UPDATE: Minutes after we posted how the Heat expected Luol Deng to opt out, he surprised everyone (including the Heat) by opting in for the coming season. From Tim Reynolds of Associated Press.
The days of Luol Deng as a lock-down defender, All-Star level small forward are gone. He’s still good — in Miami last season he averaged 14 points per game, shot 35 percent from three, and had a PER very close to the league average of 15.5 — but he’s not the guy from the Bulls years ago. Playing for Tom Thibodeau can age a player in dog years.
He’s set to make $10.1 million next season, and despite the sense around the Heat that like Dwyane Wade he would test the market, Deng decided to opt in and take the cash on the table.
He will now be a free agent in 2016, when the salary cap will spike. How long a deal he can get then at age 31 — and with a lot of miles on the wheels — remains to be seen.
The Heat can also use Deng as a trade chip.
The Heat now have just one big free agent to deal with in Dwyane Wade.
The Heat have drafted Deng’s ultimate replacement in Justise Winslow out of Duke. Having Deng around for a season to mentor Winslow and play key minutes when Eric Spoelstra doesn’t want a rookie— and his potential mistakes — on the court makes sense.