As four new players join the Miami Heat, coach Pat
Riley’s biggest challenge may be keeping forward Anthony Mason out
A nine-player deal with the Charlotte Hornets sent Mason to Miami, where trendy South Beach and his penchant for problems are a dangerous combination.
“It has occurred to me,” admitted Mason’s agent, Don Cronson. “It’s not like I’m worrying, ‘Oh my gosh, South Beach.’ But it’s there like a beacon, and I think he’s going to be on his guard.”
Largest Trade in Heat History
Mason was one of four starters involved in the largest trade in Heat history. He and three-time All-Star guard Eddie Jones go to Miami for forward P.J. Brown and guard Jamal Mashburn.
“This is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do,” Riley said in a statement. “Trading P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn, two guys who have been crucial to our success, was very unappealing and is the tough part of this business. However, change was in order.”
Confirmation of the trade was delayed until late Tuesday afternoon, the first day of the free agent signing period, while the NBA made sure the deal met salary cap requirements.
Also traded were Otis Thorpe, Tim James and Rodney Buford to Charlotte, and Ricky Davis and 16-year veteran Dale Ellis to Miami.
Riley and Mason had a turbulent relationship when both were with the Knicks from 1991-95.
Mason, 33, was suspended twice while he played for Riley and has been arrested four times while with the Hornets, most recently when he was charged with battery on a police officer, inciting a riot and resisting arrest in New Orleans’ French Quarter last month.
“Anthony over the course of time has learned a lot about himself,” Cronson said.
The same is true of the Heat, who have won four consecutive Atlantic Division titles. But in the past three seasons they’ve won only one playoff series and been eliminated by the archrival New York Knicks each time.
“We began this process four years ago and are now ready to take off to another level,” Riley said. “Sometimes change has to take place in order to do that.”
There has long been talk of the Heat’s need to upgrade at shooting guard. In past off-seasons Riley courted Latrell Sprewell, Mitch Richmond and Larry Hughes, with Brown and Mashburn often mentioned as trade bait. But until this week, Riley was unwilling to pull the trigger.
Prefers South Florida
Jones, who averaged a career-high 20.1 points and started in the NBA All-Star Game last season, got the team and the contract he wanted—a seven-year deal for at least $86 million. He considered a free-agent offer from the Chicago Bulls but preferred to play in South Florida, where he grew up and has a home.
“He’s feeling great. It’s a dream realized,” said his agent, Leon Rose. “He’s just excited about the chance to win a championship.”
Jones, 28, joins two other established stars, center Alonzo Mourning and point guard Tim Hardaway. His new teammates also include backup point guard Anthony Carter, who accepted a one-year, $1.2 million exception Tuesday to re-sign with the Heat.
“I always knew I wanted to be here and whatever it took for me to sign that’s what I was going to do,” said Carter, a rookie last season. “I’m going to do all I can to win a championship here.”
Charlotte avoided losing Jones without compensation by signing him to the seven-year contract, then trading him. They acquired five players, including the hardworking Brown, 30, whom Riley traded reluctantly.
“I coached P.J. for three seasons in New Jersey, and I love his unselfish, defensive style of play,” Hornets coach Paul Silas said. “Jamal will give us a consistent scorer, with a long-distance threat, that will complement our front-line players.”