gamble.

Leonard needed to sign off on the trade because of his contract status and did so quickly, according to a person who was familiar with the negotiations leading up to the swap being finalized. He had been away from the Heat for more than a week after a video surfaced of him using the slur.

He apologized for the incident, which was roundly criticized by the Heat, Jewish groups, other athletes and celebrities. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Leonard $50,000 and barred him from being around the Heat for one week. The team had previously said Leonard would be away from the team indefinitely.

Silver has said that he believes Leonard “is genuinely remorseful” for using the slur.

“Meyers Leonard’s comment was inexcusable and hurtful and such an offensive term has no place in the NBA or in our society,” Silver said last week.

Leonard’s mandate from the league to participate in a cultural diversity program will remain in place. He has already met with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish organization that works to stop extremism and delivers anti-bias education.

The second-round pick the Thunder will get is to be conveyed in 2027, and gives Oklahoma City — which has collected more than 30 picks to use over the next seven years through various other trades — four second-rounders in that year’s draft alone.

The Heat will get to add wing depth for the second consecutive season through a trade for a player who had been sitting out for months. They did it last year as part of a trade with Memphis that brought Andre Iguodala to Miami, and now do it with Ariza — who was part of three trades in a six-day span this past November and ended up with Oklahoma City, though has never played for the Thunder.

The 35-year-old Ariza was born in Miami, has been working out in Miami of late and is about to make the Heat the 10th team that he has played for in 17 seasons — not even including Detroit and Oklahoma City, two of the teams that acquired him in those trades late last year. He most recently played for Portland, starting 21 games and averaging 11 points for the Trail Blazers last season.

“He’s a guy that we’ve really respected and liked and thought that he would be a great fit in our organization and our culture and the way we play for several years,” Spoelstra said. “It hasn’t worked out that way and that’s because a lot of people have felt that way about him around the league.”

For his career, during which he has now been traded 11 times, Ariza has averaged 10.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals. He has been going through coronavirus testing and may be able to play in the coming days.

The 6-foot-8 Ariza is considered a strong defender, and has made 36% of his 3-point tries in the last three seasons. He didn’t play with the Trail Blazers in the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World last summer for family reasons.

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