Crystal ball: LeBron, Heat's future?
If LeBron James wants to, he can leave the Heat this summer. One possible destination would be the Clippers. Our 5-on-5 team weighs in on this and more topics related to LeBron's future.
1. Describe the Heat's situation going into summer 2014.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Mostly sunny, with a chance of thunderstorms. The Heat still offer LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh the most stable situation in a most desirable market. But talent can get restless, and you never quite know when wanderlust will hit one of your superstars.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: With at least the possibility that the Big 3 could all opt out and bolt, the Heat might be staring at an unexpected reset of their franchise. However, there's a reasonable expectation that that won't happen, based on their recent success. If anything, Wade might actually not opt out, as it's hard to see him garnering the type of free agency attention he did four years ago.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: The situation is precarious for Miami. With the Big 3's decisions so interdependent, multiple factors could cause LeBron to leave. The Wade issue is especially tricky, as he's LeBron's good friend, but his skills are also on the decline.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: They have the best asset in sports; anything is possible. LeBron either returns as the centerpiece of a multiple title-winner, the star of a retooled contender or the means with which they can begin a full-on rebuild. LeBron's possible free agency can be paralyzing ... or it can be the ultimate opportunity. Big, swinging Pat Riley doesn't strike me as the type to allow that first scenario.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Wide open. There's flexibility across the board for the Heat after this season, with much of the roster in position to opt out of contracts. This was all part of the Pat Riley plan from the outset. After four seasons, it's naturally time to reassess every aspect of the roster, from LeBron James to those on the inactive list each night. This is why no one on the team is taking these moments for granted, because this team won't be back as-is next season.
2. What do you expect LeBron's approach to be this summer?
Arnovitz: Like the guy who resides in a majestic house and has built himself a grand life. He's probably going to stay where he is -- why wouldn't he? -- but that doesn't mean he won't take a peek at other sexy properties when they come on the market.
Elhassan: A lot less exhaustive a process than he went through in 2010. There is a clear favorite here: status quo, and it is hard to see many other teams that can deliver a pitch that is more compelling than staying in South Beach. His most important meeting will be with Pat Riley, where the plans for Miami's future are detailed.
Strauss: I expect LeBron to figure this all out in the summer. Perhaps I'm a sucker, but I believe LeBron when he said that he waited until the final possible moment last time he had a free-agency choice. I can't possibly know what he's choosing because I'd bet he doesn't even know right now.
Verrier: Torn between devotion and desire. James' Miami move was driven by championships, sure, but would he have landed on Biscayne Bay if his dear friend wasn't already a resident? Peak years don't last long, though, and with his 20s soon behind him, LeBron will have to choose between his love for D-Wade and what D-Wade's aching body can do for his career.
Wallace: Far less complicated than many of us make it out to be. LeBron is under contract with the Miami Heat for two additional seasons, with nearly $45 million on the table. If his reasons for coming to Miami are the same as they were when he left Cleveland, then there's really no reason for him to walk away from the empire he's established in South Beach. After maximizing his talent and winning titles in Miami, it would be disturbing if he feels the need to be recruited by others.
3. Do you think Miami would cooperate in a LeBron-for-Blake Griffin deal?
Arnovitz: If there's a gun to their head, sure, because what recourse would the Heat have in that scenario? James has the power to dictate the terms because it's his talent that's the commodity. That's the way labor markets usually work, and that's a good thing.
Elhassan: If it came down to LeBron leaving for sure, absolutely. Blake Griffin has shown tremendous growth since he came into the league, and his contract would actually represent a savings from LeBron's deal. If you're going to lose your franchise player, getting a young stud in return is a fitting consolation prize.
Strauss: Only if they absolutely knew LeBron wasn't returning. Much as I enjoy Griffin's game, he's not the ideal building block LeBron is. A power forward with Blake's lack of length needs ideal surrounding conditions to win a championship.
