You’ve got to give it to LeBron James. The man is a shrewd businessman and probably is a very good poker player.
When the feeling hits him, James can probably pick up his phone and get some expert financial advice from billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, with whom he once had dinner. That’s high-rolling of the highest order.
So when Tuesday rolled around and James informed the Miami Heat that he was going to exercise his early termination option and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, you can bet it was a moment well thought out.
It was James’ way of extending an olive branch and letting the Heat know that he’s willing to take less money on his next contract but only if Miami is able to use that money to sign some quality players to help take some of the, uh, heat off James. Tuesday’s move by James also allows him to test the free-agent waters just in case he decides to make another jaw-dropping decision and take his talents to another NBA playground.
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How impactful was the James’ decision to opt out of his Miami contract? The casinos in Vegas pulled the odds on the Heat winning next year’s title off the table.
Now that’s some manpower.
James is easily the most coveted and most marketable player in the NBA. And if Miami thinks he’ll stay with the Heat because he’s mesmerized by the soothing waters and beautiful people of South Beach, it may be overplaying its hands.
The Heat has as much work to do now — and probably more — as it did in preparing to play the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals earlier this month.
With James on the market, teams that weren’t a player to acquire his services suddenly are clearing cap space so they can accommodate him, especially when those teams realize Miami’s aging roster could prompt James to look for a different uniform to wear.
The main reason James chose to take his talents to South Beach in 2010 rather than remain with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers was the chance to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and win “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” NBA titles. In the four seasons of Miami’s Big Three Era, the Heat were 2-2 in the Finals, including a loss to the Spurs 11 days ago.
Of course, Miami will do everything short of selling the high-priced real estate around Biscayne Bay in their efforts to re-sign James. Heat president Pat Riley issued a statement Tuesday, which, in part, said: “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.
“We look forward to sitting down with LeBron and his representatives and talking about our future together.”
If James doesn’t like the direction the Heat is going, he’ll try and add to his championship legacy with another franchise.
Nevertheless, James is smart enough to know that to collect more championship rings, his best chance is to remain in the Eastern Conference. Pit bulls and rottweilers reside in the Western Conference while the East is filled with a bunch of chihuahuas who apparently don’t have enough warm air conditioning units to slow down James.
In other words, getting to the NBA Finals out of the East is as easy as taking your dog for a walk in the neighborhood. The West — good luck with that.
But if James decides to go West, I’m sure Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who has some adequate cap space to sign him, will drop everything and pick up the Heat free agent in his private plane.
Mostly, if James can forgive Cavs owner Dan Gilbert for all those mean things he said when LeBron left Cleveland in 2010, perhaps he really can go back home and make things right. Besides, the Cavs have Kyrie Irving and this year’s No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
A new Big Three could be brewing in the NBA between James, Irving and either Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker.
Either way, the Heat shouldn’t automatically assume James will re-sign with Miami. He really is in a position of power, a position to take his talents someplace else.