As of today, LeBron has been eerily quiet regarding his free agency, especially for someone who went on national television to announce it 2010. He won’t be attending any meetings, which gives the edge to Miami but who knows. LeBron is the best player in the world and he wants the best player in the world type money and he will get it. It just depends on where.
1. LeBron James: 2013-14 Salary ($19,067,500) — 2014-15 Value: $20,700,000
Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets
The Los Angeles Clippers are the best team out of this group if you don’t consider the Miami Heat. Unfortunately for them, LeBron wearing a Clippers jersey next season is nothing more than a pipe dream. The Clippers are looking at $71,382,529 in salary next year if you consider C.J Wilcox’s salary and Jamal Crawford’s contract being guaranteed. For them to clear 20.7 million dollars of space, they’d have to trade a combination of DeAndre Jordan, J.J Reddick and Jamal Crawford or Jared Dudley for nothing in return just to clear space for LeBron. I’m not even sure a package of those three players is worth LeBron. Then they’d have to put off all possibilities of re-signing Darren Collison, Danny Granger and Glen Davis. If they did all of this, which is highly unlikely, the Clippers would sport a team of LeBron, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Matt Barnes and either Jamal Crawford or Dudley depending on which left in a trade. They’d have absolutely no bench though, but then again, with that starting lineup they probably wouldn’t need one. But, unfortunately, as nice an idea it is to see a fast-break of Chris Paul in the middle and Blake Griffin and LeBron James sprinting down the wings, it’s a fantasy that will likely never come to fruition.
The Lakers are in an interesting position because as of right now, they only have Robert Sacre, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and the newly drafted Julius Randle (inevitably) under contract. Between those 4, they have (with Randle earning 120% of his rookie scale price) $37,113,603 on the books. Kent Bazemore is an unrestricted free agent, and Ryan Kelly is restricted, while Kendall Marshall is unguaranteed going into next season. Nick Young is also unrestricted but is looking to sign with the Lakers. If LeBron were to sign for the max of 20.7 million dollars, he’d be leaving the Lakers with around 6 million and change to spend on the rest of the roster. We’re not even sure Steve Nash is going to be healthy next season and how Kobe Bryant will fare after playing only 6 games dating back to April 12th, 2013. The team would be pretty bad to say the least. There is too much uncertainty. Health concerns not only to Nash and Bryant but Randle and his foot. We’re not sure how Randle will even play in his rookie season. There is too many “what if’s” if I’m LeBron. With the fact that he’s willing to sign a 1-2 year deal for max money signing with the Lakers becomes a little more likely because then his free agency would align with Kobe Bryant’s retirement, which would be the perfect scenario for LeBron – 2 years of championship contention with Kobe and if it doesn’t work out, he’s a free agent again and can go to the next contender who can win him a championship. However, I still don’t see LeBron going to Los Angeles. A team of Kobe, LeBron, Julius Randle and…. isn’t enough to win a championship. 6 million in cap space doesn’t give them much. He’d be leaving a bad supporting cast in Miami to go to a worse one.
Dwyane Wade has signed a 4 year deal starting with 12 million next year while Chris Bosh has signed a 5 year deal starting at 11 million. Meaning the Heat have devoted 23 million to 2 members of the Big 3 next year. With LeBron taking nothing less than 20.7 million, the Heat would hypothetically have devoted 44.7 million to the Big 3. Norris Cole is due just under 2.1 million next year so the Heat have 46.8 million devoted to 4 players. Shabazz Napier can make 825,760 to 1,238,640 next year depending on what percent of the rookie scale for the 24th pick he takes. So, at the least the Heat have 48 million devoted to 5 players. Then if Udonis Haslem re-signs, which is the only reason he opted out in the first place, the Heat will have around 12 million to sign free agents, which actually gives them the opportunity to sign someone like Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng or Pau Gasol if those players were willing to. The Heat are actually in a great position if the reports are true. They have a lot of financial flexibility. The only problem is that LeBron wants a short term deal, something like 1-2 years according to John Canzano so signing other free agents becomes a harder task if they know LeBron might not be there in the longterm.
The Bulls have been primarily linked to Carmelo Anthony, but unlike Carmelo, LeBron wants the max deal meaning not only would they have to amnesty Boozer and his 16.8 million dollars next year, but they would have to trade either Gibson or a package of Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler just to clear enough space for LeBron. It’s highly unlikely.
