HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Loving the Miami Heat’s dominance or loathing it?
Revel or wallow while you can because the LeBron James–Dwyane Wade–Chris Bosh Heat are a short-term dynasty, a manufactured championship club stamped with an expiration date: June 30, 2014.
As the Heat seek a 24th consecutive victory in their chase to 33 tonight at Cleveland (7 ET, League Pass), the team’s life span, as projected through the lens of contract kill clauses and a screw-tightening collective bargaining agreement, is approaching 15 months and ticking.
Consummated under the old CBA rules in the summer of 2010 by the free-agent signings of James and Bosh and the re-signing of Wade, the Heat have a chance to secure not three, not four, not five … but just two more titles, this season and next, before the franchise is left without its core to (potentially) go for four.
Following the 2013-14 season, James, Bosh and Wade each have an early termination clause that, if exercised, will nullify their respective contracts one season short of completion. Despite all three set to collect in excess of $20 million for the 2014-15 season, it is already being speculated — if not already accepted — that James, if not all three, will terminate and become free agents on July 1, 2014.
James and Bosh, both of whom make $17.5 million this season — less than Joe Johnson, Pau Gasol and Amar’e Stoudemire — agreed to sign with Miami for less money to join Wade, who also took less ($17.2 million this season). That made the union possible and gave president Pat Riley the flexibility to put pieces around them.
Each could have garnered the maximum amount from another team with cap space. Recall the Knicks, like the Heat, dumping salaries solely to carve room to woo James? Now, on his way to a fourth MVP trophy in five seasons, James is nearly certain to cash in his maximum value by taking his talents elsewhere as the league’s teams adjust to the new CBA.
Even if exceptional Heat owner Mickey Arison dreamed of keeping all three together beyond the 2013-14 season, the new CBA makes it painfully, and impossibly, expensive. James, Bosh and Wade, who will turn 33 during the 2014-15 season, would eat up more than $60 million of the roster, already putting the Heat at or close to the salary cap, and about $10 to $13 million short of the luxury tax.
With luxury tax fines that are no longer dollar-for-dollar, but rather increase with each $5 million over the luxury tax line, crippling limitations on trades and devaluing the important mid-level exception for teams over the luxury tax “apron” — $4 million over the tax line — and the looming hammer of the “repeater” tax for chronic high rollers (a tax that a team with more than two high-dollar, long-term contracts can’t dodge), the three-star roster model is being downgraded to a more economical two-star configuration by the CBA the owners and players agreed to over Thanksgiving 2011.
As Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen wrote in December, if the Heat kept the Big Three, plus the four other players under contract for the 2014-15 season, then filled out the roster with minimum-salary players, the Heat could be looking at a summer 2015 tax bill, including the “repeater” tax, of $48 million for a total one-season roster cost of $141.3 million.
So, where will James play next? That speculation has already begun. Maybe he’ll usher out the Kobe Bryant era and begin a new Lakers reign with Dwight Howard. Or maybe he’ll return to Cleveland to re-conquer his home territory and pair with rising All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving.
Wherever he lands, the writing is on the wall for this unbeatable Miami Heat team.
Love them or hate them, enjoy them or loathe them while they’re still intact. Because after next season, the Heat’s Big Three will almost undoubtedly go their separate ways.