Verrier: If necessary, sure. The Cavs eventually sign-and-traded LeBron to Miami. The Suns sign-and-traded Steve Nash to L.A. Once the sting wears off, rationality often prevails. The Heat don't have to like it, but if the Clippers are his choice, getting a 24-year-old franchise player is a comically large consolatory lolly.
Wallace: Depends on what Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade do. If Bosh and Wade remain on the books -- either under their current contracts or after opting out and re-signing -- there might not be enough available money under the cap to look elsewhere and fill the void for that third superstar player. So if you're Miami, you can't necessarily afford to lose LeBron for nothing in return. But a LeBron departure is more likely to usher in a major overhaul from the front office through the end of the bench.
4. What's the outlook for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?
Arnovitz: Wade and Bosh are in different situations. Given his condition, Wade is likely to be slightly overpaid on his next deal, whereas Bosh is at a moment in his career when his game is expanding. The Heat will be under great pressure to re-sign Wade to a max deal (though we'll likely hear calls for a "Kobe paycut"), but can take a good look around the league to see if there's somewhere he'd like to play as Option No. 1 again.
Elhassan: As I said in my answer to Question 1, odds are Wade does not opt out. He's due $41.8 million after this season, and has dealt with a rash of injuries the last few seasons that basically undermine his ability to be a reliable asset at a premium price point. Bosh, on the other hand, has some flexibility with his decision, but ultimately his decision will depend on what happens with LeBron and what Miami's contingency plans are.
Strauss: Bosh has more leverage than Wade because he's younger and his game should age better. Unlike Wade, Bosh could command a salary in line with what he's making this season from another team, should he opt out. I expect Bosh to stay, but I don't expect him to give the Heat a significant paycut. I expect Wade to opt in to the final year for his contract and to command a smaller salary from Miami after that.
Verrier: For Wade, cloudy with a chance of DNPs. If he can't go in back-to-backs at 32, what will he have in him two years from now? Three? To keep this core together, it may be up to Wade to take the big discount. For Bosh, it's a decision of who he wants to be. He's been a rich franchise player and slightly less rich supporting player. Which does he want now?
Wallace: Wade has no reason to do anything other than to keep playing on a contract that guarantees him another two seasons and $42 million. Considering his history of knee issues and his age (32), the Heat shouldn't feel obligated to extend Wade a new five-year deal for max money. Wade has earned his current deal, and he should play it out. Bosh is the real X-factor. At 29 and in his prime, there's no reason he shouldn't opt out and cash in on one last full max deal -- in Miami or elsewhere.
5. Where do you expect LeBron to play next season?
Arnovitz: 601 Biscayne Boulevard. There's a veritable calm around James and the Heat in general, and one gets the sense that he appreciates the serenity. This isn't to say LeBron won't enjoy some brief speculation about his future whereabouts after the season -- and if Pat Riley were to retire to Malibu, that could complicate things a bit -- but Miami seems like a snug fit.
Elhassan: To paraphrase Lorraine Baines McFly Tannen in "Back to the Future Part II," the same place he's been for the last four years: Oak Park Cemetery ... I mean 601 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami.
Verrier: Miami. Turning to precedence may be foolish given James' career path, but no star has left for another team after a three-peat, at least not one in the NBA. All the shot-selection stuff, all the efficiency talk show the Heat's infrastructure pushes him in all the right ways. Could he turn all that down? This isn't Cleveland. There's more to sacrifice here than emotional investment.
Strauss: Miami. There just aren't many other great options out there. Also, the Heat have the appearances of a competently run organization. Since LeBron played for Dan Gilbert, he likely knows and values the difference between a well-run franchise and a poorly run one.
Wallace: Miami. If the Heat win a third straight title this season, my hunch is that all three come back one way or another. But I can't see LeBron giving up all of his leverage by locking himself into a new five-year deal. By opting in for next season, LeBron continues to put the pressure on Pat Riley to assemble a championship-level supporting cast around him. The longer LeBron has the potential option to bolt, the more power he has to control his surroundings and his team's direction.