Mike James back to Miami? Maybe

By Marc Stein

The Miami Heat's position on trades is no secret. They won't even consider making a deal for anyone whose contract extends beyond this season to preserve every cent of their projected trove of salary-cap space for July 1, 2010.

But the Heat have, according to NBA front-office sources, explored the possibility of trading for Washington's highly available Mike James, whose first coach in a 11-team career in 2001-02 was Pat Riley in Miami.

Sources say that the teams discussed a trade during the preseason, but the Wizards balked because Miami would not send back an expiring contract. The Wiz have a similar mindset to Miami's, determined not to take back anything but expiring salaries in minor deals like this one.

Yet it remains to be seen if the Heat, whose search for guard help has likewise been well-documented, will amend that stance.

Quentin Richardson and Udonis Haslem are the only expiring deals Riley can offer in exchange for James without a third team being recruited to help facilitate a trade. Trading Haslem for a guard obviously makes no sense and Riley has likewise resisted the idea of surrendering the well-traveled Richardson. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has also gradually decreased free-agent signee Carlos Arroyo's minutes and has very limited alternatives. Riley might ultimately decide that bringing in a veteran to ease Dwyane Wade's backcourt load is a must.

And no team these days has more guards to spare than the Wiz. The emergence of recent signee Earl Boykins has made it tough for even Randy Foye and DeShawn Stevenson to earn playing time, with James, Nick Young and Javaris Crittenton further behind.

If they could get James without giving up Richardson, perhaps with the help of a third team, this deal would likely already be done. But Richardson's reviews in South Florida have mostly been positive after he was traded four times -- yes, four -- in the 2009 offseason.

Q-Rich, remember, went from New York to Memphis on draft day, from the Grizzlies to the Los Angeles Clippers in July in the Zach Randolph deal, from the Clippers to Minnesota in a deal headlined by Sebastian Telfair and Craig Smith and then from the Wolves to Miami in August for Mark Blount. If the Heat's growing need at guard becomes unbearable -- but if they’re determined to spare Richardson his fifth trade in the span of about six months -- maybe either Miami or Washington will make a harder push to find a third-team facilitator.

The Heat would also appear to have some off-court motivation to reunite with James. ESPN.com has learned that James quietly hosted Miami's Michael Beasley in the private gym at his offseason home in Houston almost every night in August, when Beasley spent a month in town completing substance-abuse rehab. Miami officials got an up-close look at James when they went to Houston to check up on Beasley and saw first-hand that the two Mikes had struck a productive friendship.

James, 34, returned this week from a broken left ring finger he suffered in practice Nov. 7.