LeBron James will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1 and that is mostly good news … for the Heat.
Come again? Well, understand that by escaping the final two years on his contract, LeBron gives Miami a chance to restructure the roster and add better players. He also can play for an undetermined salary next season, rather than being locked into the $22 million he would’ve earned had he done nothing, and that salary would’ve put Miami in a financial bind.
Oh, he can also sign with any other team with no restrictions. There’s that.
But at this point, that won’t happen unless Heat owner Micky Arison and team president Pat Riley somehow fail to convince LeBron his future is better in Miami.
In other words: LeBron opting out was not only expected, it was advantageous for him, the Heat and any other team — Houston, Cleveland, etc. — with pipe dreams of signing him. Everyone wins. So calm down. This isn’t 2010, LeBron-ageddon II, at least not yet anyway.
If anything, the next move, from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, will be just as important if not more. Their decisions are due by June 30 and that will have implications on LeBron’s future.
Wade and Bosh, you see, don’t have deep pockets like LeBron, who can afford to play for pennies next season because he rakes in piles of cash away from the court. In this sense, LeBron’s endorsement clout works in Miami’s favor. All of those companies are indirectly conspiring to help the Heat pay LeBron, who could command upward of $30 million in basketball salary if he wishes, and keep the payroll reasonable.
But Wade and Bosh are a different story. Wade is 32, his health is an ongoing issue, and this will be his last big contract. If he opts in and takes the $42 million owed to him over two years, it would hurt Miami’s chances of keeping the Big Three together. Same for Bosh, who has never enjoyed a long, lucrative contract. If both players opt out, which is more likely, they’ve essentially agreed to take pay cuts, which works in Miami’s favor. The Heat could give Wade and Bosh more years at less money in order to keep everyone together.
On or before next Tuesday, here’s what’s likely to happen: All three players, plus Riley, Arison and salary capologist Andy Ellsberg will hold a summit and try to work out a plan that includes sacrifices on everyone’s part. Arison will agree to pay more luxury tax penalties, the Big Three will offer to keep their salaries next season to reasonable figures, Ellsberg will crunch the numbers and Riley will reveal his blueprint for enhancing the supporting cast.
If problems arise from that meeting, then we might see LeBron hold discussions with other teams but even that doesn’t mean he’ll leave Miami.
Those who know LeBron say his preference is to stay in Miami, and LeBron has said as much all season when the subject of free agency has come up. Moving his family again, and taking his legacy elsewhere, would be a last resort. Therefore, the ball belongs to Riley and Arison, and it’s their game to win or lose.