Phoenix is a recent addition to the frenzy surrounding LeBron James. According to them, they have what no other team can offer: a playoff-team core and financial flexibility in the future. Phoenix has 33.5 million in cap space at the moment, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski and could easily cut 10 million more to allow LeBron to team up with a superstar of his choice. The Suns could trade a package of Gerald Green, Alex Len, and Markieff Morris for no salary in return and the Suns could have enough space to bring LeBron in this year and have room to potentially sign Carmelo Anthony this summer as well, or if LeBron would prefer to play with Kevin Love next year, the Suns would be able to facilitate that desire. What the Suns would be offering is a starting lineup next year of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, LeBron James, Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee, if they trade away the necessary pieces. If they were to sign Carmelo to a max contract as well, they’d be looking at a star studded lineup of Dragic, Bledsoe, Carmelo, LeBron and Plumlee – an instant championship favorite in the NBA. If not Carmelo, LeBron could ask for Kevin Love next year. One of the most important parts of all of this is that due to both Bledsoe and Tucker being restricted free agents, the Suns can go over the cap to resign them. The Suns also have 3 first round picks next season including the Lakers top 5 protected pick and the Timberwolves’ top 12 protected pick. LeBron would have the freedom to basically play GM and tell the team who to pick or who to trade for with those picks. Those picks – due to their value, could be very enticing for a team like the Timberwolves if the Suns were to engage in trade talks for Love. It’s an interesting situation and one of the best out there, there are no what if’s, the core wouldn’t have to be broken down and the flexibility for the future means there is always room to add more talent. Oh it’s also nice weather there.
Houston seems more focused on Carmelo Anthony, but in actuality LeBron is clearly the better fit. The Rockets do not need another high volume, high usage scorer like Carmelo. They already have two offensive superstars in Harden and Howard who need the ball to be effective. Adding Melo only increases what the Rockets are good at and makes them worse at what they’re already bad at: defense. He doesn’t bring anything new to the table – he doesn’t provide any new facet to their game plan. Adding LeBron changes everything. The Rockets need more lock down defenders and LeBron is one of the best in the entire league. They need athleticism and size on the wings and you won’t find that more so than in LeBron. LeBron is also a playmaker rather than a high volume scorer and can slash and affect the game in different ways rather than isolations and spot up threes. The Rockets have $50,466,325 on the books heading into next season and that’s including Clint Capela’s contract. Chandler Parsons is a restricted free agent so the Rockets can exceed the cap in order to sign him if they have to. So as of now the Rockets do not have enough space for LeBron, especially if he wants the max. With the cap at 63.2, the Rockets are looking at 12.7 million in cap space. However, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, the Rockets have a deal lined up for Jeremy Lin but will only execute said trade if they get verbal commitment from one of the stars they’re going after. If LeBron liked Houston and committed the Rockets could clear Lin’s $8,374,646, which would leave them with $42,091,679, about 21.1 million below the salary cap – enough to sign LeBron. If I’m LeBron this is the best situation to go to. If he joined, the Rockets would sport a lineup of Patrick Beverley, James Harden, LeBron James, Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard with Chandler Parsons off the bench. The Rockets would still have their mid-level exception and their bi-annual exception to use as well to bring in role players to help bolster the supporting cast.
So where do we think LeBron is going? Well, I think it’s Miami. Despite only wanting to sign a 1-2 year deal according to ESPN, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem have all opted out of their contracts, just like they said they could a few weeks ago in order to clear cap space. They wouldn’t be opting out and re-signing for cheap if they knew LeBron wasn’t going to come back. The Heat could bring back the Big 3, Norris Cole, Shabazz Napier, Udonis Haslem and a free agent worth 12 million or two free agents worth 6 million like Channing Frye and Spencer Hawes. Whatever the additions are, the point is the Heat have space to add more talent. That plus the past success LeBron has experienced in a Miami Heat uniform – 2 MVP’s, 2 championships in 4 years – makes leaving Miami too hard to pass up. Everywhere else is enticing, but there is always the chance something goes wrong and his new team ends up being the 2013 Lakers. LeBron can re-sign with added talent around him and because he is a deceivingly smart business man, signing for 1-2 years means he’ll get the best out of Dwyane Wade and then jump to the next team once he sees Wade can’t play Robin anymore.
As of now, I’m thinking LeBron will be keeping his talents in South Beach next year, with Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and one other star. The question now becomes: Can they win another championship together? Have to wait and see.