Slow your roll, ‘Bron-despising America. Keep your No. 6 Heat whites away from the fire, Miami.
This isn’t a reprise of “The Decision” or “LeBron-a-thon 2.0.” LeBron James opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat with two years left was an expected move that in no way means he is taking his talents from South Beach.
Now, if the world’s most polished, if polarizing, basketball player wanted to bolt the Heat — after a four-year run that included two NBA championships and becoming the league’s “It” team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — this would officially allow LeBron to take the next step toward phoning a moving company. Or at least having business manager Maverick Carter have his personal assistant phone a moving company.
But there are no indications any such decision has been made, and the fact is Heat owner Micky Arison and team president/kingmaker Pat Riley were probably more glad than sad when LeBron’s agent relayed the message to the team that LeBron would be surrendering the final two years and about $42.7 million on the contract he signed after leaving a scorned Cleveland at the altar in 2010.
It means LeBron can look around, yes, but it also gives the Heat instant flexibility with Thursday’s NBA draft and looming free agency. It means Carmelo Anthony, who opted out from the Knicks, and LeBron can be talked about as if they are on eHarmony, speed-dating prospective teams who want them to make a serious commitment.
What LeBron really did Tuesday was launch a signal flare into the NBA stratosphere for teams willing to mortgage their picks, players, present and future to acquire him. How many will be attracted to the pink-red light in the sky like a trout toward a gleaming lure? Maybe four or five, if that.
Just five other teams could currently fit a max contract for LeBron under the salary cap, which really doesn’t matter because none of them is a serious suitor.
I have maintained there is no plausible way Anthony winds up in Miami. Unless you believe James, Bosh and Wade would all opt out of their deals (a likely possibility) and all take about $6 million less annually over the life of their deals to accommodate Anthony, who, oh yes, would be taking about a $9 million annual pay cut after leaving the Knicks.
That’s just the money.
In basketball circles, it makes even less sense. Adding a great scorer with the knowledge the rest of the roster would be minimum-contract role players of little value would lead to more public animosity toward the Scheme Team, which has just begun to live down its collective decision to unite in Miami four years ago.
Along those lines, here’s what else the future won’t hold for LeBron:
● Beyond Cleveland or New York, he is not going anywhere really cold. His kids love Miami and would hate their father if he uprooted them from 75-degree winters. Honest.
● Cleveland would be a sentimental pick, making good on the home front after his messy departure in 2010. But Miami’s roster as presently constructed gives him a much better chance to contend and win now.
● New York and Brooklyn have neither the money nor cap room until at least 2015. While it’s one of the two cities where he could become an even larger star, the Knicks and Nets don’t make sense this offseason.
● Chicago seems plausible, until you really weigh the notion you’d always be compared to Michael Jordan.
● Houston would have to gut itself for LeBron, and if you’re him do you really want to gamble that Dwight Howard and James Harden are title-ready right now?
● The Lakers? Not as long as Kobe can crawl, because he will still want the ball.
● The Clippers are still, in my estimation, the one legitimate place LeBron could wind up this offseason if not Miami. He admires and respects Doc Rivers, would make beautiful music in the open court with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, and the only real challenge would be finding reinforcements after having to move DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and performing a host of changes in order to accommodate everyone financially.
But I still don’t see the Clippers eclipsing the Heat this offseason to pull off the free-agent stunner of the century.
So, good news for Miami: ’Bron, I believe, will take his time to see what the Heat do before eventually agreeing to a lesser deal, ensuring he frees up money for more help but also giving himself flexibility in case Riley and Coach Erik Spoelstra, who will be on the hot seat immediately, can’t deliver.
Bad news for the rest of the league: You are probably not getting a shot at LeBron until next year at the earliest, and even then the only places he will really consider are genuine title contenders in the largest of markets.
Worst news for the rest of the league: Riley will now go after every do-everything free agent available. He knows he needs to keep LeBron.
If I’m a team like, say, the Wizards, I’m starting to think Trevor Ariza might be harder to re-sign than anticipated.
The only chance LeBron leaves is if he thinks the Heat and Riley are done as championship material. Otherwise, as much as LeBron loves the country discussing the possibility of him tilting the axis of power in the NBA, he is savvy enough to know now that if he did leave Miami in the lurch, he would be viewed, long-term, as a carpet-bagging superstar with neither roots nor real commitment to anything but enlarging his own brand — the ancillary being a championship in another city.
That summer may come. But unless the Clippers come so strong it’s impossible to balk, he is going back to the Heat.