LeBron James “can’t imagine” leaving Miami

LeBron James reads the stats sheet after the all-star game. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

LeBron James studies the stats sheet after the all-star game. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

The NBA playoffs haven’t even begun — let alone ended — yet, but already the story that will dominate offseason headlines is already bubbling up: Just where will LeBron James play next year?

At the moment, he says he cannot imagine taking his talents away from South Beach and the Miami Heat, but that doesn’t mean that James won’t consider his options when the season ends and he can exercise an option in his contract, becoming a free agent.

Although “at this point I can’t” envision a move, James said in an NBA-TV interview: “We don’t know what can happen from now to July, so what I’ve been able to do this whole season to this point is just worry about what’s at hand and that’s winning another championship. And hopefully at the end of this year I can put myself in a position where I can hold that Larry O’Brien Trophy up once again and then I will assess what I have to do with my future after that.”

James has said before that he won’t repeat “The Decision,” the TV special in which he announced that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami in the summer of 2010.  “I don’t play for what people expect for me to do anymore,” James said. “I want to be the greatest of all time and that’s just my mindset.”

He’s gotten a fair amount of grief over how he expressed that desire, naming his Mount Rushmore of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as his “easy three,” with Oscar Robertson his fourth. He didn’t specify who he’d bump from that list, which brought a rise out of a number of people who thought Bill Russell belonged on the Hoops Rushmore. Among those people was Russell, who told TNT’s Craig Sager: “Hey, thank you for leaving me off your Mount Rushmore. I’m glad you did. Basketball is a team game. It’s not for individual honors. I won back-to-back state championships in high school, back-to-back NCAA championships in college, I won an NBA championship my first year in the league, an NBA championship my last year, and nine in between. And that, Mr. James, is etched in stone.”

James was asked about that after practice Monday.

“Well, obviously there’s the utmost respect for Bill Russell and what he’s been able to do, and not only on the floor, but off the floor, too, being a pioneer, being one of the leaders that helped us get to this point,” James said (via SunSentinel.com). “He paved the way for myself and the guys that came after him.

“For me to comment on his comments, it doesn’t really matter to me. He has his own opinions. He’s his own man and I’m my own man, too.”

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