James Jones reflects on leaving Heat, Ray Allen, Erik Spoelstra

MIAMI— A month after joining LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, forward James Jones said Wednesday it wasn't a matter of turning his back on his own hometown team or jumping from a sinking ship.

Jones instead told the Sun Sentinel that in the wake of James' free-agency move to the Cavaliers, and with the Heat talking of going with a younger roster, it simply was time to move on after six seasons in South Florida.

"We talked. There were discussions," he said of his end game with the Heat. "But at the end of the day, a lot is predicated on the direction of the team, personnel and style of play. With LeBron leaving, that was a big factor. There was interest on both sides, but at the end of the day, wanting to assess what was best going forward for me, it seemed like the better fit. It was really about fit."

Jones said he doesn't expect an "exhale" from the Heat in the wake of James' decision to play closer to his Akron, Ohio, roots. Instead, the former University of Miami star and South Florida native said he has been impressed with an overhaul that has included the additions of Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and other veteran free agents.

"They have D-Wade, they have U.D.," he said of Heat co-captains Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem. "They have two champions. They have some great talent that they've added. They don't need to exhale. They're just going to continue to contend.

"That's what they've built. I think the game changes and you have to adjust, but when you have guys of that competitive nature, the guys that are there, exhaling is not what they want. What they want to do is they want to take a deep breath and go back at it."

Shortly after the season, Jones, Heat free-agent guard Ray Allen and their families went on a Caribbean vacation with James' family. But Jones said it was a phone call from Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin, who he knew from their time together with the Phoenix Suns, that initiated the discussions with Cleveland.

Jones said he has stayed in contact with Allen, who also has been linked to the Cavaliers.

"I don't recruit guys," Jones said. "That's one thing I refuse to do. It's a decision he has to live with, and I can't promise him a situation would turn out right or would be the best situation. I talk to Ray, but it's about family, about life, just to see how he is doing."

Should Allen join the Cavaliers, it could leave Jones in the same position as two years ago, caught behind both Allen and swingman Mike Miller, who joined the Cavaliers the same day as Jones. In addition, the Cavaliers in recent weeks have added Kevin Love and Shawn Marion, who also possess 3-point range.

"I never worried about my competition," Jones said. "If that was the case, I would have left Miami a long time ago."

Jones stressed, as James did in his departure letter, that the decision to move on had nothing to do with ill will with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

"I had an opportunity to grow a lot and learn a lot in Miami," he said. "It was tough not playing, but that's Coach's job. And, honestly, I respect the job he has to do. So it's never great for either side.

"No player ever gets exactly what they want and no coach gets exactly what he wants. But, at the end of the day, we won two out of four championships. It's always tough not to play, but I respect it and I can understand it. So me and Erik will always be good. I'll never let that professional difference damage a personal relationship, because it's not what it's about."

In recent years, Jones spoke of a goal of retiring in Miami with the Heat, having moved to Southwest Ranches. Instead, he will return to AmericanAirlines Arena on Christmas Day in visiting colors.

"It wasn't an easy decision," he said. "I mean, it was the toughest professional decision I've had to make. But sometimes you just have to move to grow. Sometimes you just have to get out of your comfort zone.

"And the opportunity with the style of play, and the opportunity and the chance to possibly play was a big factor in my decision. And I'll always be thankful for the opportunity to play in Miami and to compete on the highest level."

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