On February 19th, 1998, the Miami Heat traded center Isaac Austin, guard Charles Smith and a 1998 1st round draft pick (Brian Skinner) to the Los Angeles Clippers for guard Brent Barry.
The Miami Heat under the watchful and detailed eye of Pat Riley were able to build a contender around stars Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. The supporting cast started to round out soon after with Dan Majerle, Jamal Mashburn, and P.J. Brown joining the core.
One under the radar move for Miami was signing free agent Isaac Austin who had been playing overseas for the past two seasons and was unheralded when Miami signed him.
Austin proved to be a wildly successful signing as he helped Miami to a 61-win season during the 1996-97 season. Austin was mainly Mourning’s backup center and fill-in, but provided a punch of offense whenever he was on the court.
Austin’s numbers as a starter were impressive making him an intriguing option at center on the free agent market when his contract expired. Here are his splits as a starter and reserve during his tenure in Miami:
Team record when starting: 13-4
Team record when starting: 17-8
Austin ended his Miami tenure with averages of 10.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 1.4 APG while posting shooting splits of 49/67 on field goals and free throws in 134 games.
Charles Smith was originally a first round draft pick of the Miami Heat during the 1997 NBA Draft out of New Mexico. Smith had only played 11 games in his rookie season before the trade. He was dealing with tendinitis in his leg throughout the season which limited him on the court.
Brent Barry established himself as one of the solid and exciting young players of the NBA, but there were a few flaws for him. Barry’s rights were acquired by the Clippers with Rodney Rogers in a draft day deal with the Nuggets that involved the rights to Antonio McDyess going to Denver.
Barry was up and down while with the struggling Clippers franchise, and his defense was famously questionable to say the least. Barry had a few highlights during his Clippers tenure such as winning the 1996 Slam Dunk Contest. His athletic ability, hot shooting, and unique passing creativity made him a bright spot on some bad Clippers squads.
Barry finished his Clippers tenure of two and a half seasons with averages of 10.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, and 2.9 APG while shooting 44% from the field, 39% from the three-point line, and 82% from the free-throw line in 179 career games with the Clippers.
The Clippers had also discussed sending Barry to Vancouver for rookie guard Antonio Daniels and San Antonio for center Will Perdue.
Barry was making $1.082 million during the 1997-98 season and had informed the Clippers that he would not re-sign with them. The Heat were in a similar situation with Austin. Austin’s expiring contract was $384,000 during the 1997-98 season. Due to salary cap rules, Miami couldn’t offer Austin more than the average NBA salary of $2.8 million during his free agency.
After the trade, Isaac Austin played out the rest of the 1997-98 season with the Clippers. Initially, the Clippers wanted to re-sign Austin and thought they had a good chance at re-signing him. Austin was expected to demand a hefty sum in free agency and the Clippers were set to be far enough under the projected $31-$32 million 1998-99 salary cap to be able to sign Austin.
Unfortunately, the losing culture of the Clippers got to Austin and by April, he sounded like wanted out (via Orlando Sentinel):
"It’s a lot different here (Los Angeles), coming from one great organization that had rules and regulations and was very disciplined (Miami), to one that is not suited to winning, that is falling apart, that has everybody out for themselves. It’s been a big change for me."
Austin made it even more clear:
"It’s hard to be a leader on a team that’s been disruptive all year. You start to see things falling apart, and that is very difficult for you as a player."
He averaged a strong 15.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG, and 3.4 APG while shooting 45% from the field and 65% from the charity stripe in 26 games with Los Angeles. He would later go on to sign a three-year, $15 million deal with the Orlando Magic before the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.
Austin explained his frustration later on in the season (via NY Daily News):
"They (Miami) felt it was a financial thing. I understand the financial thing, but we are all in this thing to win a championship. And I think that was all just thrown out of the way."
Austin couldn’t comprehend why Riley would deal him when the Heat were considered one of the top teams in the NBA (via NY Daily News):
"I don’t understand the trade to this day, and I don’t think I ever will. If you do trade me, why put me in a situation like this? What’s the reason behind it? That’s all I want to know. Is it because of hate? You had 21 other teams. Maybe better situations, maybe not. I mean, if it’s a financial thing, I could have came out last year and said, ‘Look what I did for you and what are you going to do?’ I was under contract, so I kept playing. I am thinking about one thing, like (Riley) was thinking. I figured that was what he was thinking. It don’t seem like it was."
