Heat make draft-day deal to get point guard Shabazz Napier

The Miami Heat got their guy, acquiring the rights to Connecticut PG Shabazz Napier in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets.

In exchange, the Hornets received the draft rights to P.J. Hairston (taken 26th overall) and Semaj Christon (55th overall), a 2019 second-round draft choice and cash considerations.

Reportedly, the Heat had also been dangling point guard Norris Cole in an effort to move up.  

But the Heat kept Cole and added Napier, a player who could potentially replace former Heat starter Mario Chalmers, now a free agent.

"Shabazz Napier is a winner, he’s a two-time NCAA champion and he’s one of the elite players in college basketball," said Heat president Pat Riley. "We feel very fortunate we were able to acquire him and we feel like he fits in extremely well. He has a high motor, high basketball IQ, is a great shooter and has great character."

Napier won two national titles at UConn, and ESPN’s Bill Simmons, an avid Boston Celtics fan, reacted with envy and admiration all at once when the Heat news surfaced.

"I’m tired of teams helping Miami," Simmons said. "I think (Napier is) better than anybody else who played point guard for the Heat last season."

More importantly than Simmons’ opinion is what LeBron James thinks. The once and perhaps future Heat player — James is a free agent — has tweeted that "Napier is my favorite player in the draft."

Napier played four seasons at UConn, a bit of a rarity in an era when players bolt early for the NBA. But because he stayed, Napier projects to be more ready to play than most prospects.

More importantly, the Heat hopes their move to get Napier will be the start of convincing James to remain in Miami.

"He’s one of the best players in the world," Napier said Thursday night when media members asked about James. "If me going (to Miami) helps him come back, it just betters our chances of being a complete team."

Napier said he has been to James’ camps.

"He’s a great guy," Napier said of James. "Me and him chatted a few times at his camps. … My agent told me he tweeted something about me just now.

"It’s something special to know that one of the best players in the world thinks about you and appreciates your talent. That’s something I’m so humble for."

The first NBA lesson for Napier is that he needs to stop calling James "one of the best players in the world."

Calling him THE best player in the world would be more like it, especially when other teams are in this pursuit for James as well.

The Houston Rockets, for example, had a very successful night, clearing some salary-cap space by trading center Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans for a future first-round pick.

If the Rockets can find a home for high-priced point guard Jeremy Lin, they could have the cap room to potentially entice James to join their two stars — center Dwight Howard and guard James Harden.

But those moves are outside of the Heat’s control. What they can focus on at the moment is the selection of Napier, 22, a native of Roxbury, Massachusetts.

He was raised by a single mother, Carmen Velasquez, who was born in Puerto Rico.

Napier played high school football — he was a wide receiver — and led Lawrence Academy’s basketball team to a 29-0 record and a New England Prep League Class C title.

He continued winning at U-Conn, where he won national titles as a freshman and again as a senior.

He backed up Kemba Walker as a freshman but still averaged 7.6 points and hit two free throws to clinch a Final Four win over Kentucky.

Napier considered leaving U-Conn after Huskies Coach Jim Calhoun retired. But Napier stayed, even though U-Conn was not eligible for the postseason during his junior year.

Last season, Napier was his conference’s Player of the Year, leading the Huskies on another amazing run, which is when James started tweeting about him.

Napier was the MVP in the Final Four and averaged 18 points and 5 assists for the season, converting on 40.5 percent of his three-point tries.

"I’m excited," Napier said on ESPN immediately after getting selected. "I’m going to compete my tail off."