The Miami Heat must address a number of issues this offseason, from re-signing a key player (Goran Dragic) to the upcoming NBA Draft. But one move that's flown somewhat under-the-radar is the possibility that Luol Deng, the team's starting small forward this past season, might opt out of his current contract and enter free agency.
Pat Riley praised Deng's signing last summer as "one of the most important free-agent signings" in team history. But to some, Deng's performance on the floor left much to be desired. Should Heat fans be worried that Deng might leave or is it time to move on after just one year?
David Ramil: I've been a big supporter of Luol's since he first joined the Heat last summer. In the wake of LeBron James' departure, re-signing Chris Bosh and adding Deng were positive moves by the team to move forward from the "Big 3" era. And while there was hope that Deng might thrive in Miami, those hopes never really materialized over this injury-plagued season. It wasn't Deng's health concerns that were the issue; those were allayed after he played in 72 games (second-most on the team behind Mario Chalmers). It was this sense that he was wildly inconsistent, capable of 20+points one night and then just five the next. And with the team looking like potential contenders (should they re-sign "The Dragon" and have everyone at full health) that kind of inconsistency could kill their chances at a deep playoff run.
Earnest Christian: I think unrealistic expectations is what sums up much of the fanbase when talking about Luol Deng and I don't think it's fair. The best way to breakdown Luol's season in fairness is to look at it from pre-Goran to after Goran Dragic's arrival at the trading deadline. Many folks were and are still in the dark at what Deng's actual basketball strengths are. He's a slasher first off. He's the best when getting the basketball in movement. The problem people keep forgetting is the horrific "pre-Goran" point guard rotation in Cole/Chalmers/Napier was never going to get Deng involved enough to make him effective and it showed. Once Dragic arrived you started to notice Deng become used within his strengths and if not for the myriads of injuries suffered throughout the season there's no telling where this could've gone positively.
DR: Seven games. What am I referring to? The number of games where Deng scored eight points or less following the acquisition of Dragic. Conversely, he did have a 3-game stretch where he averaged 24 points in late-February (and then followed that up with an 8-point outing on Feb. 28). That's the kind of inconsistency that has been a problem and I don't think expectations, unrealistic or otherwise, are at fault. Now, I'll give you that Deng thinks his strengths are slashing without the ball but he was also an solid 3-point shooter at 35.5 percent. The problem then becomes that he doesn't want to be just a shooter (he voiced some displeasure with how the coaching staff used him) despite that's what the team needs him to be. If anything, that shows that Deng, for all his strengths, whether real or imagined, may no longer be as important a part of Miami's future moving forward. When Miami envisioned a team based on frequent ball movement (think last season's Spurs or this season's Hawks), it was when Chris Bosh was starting at center and Josh McRoberts was creating offense from the high-post. That's not the team we have any more - Bosh is at his more natural power forward and Hassan Whiteside is the low-post threat no one imagined. This team will have to reinvent itself once again and Deng might not be the best fit here.
EC: You hit the nail on the head in terms of the "fit". The Heat went through so many versions last season that's virtually easy to forget the core standard of the Heat offense and going forward how they will run the offense. You're right.....Deng may not be a fit next season and every argument you made can be virtually an absolute but I'm also a fan of do-overs. I'd like to see this experiment ran back a second time in Miami, even at the tune of $10 million.
DR: Do-overs (otherwise known as "Beasling") are great, feel-good moments in sports but you have to consider Miami's championship aspirations. While Deng is a great veteran presence for your team, would you risk paying that much money to someone who might not be happy with how he's being utilized? While he's publicly stated how much he loves the "first-class" organization, there's also the reality that Deng's age means this is his last chance at a multi-year deal. Add to that the possible replacements in the lineup - DeMarre Carroll, Jae Crowder and Jeff Green among them - and you can see why losing Deng to free agency isn't as dire as it appears. And while you might have to clear cap space to bring aboard a quality player like Carroll, there's also the possibility you can add a long-term starter through the draft. It may be a case of both Deng and the Heat getting what they want by mutually agreeing to part ways.
EC: The one thing I will say is given that this will be the last summer before the major salary explosion of 2016, if Deng would actually opt out the myriad of options Miami actually looks at in the long term. I still think Riley wants to be very careful in not locking up another additional long term contract on this roster outside Dragic so the hope I would say is to use this season as an all in year of sorts with THIS roster, which would mean Deng opts in and see where this thing goes in 2015--16.