Pat Riley had an inordinate hole to fill at the small forward position on Friday afternoon.
When Sports Illustrated announced four-time MVP, LeBron James, would be heading back to his roots in Cleveland, the Miami Heat’s roster looked depleted.
The best-case scenario happened for Riley, as he was able to lure Chris Bosh away from Houston’s max contract, ultimately to re-sign Bosh for Miami’s max. His deal — worth five years and $118 million — was out of the ballpark in terms of what Bosh’s game and production is actually worth.
Miami’s heart and soul, Dwyane Wade, will be re-signed within the following couple days, it’s just taking time for Riley and Wade’s agent to work through the monetary figures.
The Heat’s core isn’t completely tarnished and destroyed, but losing LeBron James is more impactful than any combination of pieces they could have surrendered.
Attempting to remain competitive in the East, Miami signed another free agent small forward on Sunday. Luol Deng, who previously was with Mike Brown‘s Cavaliers last season, will step in and give Miami another All-Star level option.
Deng’s new deal is just a two-year commitment, worth $20 million. The option for Deng to opt out after this first season will give him the opportunity to see how things progress. Testing free agency again will be his choice after the first year, and there’s good reason why he might.
Miami had tons of cap space available this offseason — $55 million — before deciding to chase after Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. That was also before they signed Bosh to the nonsensical, overpaying deal. Due to Wade opting out last month from a contract he was owed over $40 million, he’ll also want Riley to take care of him. Deteriorated knee or not, Wade will get a long-term contract worth more cash than he’s worth.
It’s the tradeoff you give to a player for having the most loyalty to the franchise, and winning your first championship in 2006. For a while, it seemed as if it was the only banner Miami would be able to raise. LeBron came, and grabbed two more for the city, but Wade has made South Beach his home for the past 11 years. It goes along with the Kobe Bryant contract, although Bryant will be far more worth the $48 million he was awarded than Wade will be.
Bringing Deng along solidifies Miami’s depth at the small forward spot, but that’s only if Granger is able to play more minutes than he did with the Clippers, and remain in one piece. Granger, like Wade, has gone through loads of lower body pain in the last two seasons, especially in the knees. Since Granger’s surgery in March 2013, he hasn’t been the same. Perhaps it’s just the struggles of not having the same speed and athleticism, a loss of confidence, or just the lack of the same desire he had during his prime.
Deng, himself, still has a lot left in the tank at age 29.
His two All-Star appearances weren’t years ago. In 2012 and 2013, Deng achieved those honors with Chicago, mainly due to his defensive stability in Coach Tom Thibodeau’s process.
To be truthful, Deng deserved more All-Star recognition, specifically from 2009 to 2011. He was always Chicago’s most consistent offensive player, but never was as explosive and fan-fetching as Derrick Rose. That’s where his talent was hidden, for the most part. When the Bulls ran through the Eastern Conference and claimed two No. 1 seeds in Miami’s Big 3 tenure, Deng was just as crucial to the success as Rose. The MVP year helped Rose’s case for being “The man” in the Windy City, but no point guard will ever take a team to the top of a conference by themselves. Thus, without Deng, Chicago wouldn’t have been as unwavering as they were three and four years ago.
Last season, Deng’s offensive woes hit as soon as he was traded from Chicago to Cleveland.
Dissatisfaction from being forced to leave a team projected to get a top four seed? Bet on it.
A sour attitude of having to join a group of young, inexperienced talent that was destined to miss the playoffs? Bet on it.
It happens, and most of the time it’s an unpopular trade. Thibodeau expressed his displeasure with sending off his leading scorer, and rightfully so. Gar Forman and the Bulls organization wanted to direct their attention to the future, however, and that eventually meant chasing Carmelo Anthony (who they failed to grab).
Starting last season with the Bulls, Deng shot 45.2 percent from the floor and 81.5 percent from the charity stripe, which are more than acceptable numbers when you have to carry a scoring burden.
After being sent to Cleveland, Deng fell off the map, shooting 41.7 percent from the field. He still averaged over 15 points per night with the Cavaliers, but it can be attributed to him increasing his 3-point attempts on a nightly basis. Deng attempted just 2.6 outside shots on average in Chicago last year, and that rose to 3.4 with the faster, more athletic Cavs.
On paper, Deng was the perfect dream for Mike Brown. Brown is just as much of a defensive favorite as Thibodeau, and he always elaborates on focusing on that end of the court over anything. Wherever Deng went, he was going to compete. It’s just too much to ask a player to not go through some culture shock when being traded. In only 28 games with Cleveland last year, you really have to take his production with a grain of salt.
In Miami, they still don’t have a complete plan.
With Norris Cole still under contract and Shabazz Napier going through ups and downs in July’s Summer League action, there isn’t any word on if Mario Chalmers will walk or not. If you’re Riley, there’s no sense to spend money on Chalmers when you can get better, more up-tempo action with Cole as your starter. Miami struck out in the Kyle Lowry hunt with Toronto, and that would have set them on the right track for a top four seed in the East again.
As Wade could go through the same limited action he did during last season, Deng will have to revert to having the ball in his hands more. It’s clear Miami has moved forward and will make Bosh their unofficial number one option on offense, bringing us back to the Toronto days. How fun and hilarious will this be?
Deng’s usage rating this season with Chicago (28 games) reached 25.1 percent — a career high in his 10 seasons.
His effectiveness doesn’t lower when he’s expected to do more, and when he’s with other veterans.
In this market, which is overpaying anyone these days, Deng was one of the few signees that actually got what he’s worth. There wasn’t a better fit for him, or another team that could have instantly used him in the starting role, the way he believes he should be.
The days of 55+ win dominance are over in Miami, and probably for Riley as well. He’ll be turning 70 years old, and there’s not a lot of incentive for him to want to re-build.
For now, snagging Deng off the free agency market was a way to ensure his fans wouldn’t have to suffer.
This Heat roster won’t be as entertaining, but that’s what losing an All-Time great does. At the very least, though, Deng makes them a pest for LeBron’s new group of friends.
**All statistical support credited to NBA.com**
Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for 8 Points, 9 Seconds and HoopsHabit.com. For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter.