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Sunday, September 29, 2013
What Spoelstra extension means for LeBron

By Michael Wallace

Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James
With a new deal in hand, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra projects long-term stability for LeBron James.
MIAMI -- When Pat Riley laid out his stash of NBA championship rings on a table in front of LeBron James three years ago in Cleveland, it was the climax of a dramatic and, ultimately, successful free-agency pitch that focused on the benefits of longevity and loyalty.

The Miami Heat superbly recruited the NBA's biggest star.

Now, it's all about retaining him.

Facing another decision on his future in a matter of months, the Heat continued a slew of moves Sunday to signal to James that he doesn't need to go anywhere but the shores of South Beach for his career to keep blossoming.

On the surface, Sunday's transaction was all about coach Erik Spoelstra, who agreed to a multiyear contract extension that came with a significant raise and likely a bigger voice in front-office and team personnel matters.

Having guided the Heat to the playoffs in all five of his seasons as coach, including three straight trips to the Finals and the past two titles since James arrived in 2010, Spoelstra certainly deserves every dime and added dose of front-office influence he'll get as part of his new deal.

The purpose here is that Spoelstra, the longest-tenured coach in the Eastern Conference, will never hit free agency at the end of this season. And better yet, by consummating the deal two days before the Heat head to the Bahamas to open training camp, Spoelstra now won't even have to answer questions during Monday's team media day about entering what set up as the last season on his contract.

In other words, good for Spoelstra. He's proved to be one of the brightest, most demanding, more innovative and accountable coaches in the league -- with or without James.

Spoelstra's deal came a day after the Heat announced front-office promotions of longtime staffers Andy Elisburg to general manager and Keith Askins to scouting director along with more prominent and visible roles for former players Tim Hardaway and Juwan Howard.

All of this movement sends two very strong messages to James as he enters the fourth year of a six-year contract with opt-out clauses after each of the next two seasons.

On one hand, James can now look to tremendous stability at the coaching and executive levels. His future, should he choose to stay long-term, will be tied to the same group of people who confidently assembled in that downtown Cleveland office building three years ago and lured him to the riches, rings and long-standing relationships in Miami.

And on the slightly more important other hand, James still sees the flexibility of the Heat's roster after this season -- which stands to offer the same blank slate and extensive salary-cap space, with teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade also holding opt-out clauses in their contracts.

One way or the other, the Heat face a roster reload after this season. Either James, Wade and Bosh agree to stick around and the supporting cast is rebuilt around them. Or, James walks away from everything he said he wanted three years ago and relocates his talents to another NBA locale.

I totally believe James when he says he has absolutely no idea what he'll do after this season. I also believe Bosh, who suggested to reporters last week that this could be the Heat Big Three's final run together if the season finishes short of them winning their third straight championship.

There's enough uncertainty as it is around this team entering the season. That alone made it a wise move for Riley, as team president, and owner Micky Arison to shore up the power structure in the Heat's executive office suite.

Regardless of how he handles the media this season, James is certain to face plenty of questions in every NBA city about his potentially looming free agency.

The Heat, however, have positioned themselves from the top down to provide answers regarding their position.

Arison reduced his role last spring overseeing his Carnival Cruise Lines empire to, in part, focus more on the Heat.

Riley vowed that he wants to stick around to see James and the Heat become the next dynasty of a decade.

And Spoelstra won't have to leave to eventually develop into the coach-executive role his mentor Riley mastered.

This time around, Riley has more rings and even more clearly defined roles to bring to the table for James.

Now a newlywed, James won't need another lecture on loyalty as the Heat set out on the LeBron retention tour.

Sure, Sunday was essentially Spoelstra appreciation day.

But every Heat move -- on and off the court these next nine months -- is designed to go LeBron's way.