The Heat have agreed to sign unrestricted free agent forward Luol Deng to a two-year contract worth $20 million, according to Yahoo Sports and USA Today Sports. The deal reportedly includes a player option for the 2015-16 season.
Deng, 29, just completed the final season of a six-year, $71 million contract signed with the Bulls in 2008. Chicago traded Deng to Cleveland back in January in a cost-cutting move, after he reportedly declined a three-year, $30 million extension offer. The Cavaliers had hoped Deng's midseason arrival would boost them into the playoffs, to no avail. He averaged 16 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 2013-14, posting a Player Efficiency rating of 15.2.
The 2004 lottery pick now has the unenviable task of replacing four-time MVP LeBron James, who opted to leave the Heat and sign a two-year contract with the Cavaliers on Saturday. Deng is now expected to join Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts on a reshaped Miami roster. Bosh agreed to a five-year maximum contract this week, while Wade is still in negotiations to return to Miami.
SI.com ranked Deng at No. 13 on our "Top 25 Free Agents of 2014" list, citing the two-way nature of his game, his experience and his workhorse reputation. Deng twice led the NBA in minutes per game during his Bulls tenure, and the two-time All-Star is regarded as one of the league's premier perimeter defenders.
The prospect of losing LeBron James and replacing him with any player other than Kevin Durant is worthy of a big, fat, red "F." You don't need to memorize advanced metrics like Wins Above Replacement Player or Win Shares to realize that watching James go home to the Cavaliers, for nothing in return, is a major, major hit on the court.
Grading the Deng acquisition through that lens would simply be unfair. It's not his fault that he's following in the footsteps of a legend, and he won't be raising expectations by grabbing a microphone to make a "Not one, not two, not three..." declaration. Similarly, it's not Miami's fault that Cleveland offered James things -- closure, family and a greater purpose -- that money can't buy and that Heat president Pat Riley simply can't sell.
Deng's contract must be judged on its own merits, and it stands up nicely from both a value perspective and timing-wise. The per-year price is right in line with what Chicago had offered previously, and it puts Deng in between Trevor Ariza ($8 million per year) and Kyle Lowry ($12 million per year) among this summer's signings, which is the right neighborhood. Gordon Hayward ($16 million) and Chandler Parsons ($15 million) are two wings that went for considerably more, and Miami can reasonably expect Deng to offer better production per dollar than either of those two players next season.
The timing factor is big too. Miami has committed long-term max money to Chris Bosh and has plans to back up the Brinks truck for Dwyane Wade too. Spending lavishly on two players makes little sense if the rest of the roster isn't capable of putting the Heat in position to compete for a top-four spot in the East. Deng's experience and high-IQ play should help do that, allowing Miami to plug along without missing too many beats.
If there's a bone to pick with this contract it's that Miami conceded a player option for next summer, thereby opening up the possibility that they will have to give Deng a salary bump and/or risk losing him after one season. Even though he's logged huge minutes and had some injury concerns in recent years, a straight two-year contract would have been preferable from the Heat's perspective, as they need more than a one-season small forward stopgap after losing the league's best player.