In the moments before LeBron James announced his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Heat president Pat Riley was already scrambling to throw together his contingency plan.
Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison learned of James’ decision before everyone else with a phone call from James in the “morning before the news was put out,” according to a source close to the situation. Agent Rich Paul called Riley and Arison together, and then passed the line off to James, who informed his former employers that he was moving on. Riley flew to meet with James in Las Vegas on Wednesday, but James played that meeting close to the vest.
After several long days of waiting for James to announce his decision, he then delivered it in the form of an essay published by SI.com. At that point, Riley was already working to make sure the Heat remained as competitive as possible for next season.
Securing a commitment from Chris Bosh was a major first step, and Riley and his staff have continued to negotiate with agents and players since James, according to Arison, “shocked” the Heat with his choice to sign with the Cavaliers. James cited his attachment for Northeast Ohio as his major reason for leaving the Heat, which had advanced to four consecutive NBA Finals during the James’ years and won back-to-back crowns in 2012 and 2013.
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The Heat absorbed the seismic news with class and dignity Friday and continued to do so on Saturday, but with a more personal touch.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade released a statement the day after James’ decision expressing grief but also gratitude. Wade recruited James and Bosh to Miami in 2010.
“As a friend and a teammate, I am sad to see my brother LeBron leave to begin a new journey,” Wade said. “In 2010, we decided to come together all for one goal — to win championships, and we succeeded. We were friends when we first joined the league and created an unbreakable bond the past four years.”
Wade went on to write that he believes James made the right decision “for himself and his family because home is where your heart is.”
“I know this was not an easy decision to make, and I support him in returning to his roots,” Wade said. “As an organization, a community and as individuals, we achieved the goals we set when we first signed on together. We are champions.”
Wade and the Heat were working to finalize a contract Saturday that would possibly allow him to remain in Miami until his retirement. Wade left around $42 million on the table when he opted out of his contract in June to give Riley some salary-cap flexibility to pursue roster upgrades. Udonis Haslem also opted out of his deal to help the team. Both players are now expected to be made whole for their loyalty to the franchise.
Meanwhile, Heat guard Mario Chalmers was working on a new deal with the team, according to a report by The Associated Press. Chalmers’ return would give the Heat three point guards on its roster. Chalmers’ role as the Heat’s starting point guard would be drastically different than last year, if the deal is finalized. With James gone, Chalmers would be required to handle the ball primarily for the team and also provide consistent offense.
The season didn’t end well for Chalmers, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Ray Allen for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Chalmers shot 42.3 percent from the field in the 2014 playoffs, including 34.9 percent from three-point range. He averaged 6.4 points and 2.3 rebounds overall in the postseason, but his production dipped even further in the Finals.
Chalmers shot 33.3 percent from the field in the Finals and 14.3 percent from three-point range for an average of 4.4 points per game. If he returns to the Heat, he’s expected to compete with Norris Cole for the starting point-guard position.
The Heat was also working to resign Chris Andersen on Friday, but so were other teams, including the Cavaliers, reportedly. James’ Cavaliers are looking to add a few of his former Heat teammates, including Andersen, Ray Allen, Mike Miller and, according to one report, even James Jones. Jones has said he would like to remain in Miami.