Considering all NBA free-agency news is currently being routed through the LeBron James lens, the Miami Heat and team president Pat Riley picked up a pair of bargaining chips in Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger.
The two veteran forwards, who both agreed to deals with the Heat on Monday, give Riley added ammunition for his upcoming meeting with the four-time MVP. McRoberts and Granger may not be the sexy additions Heat fans had been hoping for, but given the extravagant start to this offseason, those notable names may have never been available.
McRoberts and Granger may help form a quantity-over-quality pitch for Riley's plan to improve the roster. Whether James will be receptive to such a pitch remains unclear, but given the climate of this offseason, this may have been the best Riley could do.
"This likely precludes the Heat from adding premium talent, but that wasn't probable anyway once profligate spending supercharged the market, with the likes of Avery Bradley ($8 million), Channing Frye ($8 million) and Jodie Meeks ($6.3 million) all collecting more than expected," Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick noted.
McRoberts and Granger are more than negotiating ploys, though.
Both are proven commodities who can now be fit into Miami's big-picture puzzle. James still needs to decide if he wants to remain a part of that puzzle, but sources told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that Granger and McRoberts are both confident that he will stay in South Beach:
No guarantees made, but Danny Granger/Josh McRoberts committed to Heat w/ strong belief LeBron James will be a teammate, sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 7, 2014
McRoberts' agent, Mike Conley Sr., said his client wasn't looking for a new home, but the chance to suit up alongside James was too intriguing to pass up.
"It was probably the toughest decision he's ever had to make, but it could be a once-in-a-career opportunity for Josh to join a great team with a great player," Conley told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
The assumption that James, along with Big Three running mates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, sticks around is a vital piece of this plot. McRoberts and Granger look far different under a light that does not include Miami's talented trio, but for argument's sake, we'll assume the triumvirate returns.
That makes it far easier to understand Riley's interest in his newest forwards. The Heat looked old, small and sluggish in their historically lopsided NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs, and these signings help address those issues.
Granger is the more notable name, but McRoberts should be the more impactful addition.
Dumped by the 20-win Orlando Magic in 2012-13 for Hakim Warrick, who the team waived shortly thereafter, McRoberts' career looked to be on life support not long ago. The 37th pick in 2007, he entered the 2013-14 campaign with forgettable career averages of 4.9 points and 4.0 rebounds.
Then, he snagged a starting spot in Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford's starting lineup, and his versatile skill set shined. He set personal bests in points (8.5) and assists (4.3) while flashing a perimeter game that had never before been a part of his arsenal. He connected on 105 threes, 47 more than he'd made over the previous six seasons, while shooting 36.1 percent from distance.
Josh McRoberts was Steve Clifford's security blanket. Whenever coach had to go with inexperienced unit, Josh would be out there to organize.— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) July 8, 2014
Between McRoberts' decision-making and three-point range, Heat fans may see some of the same elements that the recently retired Shane Battier brought to the court. McRoberts isn't the defender Battier once was, but the 27-year-old is an upgrade in terms of playmaking and athleticism.
He could be an offensive safety valve for a team short on creators.
James handled the biggest chunk of Miami's setup duties this past season, leading the team with 6.3 assists a night. The problem for the Heat was that he was also their best scoring threat by far (27.1 points on 56.7 percent shooting). When he left the floor, so did Miami's offense.
The Heat averaged 111.4 points per 100 possessions with him last season, via NBA.com, and only 102.5 without him. That first number would have easily qualified as the league's best while the latter would have checked in at 20th.
McRoberts wouldn't relieve James of all his offensive duties, but he could help carry the torch in spurts. Charlotte's offense saw a net loss of 5.1 points per 100 possessions when McRoberts sat this past season, which was a greater gap than the one left by All-NBA third-team selection Al Jefferson (4.1).
A lot of McRoberts' offense revolves around his IQ, his creativity and his craftiness. That combination should be familiar to Heat fans, as it's what allowed Spurs big man Boris Diaw to leave an indelible mark on the championship round.
As ESPN Insider Tom Haberstroh explained (subscription required), the Heat plan on using McRoberts as their own, lanky jack-of-all-trades:
Speaking to a person familiar with the Heat's thinking, McRoberts will function as the Heat's less doughy, more athletic version of Diaw: a big-man role player who can do a little bit of everything. Last season, Diaw averaged 13.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists per 36 minutes for the Spurs. McRoberts? He posted 10.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists on a per-36-minute basis. The Heat hope moving into a healthier offensive system will make McRoberts' shooting percentages rise, just as Diaw's did after being rescued from Charlotte.
McRoberts' court vision makes him a threat from anywhere on the floor. In Miami, he'll have more shooters to find on the perimeter, or he can find James and Wade on cuts to the basket or post-ups on the low block.
Granger is a far different story. He's a question mark whether or not the Big Three return.
Despite being just two seasons removed from putting up nearly 19 points a night, the 31-year-old still needs to prove if he has anything left in the tank.
Plagued by leg injuries over the past few years, he seemed rejuvenated after joining the Los Angeles Clippers in late February. He scored in double figures during six of his first nine games with the team while shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from distance.
However, a strained left hamstring derailed his run with the Clippers, and it never got back on track. He was almost unplayable in the postseason, seeing only 10.3 minutes a night and converting just 27.5 percent of his field-goal attempts.
He has played a total of 46 games the past two seasons, so it's hard to say what, if anything, he'll add to the Heat. The career 38.1 percent three-point shooter should help space the floor, but even that is far from a certainty considering he's hit only 32.6 percent of his attempts since the start of the 2012-13 campaign.
He might be able to help, but only his body will decide that.
"In a best-case scenario, Granger would start against power forwards who don't post up, he'd hit open 3s, and he'd spend stretches defending some star wings to help LeBron and Wade save energy," Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote. "In a worst-case scenario, he's done."
The Heat haven't shied away from reclamation projects before, so Granger's addition isn't all that surprising. Of course, Miami's history shows that while some of these fliers pay off (Chris Andersen, Rashard Lewis), others never amount to any substance (Greg Oden, Michael Beasley).
Expectations were non-existent for Lewis, but the 34-year-old still found a way to inject some life into Miami's postseason run by rattling off a streak of five straight games with double-digit points. Like Lewis, Granger's combination of size and shot-making ability form a tough cover if he's healthy. He won't need to light the lamp with too much regularity for this to be considered a valuable pickup.
When he's healthy, Granger is also a defensive irritant. His physical play got the wrong kind of attention from James and Wade in 2012, but the pair might appreciate his fighting spirit if he's wearing the same colors as them.
With McRoberts and, to a lesser extent, Granger, Riley has started accumulating pieces for the picture he'll paint for James. The Heat still have plenty of roster spots to fill, and these moves allow Riley to highlight the benefit of spreading the available money around to multiple targets.
Miami isn't looking to reinvent the wheel. Not when the wheel has gotten so expensive this summer.
The Heat are looking for bargain contributors to surround the Big Three. It's the same approach they have used in the past, only the hope is for better players to fill those carved out roles.
It's up to James to decide whether these signings move him any closer to re-upping with Miami. For Riley, though, he at least knows his hand is stronger than it was for whenever these two parties meet at the negotiating table.