MIAMI -- For nearly three weeks there has been near silence from Miami Heat management about the free-agent departure of forward LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Until Heat owner Micky Arison, in what the team termed "a message to Heat nation," spoke of the franchise's championship commitment in the wake of the exodus of the franchise's centerpiece.
"We are laser-focused on the present and the task at hand of defending our Eastern Conference championship with the East being described as 'wide open,' while also positioning ourselves for maximum flexibility and maneuverability in the future," Arison said.
Until Monday, the Heat's response largely was limited to a brief statement from Heat President Pat Riley and the team's actions, which included re-signing the remaining members of what had been the team's Big Three, center Chris Bosh and guard Dwyane Wade, in addition to signing forward Luol Deng, retaining Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem, and finalizing contracts with free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, as well as signing draft picks Shabazz Napier and James Ennis.
While Riley has not addressed the team's rapid recovery beyond a series of statements about the players the team has signed, Arison's letter made it clear that Riley remains committed to keeping the Heat in the NBA's championship race, with the franchise advancing to the NBA Finals in each of the past four seasons and winning NBA titles in 2012 and '13.
"Pat Riley is fond of saying that the only thing you can count on in life is change and those that embrace change are best prepared to emerge successfully," Arison said. "So while the names on the back of the jersey may change from time to time, the constant presence of the name 'Miami' or 'Heat' on the front guarantees that our goal remains the same: to put a competitive team on the floor capable of competing for the ultimate prize."
While James won two titles with the Heat, the Cavaliers have had the NBA's worst record in the intervening years.
In the wake of James' return to Cleveland earlier this month, Riley issued a statement that said, "While I am disappointed by LeBron's decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home. The last four years have been an incredible run for South Florida, Heat fans, our organization and for all of the players who were a part of it. LeBron is a fantastic leader, athlete, teammate and person, and we are all sorry to see him go."
With Riley's maneuvering in the wake of James' departure, the Heat are out of cap space and major salary-cap exceptions. They retain the option of making trades, although players signed this summer cannot be dealt until Dec. 15, and the Heat also can bring in additional players at the veteran minimum.
Several of the Heat's returning players took either lesser contracts or shorter deals to help facilitate the post-James makeover, with Arison noting those players -- a group that includes Wade and Haslem -- "have once again shown their commitment to winning by doing what is necessary for the benefit of the team."
Arison's tone was one of fight instead of surrender.
"Our roster is comprised of players capable of versatility and who are out to prove something to the rest of the league," he said.
Arison also mentioned pillars of the franchise's success, such as Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Wade, Bosh and, yes, James, summing up the franchise's three championships and overall playoff success in the Heat's first 26 seasons.
"And while those accomplishments speak for themselves," Arison said, "I'm here to tell you something else: we are not done; not even close."
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