Five Key Days That Changed the Miami Heat's Course After LeBron Left

Well, that didn't take long. Less than two years after LeBron James left the Miami Heat, here the team is, not only back in the NBA playoffs but also back in a position to fight for another trip to the NBA finals. The Heat's retooling and transformation since the Big Three era has included an overhaul of the roster. With a little luck and a lot of determination, the Heat has not only gotten over the departure of LeBron but also is in a position to make him pay for it. 

Here are five important dates in the past two years that have led the Heat on the path to this sudden basketball revival in Miami.

1. November 24, 2014: The Miami Heat waives Shannon Brown.

Shannon Brown will forever be a part of Miami Heat history, just probably not the kind of history he wishes he was a part of. A seemingly insignificant bit of tinkering with the Heat roster in November 2014 may end up being one of the most important days in franchise history. On this date, the Heat waived Shannon Brown and claimed Hassan Whiteside from the Iowa Energy in the NBA Development League. 

The following night, a Heat team starting Shawne Williams, Norris Cole, and Mario Chalmers got blown out by the Golden State Warriors. Steph Curry scored 40. Whiteside registered a DNP-DC (did not play — coach's decision) in that game and stayed on the bench in many following games. In retrospect, that may have not been the greatest coaching decision coach Erik Spoelstra has ever made. 

As for the rest, well, you know what Whiteside is up to these days.

2. March 19, 2015: Miami Heat secures the tenth pick in the NBA draft. 

Much of last season was hard to watch, but Heat fans stuck it out to the end. In the last week of the season, there was much debate about one subject: Would you rather the Heat be a sacrificial lamb in the first round of the playoffs, or keep its first-round lottery pick that would otherwise go to the Philadelphia 76ers? Well, we know how that turned out. 

The Heat went 5-9 over its last 14 games last season and missed the playoffs. The ping-pong balls then fell the team's way, and it got to keep its draft pick. We all knew that was good news, but we had no idea just how good.

Duke guard Justise Winslow, a player Heat execs basically ignored during the draft process because they thought he would be long gone by the time they drafted, fell to the tenth pick. The Heat suddenly had a 19-year-old NBA-ready player to show for a disappointing season. All Winslow has done in his first year is play in 78 games, score more than 500 points, and play lock-down defense throughout his rookie campaign.

3. June 29, 2015: Luol Deng surprises everyone by opting in.

As the Heat scraped together cash last offseason, most thought the team wouldn't be totally pissed if Luol Deng decided not to cash in on his $10.1 million player option to remain with Miami. But he did, and, boy, is the team glad he made that choice.

Although he shot a high percentage from the field, Deng was not good for the Heat last season. His 14 points and 5.2 rebounds were his lowest numbers since his rookie year in Chicago. But Deng has been reborn this year, including pouring in 31 points in the Heat's opening-round win over the Hornets this past Sunday. 

Let's Get It! #HeatNation

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4. July 9, 2015: Dwyane Wade re-signs with the Miami Heat. 

None of the team's other retooling matters without this day in Miami Heat history. After a little back-and-forth, the Heat and Wade finally agreed on a mutually beneficial one-year, $20 million deal that would keep the franchise's greatest player in Miami.

The signing wasn't just a sign to fans that the Heat wasn't rebuilding from scratch; it was a sign to players around the league that Miami would continue to take care of its own and fight for an NBA championship on a yearly basis, just as it had done before LeBron came to town. The signing was a domino effect that led to the eventual signing of veteran players such as Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.

None of what the Heat is doing today (or has ever done, for that matter) would be possible without No. 3 on the roster. 

5. February 29, 2016: Beno Udrih makes his biggest assist in a Heat uniform. 

The Heat's key signing of Joe Johnson will be what everyone remembers about the end of this season, but what most will forget is how Beno Udrih helped make it all possible. Once Udrih had surgery on his broken foot, his season was over. Udrih would still be paid, and everyone would talk again this offseason to see if the two wanted to give it another go in 2017. End of story. Except it wasn't.

Udrih agreed to take a buyout that in the end cost him $90,000 and kept the Heat from exceeding the NBA's luxury-tax threshold, thus helping the team stay as flexible as possible moving forward while also allowing Miami to get better in the now.

Since that move, the Heat has been able to add veteran Dorell Wright and D-League guard Briante Weber. If Wright even has one big basket in the playoffs or Weber turns out to be anything close to what the team envisioned he could be when it recently signed him to a Heat-friendly three-year deal, you will have Beno Udrih to thank.

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