LAS VEGAS — For hours, the Miami Heat heard nothing.
It was the afternoon of July 11, the day that LeBron James announced to the world that he was leaving the Heat and returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. When the top half-dozen or so Heat executives got the disappointing word, they huddled in team president Pat Riley's office for about five minutes, then went into what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called "Jerry Maguire" mode.
Desperate to build a team, the Heat called every free agent on their lists.
And for three frustrating, uneasy, panicked hours, no one was calling back.
"A lot of uneasiness," Spoelstra said, recalling the mood and the scene. "We had no idea."
Then, finally, the phone rang. Chris Bosh dialed in from Ghana, saying he wanted to stay. From there, what happened inside the offices at 601 Biscayne Boulevard in Miami over the next few days might best be described as a roster-salvaging project — and one that could have gone much, much worse from the Heat perspective.
Bosh stayed. Dwyane Wade stayed. Luol Deng was lured to Miami, as were Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, both of whom agreed to deals before James made his announcement about leaving the Heat. Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers stayed, and Chris Andersen turned down overtures from other clubs — Cleveland included — before agreeing to re-sign as well.
When the dust eventually settled, Miami got two of its top three free-agent targets from other teams, those being Deng and McRoberts. James was gone, and Carmelo Anthony never got a chance to even contemplate a real offer from the Heat, a story that might have been different if the four-time NBA MVP had not waited so long to tell Miami that he was leaving.
So now, it can safely be said that Miami won't be terrible next year when it deals with Life After LeBron.
And in an Eastern Conference that looks wide-open, it could even be argued that the Heat have as good a chance as just about anyone else.
"We're still good," Bosh said. "There's a lot of teams really tooling up because it's kind of wide-open now. Nobody knows who's going to take it, pretty much. I think anybody can."
The Heat were stunned by the call from James' camp, one that came just moments before the first-person account he gave to Sports Illustrated detailing his reasons for going back to Cleveland was published. Riley and Heat general manager Andy Elisburg had been in Las Vegas to meet with James days earlier, returning home thinking that the meeting went well.
It seems now like there was nothing they could have said to change the outcome. Some of James' closest friends and advisers wanted him back in Cleveland, and James was thinking about going back to Northeast Ohio for years. It never showed in his play — he pushed his body to a cramp-crippled limit in Game One of this past season's NBA Finals against San Antonio — and what would have happened if Miami won that series remains anyone's guess.
He's gone now.
But Miami isn't starting over. Far from it, actually. Cleveland lost 36 of 37 games in one stretch that first season after James left. It's impossible to envision disaster like that occurring with the Heat this season.
"We don't have any regrets," Spoelstra said. "He shouldn't have any regrets. It was a historic four-year run. ... This league does teach you that it's inevitable to avoid constant change and you always have to continue to embrace change. This is a big, monumental change that we didn't necessarily anticipate, but you have to respect it. When you're a free agent in this league, you have the right to make a decision that's best for you and your family."
Family. That's a big word within the Heat culture, so much so that it's on one of the three championship rings the franchise has won since 2006.
And plenty of people within the franchise are likely Heat employees for life. Elisburg has been there since the beginning in 1988. Riley has been there since 1995. Spoelstra is wrapping up his second decade with the team, starting in the video room before eventually ascending to the head coach chair. Ron Culp, a trainer who retired in 2008, still can't bring himself to leave, and the team is thrilled about that.
James, many within the organization always thought, was going to leave sometime before the end of his career.
Few, if any, saw it coming so soon. But when that phone call with the bad news came, after five minutes, Miami was already moving on — and a new challenge will clearly await this fall.
"You have to have the right individuals to be able to embrace change, to take on new challenges, to be fierce about coming together collectively and seeing great opportunity and not feeling sorry for yourselves," Spoelstra said. "And that's what we feel this organization is built on, staffers that have those qualities and players that have that as well."