Who Does Miami Heat Target to Replace LeBron James?

Sam RichmondCorrespondent IJuly 11, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27:  Trevor Ariza #1 of the Washington Wizards celebrates after scoring a key basket late in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. Washington won the game 98-89. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Miami Heat saw their best player and four-time NBA MVP LeBron James leave for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday afternoon, as reported by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated. 

From there, the Heat had two options.

Option No. 1: Blow everything up. Let Chris Bosh walk to the Houston Rockets. This plan would still involve re-signing Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem because they're franchise icons, but the Heat's focus would be on signing up-and-coming young players rather than aging veterans. Also, maintaining financial flexibility with the hope of landing a premier free agent in 2015 and 2016 is crucial.

Option No. 2: Still try to contend. Re-sign Bosh, as well as Wade and Haslem, and try to sign veterans in an attempt to still be a solid team in the Eastern Conference.

By re-signing Bosh for the five-year maximum deal worth $118 million, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, hours after James left, Pat Riley and Co. clearly chose Option No. 2.

One could make the case that it's the wrong decision because regardless of who Miami signs this summer, its chances of competing for a title went out the door when James ended his Heat career. Miami might be better off just starting over and playing for the future.

Still, that's irrelevant right now. The Heat signed Bosh and are working on re-signing Wade, according to Wojnarowski, so they must follow through with the rest of the plan and pursue some top veteran free agents.

While the Bosh and Wade contracts will likely put them out of contention for Carmelo Anthony, there remain some highly skilled guys out there whom Miami should be able to afford. 

Here are who the Heat's top two targets should be to replace LeBron.


Trevor Ariza, SF

Trevor Ariza would represent an outstanding pickup for the Heat.

The 29-year-old is coming off a career season with the Washington Wizards, as he averaged 14.4 points (45.6 percent shooting from the floor and 40.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc), 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season.

While Miami is unlikely to be a dominant three-point shooting team like it was when LeBron was creating open looks for teammates, the outside shot will still be valued in Erik Spoelstra's offense, and the fact that Ariza excels from downtown is a big weapon. 

Ariza is also regarded as one of the better wing defenders in the entire league and would be a solid fit in Spoelstra's aggressive defensive scheme. 

With Bosh likely taking over as the Heat's primary offensive option, Ariza fits in as a capable scorer, yet he's not going to dominate the ball. Ariza doesn't need to be a focal point of the offense to have success; in fact, the opposite is the case.

A starting lineup of Shabazz Napier/Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole, Wade, Ariza, Josh McRoberts and Bosh is likely strong enough to win a round or two in the postseason.


Luol Deng, SF

It was widely reported, as Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick tweeted following the news about Bosh, that the Heat are going after Luol Deng. It's not hard to see why that's the case.

Deng is similar to Ariza in many respects. He can find ways to put up solid numbers without having to be "the man."

He averaged 16.0 points (43.1 percent shooting from the floor and 30.2 percent shooting from three), 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

There's something to be desired in terms of efficiency, but if Miami's looking to retain its win-now approach, he's one of the safer options because of his all-around game.

Deng is another skilled wing defender, and his hard work on that end was key for Tom Thibodeau's defense in Chicago.

The forward can also play a lot on a nightly basis. Before last season, he averaged more than 38 minutes per game in three straight seasons. That certainly has value, as it's obviously better to have your top guys out on the floor for as long as possible. 

While that could also mean Deng's body might wear down quicker than most players, he's still just 29, so Miami wouldn't have to worry about that for another two years or so. And, as we've talked about, Riley and Co. seem more focused on now rather than the future anyway.

It's going to be impossible for the Heat to truly replace LeBron James, but Deng and Ariza are two guys who can at least soften the blow of The King's departure.

Follow me on Twitter @srichmond93