The biggest domino in the Miami Heat’s offseason fell Tuesday when superstar LeBron James opted out of his contract with the team. LeBron’s move was widely expected and sets in motion a chain of events that could change the face of the NBA.
LeBron will be an unrestricted free agent as of July 1st and can sign with any team he wants. The Heat remains the favorite to keep James, but the Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, and Cleveland Cavaliers are all expected to court James.
In Miami, LeBron could either sign a maximum contract of 5-years, $115 million, or sign for a bit less than that to help the team attract better players with extra cap space. Much would also depend on Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade who both will count $20 million or more against the salary cap next season and can opt-out this year and create more salary cap space.
James has won two championships with the Miami Heat and also been to four straight NBA Finals. He has a high level of trust with Pat Riley and the Heat’s staff, from owner Micky Arison to coach Erik Spoelstra, is about as stable as any in the league outside of San Antonio, which makes Miami the early favorite for James.
Still, if Wade or Bosh chooses to opt-in and get paid for the rest of their current contracts, the Heat’s hands will be tied when it comes to making moves to upgrade the roster. That could open the door for LeBron to pursue his options with another team.
Where Could James Go?
If LeBron chooses to leave Miami, the maximum contract he could receive would be four-years, and $85.5 million. He left $42.7 million on the table by opting out of his contract with the Heat Tuesday, so money does not seem to be an issue for King James.
Houston was the first team to be publicly linked to James since the NBA season ended. A report last week from Bleacher Report said the Rockets are prepared to make an “all-out” push to try to bring the King to Houston.
Still, Houston has to do a lot of maneuvering to get enough room to sign James. The Rockets would have to trade center Omer Asik and guard Jeremy Lin along with other players and decline a team option for Chandler Parsons, along with other moves.
In Houston, LeBron would team up with one of the top young shooting guards in the league, James Harden, and one of the top centers in the league, Dwight Howard. Still, Houston would have little to no cap room to do anything else besides sign veterans to minimum deals to put around LeBron, Harden and Howard.
Plus, the Western Conference is infinitely more difficult to get to the NBA Finals out of whereas in the East, it’s currently the Heat, the Pacers, and everyone else.
Chicago could be an intriguing destination for James if the team could clear out the room. LeBron could play beside Derrick Rose and other stars that are already in house with the Bulls. However, he’d also be permanently in the shadow of Michael Jordan.
Cleveland is another possible destination, but a long shot. The Cavaliers have the number one pick in Thursday’s draft, but have drafted horribly since James left several years ago. The Cavs, even with LeBron, wouldn’t be a championship level team for at least a few more seasons.
One other team that could be a player for James’ services is the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers, like the Rockets and Bulls would have to create a lot of cap room by getting rid of players, but would hold on to Chris Paul and try to keep Blake Griffin.
What happens if James decides to re-sign with Miami?
If James re-signs with the Heat, there will be a plethora of options facing team president Pat Riley.
The first issue would be what is happening with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade's contracts. Most likely if James returns to Miami, both Bosh and Wade will be back on new contracts.
The salary cap for the 2014-2015 season is projected to be around $63.2 million, based on reports from ESPN.com and USAToday.com. The luxury tax, which most teams want to avoid as a repeat offender, will be set around $77 million based on current projections.
The Heat currently has just one player under a guaranteed contract for next season, point guard Norris Cole. The point guard will be in the final year of his rookie contract which will see him get paid $2 million next year.
The Heat would have to wait for a decision from power forward Udonis Haslem. The longtime Heat player has a $4.62 million player-option on his contract for next year. Haslem could either opt-in, or opt-out and re-sign with the team under a cap friendly contract.
Beyond the cap space that re-signing the Big Three to new deals would create, the Heat still has access to either the full mid-level exception (approximately $5 million a year plus yearly raises) or the mini-mid level exception, depending on the team’s taxpaying status.
The Heat also has the 26th pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft which could yield an additional player to help out the Heat’s roster for the next several years.
The next two weeks for Miami fans will be full of questions and not many answers until LeBron makes his move and the Heat begin to rebuild either with him or without him.