When the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, the world’s greatest basketball player, LeBron James, will officially be a free agent. But any team that wants to try to acquire LeBron’s services will be told that they have to pay the maximum salary of $22.2 million if they want him to play for that team, according to ESPN.com.
The demand for a maximum contract significantly narrows the teams that could afford to sign James when free agency opens early Tuesday morning. According to ESPN.com, the teams that have the salary cap space to sign LeBron are: the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, and the Miami Heat.
Out of that list, the Jazz, 76ers, and Magic can be eliminated because none are close to being championship level contenders. That leaves the Mavericks, Lakers, Suns, and his most recent team, the Heat.
Dallas is dedicating a portion of its cap space to resigning power forward Dirk Nowitzki, which limits the ability of the Mavericks to make a big run at James. Dallas owner Mark Cuban said over the weekend that his team isn’t making any max contract offers, according to ESPN.com.
The Lakers have the legacy, but have little to no help for James on the roster. If Los Angeles were to make a play to sign Carmelo Anthony and LeBron, it might be a more appealing destination. The Lakers want LeBron, but it’s unknown if the feeling is mutual.
If there is a team that could provide LeBron with an intriguing lineup, it’s the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have the cap space to sign both LeBron and Carmelo Anthony, without having to blow up much of the remaining lineup.
The Suns, should they sign James and Anthony, could roll out a lineup that consists of guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, James, Anthony, along with young center Miles Plumlee. It would be a dynamic scoring unit with two top guards leading the charge.
Still, LeBron has not scheduled any meetings with other teams and he, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade recently had a meeting together to try to hash out a trio of new deals that they can pitch to the Miami Heat.
Assuming James stays in Miami, the Heat’s salary structure would put LeBron at the highest salary, followed by Bosh, and then Wade. Depending on how much the trio is willing to give up will determine the Heat’s flexibility in adding free agents this offseason.
According to ESPN.com, the Heat could re-sign all three players along with Udonis Haslem and Ray Allen and still be able to use multiple exceptions to exceed the salary cap. The exceptions the Heat would have access to includes: the full-midlevel exception ($5.3 million), a $2 million biannual exception, and a $2.2 million trade exception.