Yesterday, Pat Riley and Luol Deng both took some time away from the parades and fireworks to meet and discuss a potential partnership. While this conversation was said to be “preliminary,” it’s a twist on the Miami Heat’s offseason plans that we can read in two different ways.

Deng is reportedly commanding a salary of around $10 million per year on the open market, and isn’t interested in signing a deal with Miami at a value much lower than that. There’s a lot of interest around the NBA in Deng, who in addition to being a two-time All-Star is considered one of the best locker room guys in the league.

It’s unclear right now what the Heat would even be able to offer Deng in the way of a contract, due to the fact that they are still waiting to re-sign their core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Of those three, the only certainty to return, it seems, is Wade. James wants a max contract, and assuming he gets it from Miami (which he probably will), both Wade and Bosh will need to accept contracts at a reduced value if they want to also bring in a player of Deng’s caliber.

While this shouldn’t be an issue for Wade, a report from CBS Sports’ Ken Berger indicates that Bosh may not be so willing to sacrifice. Berger says that “A rival team executive told Friday that the growing belief around the league is that Bosh would prefer a four-year max deal with another team to a discounted, longer-term deal with Miami,” throwing a significant curve in Riley’s plans. Teams like Houston or Dallas, when they lose out on Carmelo Anthony, will likely next turn their attention to Bosh, and they will have the financial ability to offer him the kind of deal he wants.

Riley is a smart guy. He knows just as well as we do that Bosh may be leaving. So, is it possible that this meeting with Deng wasn’t about joining the Big Three so much as it was forming a new Big Three? While it would obviously be great if the Heat could include Deng with James, Wade, and Bosh, it doesn’t seem realistic that they’d be able to pay all those guys and have any sort of team built around them.

Deng would be an interesting replacement for Bosh. He’s two inches shorter (6’ 9” vs. 6’ 11”) and is not as accomplished on the glass (5.7 RPG last year vs. 7.4), but his length makes him an outstanding perimeter defender against the likes of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. He’d be able to ease the burden on LeBron, who has had to take on an increasingly large defensive burden in recent years.

The Heat will have a lot of competition in trying to sign Deng, and how seriously they pursue him will be a strong indication of how the view the future of their original Big Three.

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