The Heat signed free agent Luol Deng on Tuesday, and Pat Riley didn’t understate the move, which helped the team salvage its roster after losing LeBron James.
“Signing Luol Deng is one of the most important free agent signings that we have ever had in the history of the franchise,” the Heat’s president said. “He is a proven All-Star and quintessential team player, both as a scorer, as well as an All-NBA defender.
“He brings the attitude of a warrior and competes every single night against the very, very best. We are thrilled to welcome him to the Heat family.”
Deng, 29, is a 10-year NBA veteran and two-time NBA All-Star who rose to prominence in Chicago while playing under Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls’ defensive-minded coach. A British national, Deng was averaging 19 points per game last season before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Deng is projected to start at small forward, taking the place in the lineup vacated by James. According to reports, Deng signed a two-year deal worth $20 million.
Deng expressed interest in joining the Heat before James ever made his decision to return to Cleveland. Before James’ bombshell, it seemed unlikely that the Heat would be able to add Deng to the mix. The Heat went into scramble mode following James’ decision and landed Deng.
Deng averaged 17 points and shot 40 percent from three-point range against the Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. For his career, Deng has averaged 16.0 points and 6.3 rebounds. At 6-9, 220-pounds, Deng will give the Heat size at the small forward position, and his defensive work rate should fit in well with coach Erik Spoelstra’s plans for next season.
“The comfort that he had is when we sat down with Pat Riley, and since we’ve talked to him, he’s said they know Lu,” Deng’s agent, Ron Shade told CSN Chicago. “They’ve played against him. 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.”
With Deng at small forward, the Heat’s projected starting lineup could also include newcomer Josh McRoberts at power forward, Chris Bosh at center, Dwyane Wade at shooting guard and Mario Chalmers at point guard. Wade signed a two-year deal Tuesday as well. Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen are expected to sign either Tuesday evening or Wednesday. The Heat could still be in play for Carlos Boozer, who was amnestied by the Bulls.
“They’re not looking for Lu to be LeBron,” Shade emphasized. “They’re looking for Lu to be Luol in LeBron’s place and that means they know Chris [Bosh] is going to have to be better, Dwyane is going to have to be better and Lu can be better.
“I think that’s the main thing that they see, that the weight is going to be evenly distributed between those three guys and looking forward to the camaraderie that they can build. The truth of the matter is, they still can be a contender in the East.”
The Heat also signed rookie free-agent James Ennis on Tuesday. Ennis is a former Heat second-round draft pick who helped the Perth Wildcats to the Australian league championship last season. He averaged 21.2 points and 7.2 rebounds for Perth. He has appeared in six summer-league games for the Heat this month and is averaging 15.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.33 steals while shooting 51.7 percent from the field, 48.1 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the foul line.
“We were excited to draft James a year ago and have been impressed by the growth of his game in Summer League and Puerto Rico, as well as his terrific experience in Australia, leading Perth to a championship,” Riley said. “We are looking forward to the infusion of energy he will bring to our roster.”