Charles Smith continued to struggle with leg and foot injuries during his Clippers tenure. Smith only played in 46 combined games in two seasons with the Clippers finishing with averages of 4.2 PPG and 0.9 RPG while posting shooting splits of 39% FGs and 48% FTs. Smith would fall out of the league in 2000 and eventually returned in 2001 with the San Antonio Spurs.
The Clippers used the first rounder they received on forward Brian Skinner from Baylor at the 22nd slot of the draft. Skinner was a bruising, dirty work forward that spent three seasons with the Clippers averaging 4.6 PPG and 4.5 RPG while shooting 45% from the field and 60% from the charity stripe in 93 games with the Clippers.
Skinner was traded along with the rights to Tyson Chandler to the Chicago Bulls for forward Elton Brand.
Brent Barry’s tenure in Miami was very short-lived despite the original expectations of him staying with Miami past 1998. Barry dealt with an ankle injury prior to the trade that limited him after he joined the Heat. When he played, Barry was ineffective and re-injured the ankle later on in the season. Barry was left off the playoff roster due to the injury leaving Pat Riley to defend the trade (via Sun-Sentinel):
"A lot of people, just sort of off the top of their heads, will criticize that trade without actually knowing a lot of things that went on behind the scenes. Even though the future, it might be said, is now, we had to take into regard to what was going to happen down the road. We actually got better as a team. We got more efficient as a team. This is not to criticize Ike. We would have loved to have kept him. But the point is we had to make a decision on the future."
Barry ended up leaving Miami in free agency. He signed a six-year, $27 million deal with the Chicago Bulls shortly before the lockout-shortened 1998-99 NBA season.
He finished his tenure in Miami with averages of 4.1 PPG, 1.6 RPG, and 1.2 APG in 15.2 MPG while shooting 37% from the field, 35% from the arc and 100% from the free-throw line in 17 games with Miami.
In retrospect, this trade really is a time capsule trade that allows us to see what was important and what value players and assets provided teams. In today’s NBA, involving an asset such as a first rounder in a trade for a player on an expiring contract is a rarity that usually requires said player giving a guarantee that he would be interested in re-signing.
With Barry not re-signing with Miami, the Heat gave up a first rounder and a prospect in Charles Smith to acquire Barry with no guarantees that Barry would re-sign and that backfired. While Smith and the draft pick (Skinner) never panned out for the Clippers, it’s hard to imagine teams making that kind of deal in today’s NBA.
Another big part of this trade that backfired for Pat Riley was Austin’s role on the contender. Unfortunately for the Heat, they faced their rival, the New York Knicks in the first round of the 1998 playoffs. With Miami up 2-1, the Heat lost Game Four in New York, but something even worse happened.
Alonzo Mourning was ejected for fighting with Larry Johnson and was suspended for the series-deciding Game Five with the series tied up 2-2. Instead of the traded Austin, Miami started Duane Causwell at center for Miami with Mourning suspended. Miami ended up losing Game Five and the series in the first round after a 55-27 record had them as the Atlantic Division champions.
The trade has to go down as a negative mark on a sterling career as an executive and coach for Pat Riley who ended up dealing a key cog to the ‘98 Heat for practically nothing in exchange.
Isaac Austin on the trade (via LA Times):
"They (the Clippers) are showing me dedication. As a man, that’s all you need. I think these two months are a feel-out period for them and me."
On the opportunity (via Los Angeles Daily News):
"This is a great opportunity for me. I will be with a great group of guys. I feel that what I did in Miami while Alonzo was out, I can do here. That time while I was starting helped me a lot, especially with my concentration."
In 2003 on what happened (via Sun-Sentinel):
"I was caught in the middle. I didn’t want to leave the Heat. I knew there was nothing out there better for me."
Charles Smith on the Clippers (via LA Times):
"They are trying to rebuild here. That can be an opportunity for me. Being with the Heat, they didn’t have too many rookies coming in. This gives me a chance to get my name out there."
Brent Barry (via Sun-Sentinel):
"I’m very happy with the trade and the chance to come here to Miami. I’m going to be able to do some things offensively to help take the load off Tim."
