With only $42 million to spend and nine players hitting free agency, it was clear the Miami Heat wasn’t going to be able to keep its roster intact.
Saturday morning, two Heat playoff starters were plucked: forward Luol Deng by the Los Angeles Lakers and swingman Joe Johnson by the Utah Jazz.
According to The Vertical, Deng, who started 145 games for the Heat over the past two seasons, agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal with Los Angeles — much more than Miami could offer him with only $20 million left in cap space and both Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade on the radar.
Johnson, who started 24 games for the Heat last season after he was picked up late in the year from Brooklyn, agreed to a two-year, $22 million deal to play for the Jazz. Miami was hoping at best it could bring him back by accepting the team’s $2.9 million room exception.
Wade, who is waiting to see what the Heat will offer him while discussing his future with as many as four other teams, congratulated both of his former teammates on their new contracts.
Barring a free agent surprise, the departures of Johnson and Deng mean Justise Winslow will find himself in the Heat’s starting lineup next season.
Winslow, 20, started eight games last season and was an excellent defensive player and as a rookie. But he shot only 42 percent from the field, 27.6 percent from three-point range and averaged 6.4 points a game. The Heat are going to need better offensive production from him next season.
As it stands, the Heat has seven players on its roster for next season, assuming center Hassan Whiteside follows through and signs the four-year, $98 million agreement he made with Miami on Friday.
Chris Bosh, if healthy, will likely start at power forward alongside Winslow and Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson in the backcourt. Forward Josh McRoberts and point guard Briante Weber are the two bench players.
The Heat could vastly change its roster if it gets Durant to agree to sign with Miami. And should Wade return, he would replace Richardson in the starting lineup.