HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At least we were spared the made-for-TV announcement special this time.
LeBron James opting out of the final two years of the deal he signed in 2010 with the Miami Heat to explore his free agent options is the decision many of us expected. From all indications, it’s the only reasonable decision he could have made, given the circumstances.
Never mind the craziness his choice will usher in over the course of the next few weeks.
We’re still waiting on the decisions of the other two members of the Heat’s Big 3, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who are expected to follow the lead of James and opt out of their deals before the June 30 deadline and become free agents July 1.
That would place them in a superstar class that also includes Carmelo Anthony, who informed the New York Knicks that he was opting out of the final year of his deal Monday. The fun (and madness) begins with the speculation about what these guys will do in the next phase of their respective careers.
That Heat Big 4 that Pat Riley called a “pipe dream” last week suddenly looks like a possibility, a far-fetched one maybe but still a possibility. By opting out of their deals LeBron, ‘Melo, Wade and Bosh have created an opportunity for Riley to pull off the unthinkable for the second time since 2010, when the Big 3 was put together.
Of course, that’s just one scenario of many that could play out before free agents can sign deals July 10.
But it all starts with LeBron’s latest decision to consider his options. Riley spoke directly at LeBron last week when he was talking about the need for the Heat to “stay the course” and “not run for the first open door” to escape. Well, LeBron fired the ball back at Riley with his decision coming well before that June 30 deadline. Now Riley has to make good on his vow to do whatever it takes to keep his core together and reinvent the rest of the roster around them (and more specifically LeBron).
VIDEO: Pat Riley talks LeBron James
Riley took the news well Tuesday, via this statement from the Heat:
“I was informed this morning of his intentions. We fully expected LeBron to opt-out and exercise his free agent rights, so this does not come as a surprise. As I said at the press conference last week, players have a right to free agency and when they have these opportunities, the right to explore their options. The last four seasons have been historic and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Erik Spoelstra have led the Miami HEAT to one of the most unprecedented runs in the history of the NBA. We look forward to sitting down with LeBron and his representatives and talking about our future together. At the moment, we are preparing for the opportunities in the Draft and Free Agency as we continue with our goal of winning NBA Championships.”
There is hope in New York and Cleveland and Los Angeles — basically everywhere that LeBron has ever expressed passing interest in — that this could be their summer of LeBron.
And yet, the Heat, if Wade and Bosh follow suit, still offer the best chance for championship contention for LeBron in his physical prime (an era that should last for at least five to six more seasons, provided his workload is managed properly going forward and there are no significant injuries).
If the four trips to The Finals in four seasons doesn’t do the trick, perhaps a peek at the rest of the woeful Eastern Conference will serve as Riley’s greatest tool in retaining the best player in the game (no offense to reigning Kia MVP Kevin Durant).
The fact is, LeBron is the key to the championship aspirations of whatever team he decides to play for. For all of their talk about a championship structure, the Heat were a middle of the road team in the Eastern Conference before he showed up. There’s no way around that.
Opting out gives him the chance to see what the Heat can do to remake the roster in a way that finally takes some of that pressure off of his shoulders, giving way to a new dynamic where he’s still in control of things for the Heat but without the burden of being the workhorse he has been the past four seasons.
Opting out before Thursday’s Draft also gives potential suitors, the Heat included, a chance to get their business in order for an all-out pursuit of James and the rest of what will be a stellar free agent class.
The Cavaliers have the No. 1 pick in the 2014 Draft and have to be considering all options, especially those that could lead to LeBron returning to his Northeast Ohio roots, which seemed like just as big a “pipe dream” before The Finals.
But much like the Bulls, Clippers, Lakers, Hawks, Suns and basically any other team that can make a compelling case to LeBron about their readiness to contend for championships for years to come with him at their leader, the Cavaliers lack the one thing the Heat have in surplus. And that’s fresh memories for LeBron to consider.
Even in defeat, against the Spurs this season, the Heat know that they weren’t far off the championship pace. The Big 3 could have decided to opt in, allowing for much less flexibility in retooling the roster, and still mashed their way through the Eastern Conference next season and found themselves back in The Finals for a mind-boggling fifth straight season.
LeBron and his crew, including his agent Rich Paul, are much too shrewd for that, though. They don’t need championship rings dropped on the table, as Riley suggested last week. LeBron has his own now.
If he wants more, he has to make a choice. Does he travel the theoretical path to No. 3, 4 and perhaps 5? Or does he travel the already laid path he helped create in Miami?
It’s crazy season for all of us, but especially you Pat Riley … just like 2010, all over again!