24 June 2014

Will LeBron James actually leave the Heat?

(AP)
The big news of the day, as broken by Chris Broussard, is that LeBron James will opt out of his contract and become a free agent this offseason. Of course we all remember what happened the last time James was a free agent but beyond random Jim Gray sightings, I think this free agency bout will go a little different than it did in. In fact, I think it will likely end with James landing in the same place that he is right now.

Is there reason for James to leave South Beach? You could make a solid case in the affirmative after how the supporting case has declined to the point where his supporting cast in the 2014 Finals was worse than his supporting cast when the Cavaliers were swept in the 2007 Finals (to the same team, nonetheless). James was just about doing one-on-five in the Finals against a superior San Antonio team that was playing some tremendous basketball, hence the blowouts. People can blame James all they want but as the saying goes, trolls will troll.

And there is no dispute that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are not the same players now that they were when they all got on that stage in July 2010. Wade simply cannot hold up physically over the course of an NBA season these days. Bosh has become increasingly reliant on his jump shot to where he can be compared to Sam Perkins.

All three of the 'Big Three' can opt out of their contracts as James has and I think that James was the first one to make his intentions clear was important. The supporting cast has to be improved if the Heat want to win another title and the way they have to do it to bring in is by all of them opting out of their contracts and taking less money to give the organization the ability to upgrade the supporting cast. Norris Cole is the sole player with a guaranteed contract as of July 1st when free agency kicks off while Chris Anderson and Udonis Haslem have player opt-out options, meaning the Miami cap situation is very fluid. But if Bosh and Wade choose to opt-in, the team loses that fluidity.

I believe that for Wade and Bosh, the best possible situation is in Miami. I believe both will get the most money and will have the best chance to win a title by staying put. I have little doubt that Wade will come back to the team and while I think Bosh has some desires to be more than just the whipping boy, as much of the criticism of him has been totally unfair, the best situation may be for him to stay put with the Heat.

So then back to James, what does he want? Ideally, he would love to join Chris Paul and Doc Rivers (and now Steve Ballmer) with the Clippers, but there is simply too many moving parts for such a deal to work. But above all else, and the clowns that hate on him simply ignore this, the guy wants to win and win titles. Yes, the Decision was a big mistake and guaranteeing the seven titles was also stupid, nobody will deny it, but people still hold it against him when ultimately he went to the best situation for him to win titles with. He was never going to win a title with what was surrounding him in Cleveland and Miami was the top situation for him, you cannot deny that.

Pat Riley's press conference last week was, in my opinion, aimed specifically at lighting a fire under James. It really reminded me of the classic scene in The Godfather with Don Corleone and Johnny Fontane. Riley saw a disillusioned star amid a disappointing performance in the Finals and needed to find a way to motivate him to come back stronger than ever. And in the wake of the presser, I would be truly surprised if James left and was able to get Bosh and Wade to opt out and take less money.

And where would James go if he did leave? Cleveland could bring him in as well as a Carmelo Anthony but after Dan Gilbert made such an ass out of himself when James left for Miami, I don't think James has forgotten that. And Cleveland would have a better case should they trade the top pick for Anthony, as has been speculated, or Kevin Love, but the Gilbert nonsense and his meddlesome nature is a big hurdle. The great Zach Lowe broke down other potential options here with likely the best option, should James be willing to settle for the full midlevel exception, is Chicago but that would be go with a big Miami rival as is and would needle Cleveland a little more.

Now, I did get LeBron's moves wrong four years ago (I thought he was staying in Cleveland). But ultimately, I think the Big Three will be back in Miami come the fall and with a strengthened supporting cast due to the flexibility provided by all three opting out and returning for less money. All in all, even with the structural issues with their current club, the best fit for all three is with their talents sticking in South Beach.

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