It was a wild free agency period, one that was basically on standstill until the first major domino - LeBron James - made his announcement to join the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Luol Deng was a hot commodity as well and he had various options (including Washington, Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix) on the table before choosing to sign a 2-year deal worth $20 million to join the Miami Heat.
What made the Heat the best fit for Deng? According to his agent, it was a sense of familiarity with what the 9-year veteran can bring to the hardwood. Ron Shade, Deng's Chicago-based rep, explained the player's decision this way to CSNChicago:
"The comfort that he had is when we sat down with (Heat president) Pat Riley and since we've talked to him, he's said they know Lu. 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."
For fans who are looking for Deng to fit the role vacated by James - don't. They're vastly different players and Deng does not space the floor the same way that James did. But that doesn't mean he can't do some of the same things on the court, according to Shade:
"They're not looking for Lu to be LeBron. 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 (Wade) 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."
That bodes well for Miami, which relied very heavily on James over the course of the last season, particularly with Wade missing a number of games.
While that explains the role that Deng is expected to play, there was still a lot of talk about why he was traded away from the Chicago Bulls last season. Deng had spent his entire career with Chicago before a mid-season trade sent him to Cleveland, a move that ironically freed up the salary cap space needed to lure James back to Northeast Ohio.
Well-liked and a vital part of the Bulls' renowned defensive schemes, Deng's trade was based on rumored salary demands for a long-term contract that would average over $12 million a year. Here's what his agent said:
"The Bulls' offer when he was traded to Cleveland, it was a take-it-or-leave-it offer. In this situation, we still had options. Luol had choices to make. He made them. He decided this, and at the end of the day, while it's $10 million, there's no state income tax. So maybe you gain about a million dollars in that. But at the same time, it gives him options."
Those "options" include a player option after this upcoming season, which could force Miami to look for another forward in the summer of 2015. But Heat fans should look forward to Deng playing at a top level, regaining his All-Star form after years of nagging injuries and wear-and-tear from Chicago's notoriously-long practice sessions.
Shade explained that the contract with Miami gives Deng, "the opportunity to play out a year healthy, to play out a year in a situation where he can be highlighted," before reevaluating his options.
The agent added that Deng was "happy with the decisions that he's made, and he knows it's going to be great to help him further his career."
Whether or not that career ends in Miami remains to be seen.