While there was pretty much no chance that the Heat would come out better after losing LeBron, the retooling effort appears to have been a pretty strong one. Most wouldn't have predicted that both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade would stay after losing James, and getting one of the best small forwards available on the free-agent market in Luol Deng was a solid recovery move.
Will Deng be able to keep the Heat as contenders, however? And what's the plan if that fails?
Here's what Deng's agent, Ron Shade, said to CSN Chicago's Aggrey Sam in a post he wrote for NBCSports.com: "They’ve seen Lu at his best moments and his worst moments, and I think they understand that while Lu isn’t going to fill in for LeBron, Lu can step in and replace some of the things that LeBron did. They’re not looking for Lu to be LeBron."
The issue is that without LeBron, Miami's championship hopes are diminished quite a bit. The Eastern Conference is still up for grabs, especially after the injury to Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George. Just being solid might be enough, and Deng has been pretty dependable throughout his career.
Pat Riley: “Signing Luol Deng is one of the most important free agent signings that we have ever had in the history of the franchise."— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) July 15, 2014
While Riley might be overemphasizing Deng's potential impact, he is important in that he can keep Miami relevant as one of the elite franchises and free-agent destinations.
That being said, this is still Wade's team, and the Heat will still rely heavily on him to be healthier than last year and hold up in the postseason.
Here's what Wade said after re-signing, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:
I am proud to have spent every single day of my career as a member of the Miami Heat and to have brought three championship titles to this great city.
I've been here through the good times and the hard times. I have confidence in the Miami Heat organization and the team they are building. To all the Heat fans, in Miami and around the world, I know you will continue to show support for our team.
In some ways, the Heat really had no choice but to retool instead of start a full-blown rebuilding period. Letting Wade play out the last few years of his career with a contender was the only realistic option, as doing anything else would be a disservice to him after years of loyalty. Letting Wade walk would make Miami completely irrelevant.
This is important because the decisions made this offseason are going to shape the future. With Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts having the only substantial salaries beyond the life of Wade's two-year deal, there will be cap flexibility to build around Bosh in two seasons.
Here's Sam Richmond of Bleacher Report:
The Heat may have lost James, unquestionably an enormous loss, but Miami did a nearly perfect job following his departure.
The Heat have created a roster that will be fairly competitive, appeasing a fanbase that is now accustomed to winning, while also putting themselves in a position to where they can become title contenders again two years from now.
Point being, even if Miami whiffs and misses the playoffs these next two years, Bosh will still be there to build around, and Miami should still be an easy sell for free agents.
That scenario seems highly unlikely anyway, even with the potential issues on the roster.
Here's Dane Carbaugh at SB Nation:
This is not to say that Miami is entirely devoid of landmines. Bosh has shown some signs of slowing down as of late and Wade's degradation was painfully apparent in the playoffs last season. Danny Granger isn't promising anything and Spoelstra will have to lean on two players who have never been in his system before in Deng and McRoberts.
Any time you lose a player like LeBron, it's natural to expect a dip in performance, but the Heat still have a formidable squad and reasonable postseason expectations even after James' exit.
Basically, by signing Deng to a deal the same length as Wade's, Pat Riley has balanced nicely between the present and the future. The only real way this current plan can fail is if longer commitments are made at same point to either player, or if other long-term signings are made next offseason, which seems unlikely.
Miami was smart to reload instead of rebuild, as it made its plan virtually foolproof.
These next two years can be used to collect assets like draft picks and young players for the future while remaining in the playoff picture for now.
There's no rush to bottom out here, especially with Wade wanting to continue his career. This season's results shouldn't change the long-term plan either way, as Miami can focus on the 2016 offseason and try once again to add two more players to its existing star in Chris Bosh.
Essentially, outside of losing LeBron, Miami's offseason moves won't be judged based on this season or next but on whether or not it can build a title contender in 2016.
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