Life after LeBron is coming together for the Heat.
In major victories for the team considering where it was on Friday, the Heat finalized a two-year deal with small forward Luol Deng on Sunday afternoon and followed that up with new contracts for Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen. Sunday’s haul gives the Heat four important free-agent signings since losing out on LeBron James. Chris Bosh, the most important piece of all, provided the Heat with vital free-agency momentum on Friday when he agreed to become the team’s interior anchor. Bosh was expected to sign a five-year max contract worth $118 million.
The Heat has rallied impressively since James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Immediately following James’ announcement, a doomsday scenario Pat Riley had feared since the beginning of free agency seemed all too real. Reports had already linked Bosh to the Houston Rockets, and many league insiders were convinced that Bosh was gone. Rumors even began circulating that the Chicago Bulls were interested in adding Dwyane Wade. The world seemed to be caving in around the Heat.
Then, in a dramatic turn considering the day’s events, Bosh chose the Heat over the Rockets, and the rebuilding process began in earnest.
Bosh is currently abroad working with NBA Africa, but when he returns he will be celebrated as a loyal hero by Heat fans who were searching for any sign of good news after being heartbroken by James’ decision.
Projected as a center among the Heat’s current players, Bosh is now expected to be the offensive and defensive fulcrum of a starting five that includes Chalmers at point guard, Wade at shooting guard, Deng at small forward and Josh McRoberts at power forward.
Chalmers announced his return on Twitter on Sunday.
Benched for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Chalmers was considered expendable in the days leading up to free agency, and his future with the team was unclear. Things started to come into focus, though, even before James bolted for his home state.
Heat draft pick Shabazz Napier, a four-year college player, had a dreadful debut in the Orlando summer league where he shot 27.5 percent from the field and 16 percent from three-point range. His game has improved in the Las Vegas summer league, but it’s clear the Heat will need more from its point-guard position, especially now that James is gone. Chalmers provides the Heat with a veteran point guard familiar with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his systems. Meanwhile, Norris Cole is a reliable backup ready to take the next step in his career. With James gone, Chalmers will get his chance to become a next-level point guard, and Cole will have the opportunity to take that next step in his career for which he has been waiting.
Deng isn’t expected to fill the shoes left by James, but the British small forward will man the position James vacated. Deng is a solid defender, competent shooter and tireless worker. Adding Deng further improves the Heat's chances in the Eastern Conference, which the team has won every season since the 2010-11 season.
With a solid core returning, the Heat now will once again be a factor in the East.
Riley has salvaged the Heat's roster nicely over the last three days by insuring a competitive product for next season. More importantly, the Heat's president and general manager Andy Elisburg have kept their interests directed toward the future. With the Heat's long-term blueprint coming together, it appears that Riley is positioning the Heat for the 2016 free-agency period. Deng reportedly agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal. Chalmers’ two-year deal will also give the Heat the maximum amount of cap space in two yeas. Both Wade and Udonis Haslem could sign short-term deals as well, though their loyalty to the team could factor differently in their contracts.
Andersen, 36, signed a multi-year deal with the Heat, according to a report by Yahoo! Sports. Several teams made runs at Andersen, but the player who calls himself Birdman wanted to remain loyal to the Heat, the team that resurrected his career. Andersen will be a key piece off the bench for the Heat, which is shaping up to be a tougher team physically than it was in 2014. The combination of McRoberts, Andersen and Haslem will be formidable.
The Heat is expected to make more free-agency moves on Monday. The team is in the market for shooters to space the floor for Wade. Granger was a positive start, but Ray Allen remains a possibility. Heat shooter James Jones has said he would like to resign with the Heat. Rashard Lewis, who performed well in the Finals, is also an option.
Former Heat draft pick James Ennis, playing with the Heat’s summer-league team, is expected to be given every opportunity to make the team. The athletic 6-7 small forward played well overseas last year. Another former Heat draft pick, Justin Hamilton, is also expected to help fill out the roster next season.