No one is quite sure at this point what the Heat will do now that LeBron James has decided to leave Miami and return to Cleveland. Any time a superstar like James leaves an organization, there is destruction left in his wake. The organization has to re-assess its position and how best to rebuild and become a championship contender — especially when it has been to the Finals the last four years.
The Heat are in that difficult position. They are likely to lose a second star in Chris Bosh and, now, Dwyane Wade’s future seems in doubt. How does a franchise move forward?
More immediately, how does a team change its philosophy and become so different with that prospect? A coaching style and philosophy along with draft picks and personnel were built up around these players. It is almost completely gone overnight.
In the few hours since the event happened, the Heat have not had the chance to completely digest this question.
The Heat, including assistant coach David Fizdale, were in Orlando for the week-long Summer League. That roster included first-round pick Shabazz Napier — a player James specifically said he wanted the team to draft.
They had to prepare for a game this afternoon as the news broke. Heat Summer League coach Dan Craig admitted it was hard to avoid the news. It was all over any TV you could find, even in the bowels of the Amway Center. The Heat tried their best to be focused on their game against the Thunder. Miami ended up losing that game 103-98 as Napier struggled and missed a couple of late baskets that would have tied the game.
“Obviously we love LeBron, wish him the best and thank him for everything,” Craig said. “But, right now, we’re flying out to Vegas and moving on with these young guys. It’s about these guys getting better and being more NBA-ready by the end of the week.”
I am shocked & disappointed in today's news. However I will never forget what Lebron brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories @KingJames
— Micky Arison (@MickyArison) July 11, 2014
No one would blame anybody for being distracted by the news. There really was no time to digest. Napier reportedly did not find out until it was mentioned to him while walking back to the locker room from the Magic’s practice floor where the game was being played. All Heat players left the arena without talking to the media.
Craig said he had not spoken to Erik Spoelstra or Pat Riley at this point.
“To be honest with you, I’m not sure [how the Heat's philosophy changes],” Craig said. “I haven’t spoken to anybody. We’ve just been very focused on the Summer League and moving forward with that.”
The young players are trying to learn the Heat culture and get ready to play the NBA game. That would remain their focus this day and as the team prepares to play in Las Vegas this week.
What that culture and philosophy is though remains a major question mark. Most of that will depend on personnel. Who that personnel will be is a huge question too.
The Heat currently have just Norris Cole under contract at $2 million. The rest of the cap space Miami has is held up by cap holds which would only be released by a player signing elsewhere (like James just did) or by renouncing the players’ free agency rights. That leaves several possibilities of where the Heat might go. The first decision they have to make is with Bosh and Wade and their futures.
For now, Miami is on another bus to another airport to play more Summer League games. The fallout from James’ departure is just beginning with the initial shock Friday.