On his upside:
"I think I do have a tremendous upside and I’m still working on my game. I’m ready to be challenged as a player and pushed as a player and Pat Riley is the man to do it."
Los Angeles Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor on the trade (via Los Angeles Daily News):
"It’s no mystery Brent was not going to return. He certainly had his reasons for not coming back. We got an outstanding player. This is the one player we felt could help us the most."
On Austin (via LA Times):
"He’s a good passer, a good rebounder, he can shoot, he runs the floor and he has good character. He has all the qualities you would want. You have to be impressed."
Heat head coach Pat Riley on the trade (via Deseret News):
"We feel extremely pleased with what we were able to get for Ike. Ike was a very, very important part of our team. We’re going to really miss him. But we feel we get back a very young player who is exciting. He has great size, a player who can play (three positions) for us. We feel like he has a real huge upside."
On Acquiring Brent Barry:
"Re-signing Brent is a priority. We looked at a number of scenarios. Had anyone have considered something better than Brent Barry, it would have taken two or three of our starters. I feel very good with Brent in this deal. He’s exactly what we needed. He can score, he can shoot, he’s got a lot of skills."
On Problems Re-Signing Austin:
"Ike has great skills, but I never felt nor was I ever led to believe that we were anything more than a longshot in re-signing him, and I don’t blame him. He’s got a life to live and a family to take care of."
Clippers head coach Bill Fitch on trading Barry for Austin (via Los Angeles Daily News):
"I don’t think you’ll replace a lot of things Brent does. The showmanship, hitting the 3-pointer. My reaction is that it was inevitable. I’ve sat down and talked with (Brent) and I understand where he’s coming from. We had the good fortune of sitting down and knowing he wasn’t going to be back. You’re like losing a sports car that can do everything to getting a tank that can go through anything.
Austin (via LA Times):
"He will bring a breath of fresh air to this club."
On whether Austin would start after trade:
"It is a matter of how soon he can become comfortable out there. He has got to get used to playing with the new guys, but he is an intelligent player."
On Charles Smith (via LA Times):
"He knows he was the second man who was added to the deal. But we are not going to treat him as a throw-in. For now, we’ve got to get to know him better, and he’s got to get to know more about his position."
Heat center Alonzo Mourning on Isaac Austin (via Sun-Sentinel):
"Ike was a dear friend of mine. He was like a brother. I watched him grow and develop as a player. I’m really proud of what he’s accomplished. It kind of makes you feel bad he’s not on this team anymore. The one thing I’ll miss is his friendship."
On what he’ll miss the most about Isaac Austin:
"His sense of humor, that’s what I’ll miss. We had our little names we used to call each other. We used to call him ‘face’ because of all these weird faces he would make. He was fun to be around. Ike was very charismatic."
Heat forward P.J. Brown on losing Austin (via Sun-Sentinel):
"It’ll be tough. Over the past year, my wife and his wife had gotten close. His son and my kids were close. A lot of guys are hurt. A lot of guys are going to miss him. Not only is he a very good player, he is a great person. He’ll be missed. He won’t be forgotten."
Clippers guard Darrick Martin on the trade (via Los Angeles Daily News):
"I guess Brent made it clear he wasn’t coming back. The Clippers had to do what was best for the future of the team. We were expecting something to happen with this team. I think (Austin) has a lot of upside."
Clippers forward Lamond Murray on acquiring Austin (via LA Times):
"Before the game, a lot of the players were talking about it, and I think we all agree that he’ll (Austin) give us some needed size and strength."
Clippers guard Eric Piatkowski on Austin (via LA Times):
"I’m really excited about having him here."
On Brent Barry leaving and his role (via LA Times):
"I was one of Barry’s biggest fans. I hated to see him go. But this has given me more confidence. There’s no sense of urgency now that I have to go in and get points right away or I’ll be out. It’s nice out there. You can get in the flow of the game and let things come to you."
New York Knicks forward Charles Oakley on the Heat trading Austin (via Sun-Sentinel):
"If I got a chance to win the championship. They didn’t get too much for him, anyway. Can Miami win it without him? No. They need that big body. They need that extra scorer off the bench. You need post-up players in the playoffs. He played great with Miami. Tim [Hardaway) gave him easy layups."