An Exploration of LeBron’s Options This Offseason

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Four years ago, when the Big 3 were stunting on stages in Miami and proclaiming they’d be the winners of the next 7 to 8 NBA championships, the thought that their reign of dominance over the NBA could be stripped away after only 4 years together seemed impossible. When the Big 3 came together they were on top of the world. As the most exciting and hated thing to happen to the world of sports ever, the Miami Heat’s time together has been an honor to witness. However, as we all know, good things must come to an end, and this summer might just be it for Miami’s Big 3. Or not… Let’s explore what could happen this offseason with the world’s most talked about sports team ever.

Option 1: LeBron leaves Miami

Not that LeBron would really give two shits, but if he were to sit down with me and discuss what I think he should do this summer, I’d say leave. The NBA is slowly but surely being conquered by young stars, and young teams. I’m talking the Damian Lillards of the world, the John Walls and Bradley Beals, the Kevin Durants and Russell Westbrooks, the James Hardens and Dwight Howards… While this year was surely a year for the veterans, highlighted by the Spurs 5th title since 1999 last night, the future of the league is in the hands of the young. LeBron picked a team in 2010 that was just that. Chris Bosh was younger, Dwyane Wade still had about a foot in the door of his prime and the future stars of the league now either weren’t around or weren’t established yet. Besides the Spurs who are the ultimate exception if you’re talking about teams who can succeed with aging stars, but then again they are the Spurs, the greatest dynasty in sports history and the team who runs the smoothest and beautiful offense ever known to man. Anyway, what’s clear is that in this league where the young stars are on the come up, you don’t want to be on a team like the Heat.

The Finals for LeBron were very reminiscent of a lot of his time with the Cavaliers. He played like he usually does: a bull made out of bricks, but the rest of his team failed to show up.

LeBron's supporting cast didn't show up when it meant most, leading to an embarrassing defeat in this years finals.

LeBron’s supporting cast didn’t show up when it meant most, leading to an embarrassing defeat in this years finals.

Dwyane Wade looked old and tired. Chris Bosh wasn’t making threes, which takes him out of the game completely considering he’s taken a vow not to take shots in the paint anymore. The rest of the role players just didn’t step up when it counted most. Ray Allen shot 17-41 in the Heat’s final 5 embarrassing games. Rashard Lewis, the unsung and unlikely hero in the series against the Pacers was a plus minus king in the Eastern Conference Finals but posted a -31 overall through the Finals. Mario Chalmers forgot how to put a basketball in a hoop. Shane Battier’s minutes evaporated. Norris Cole shot 31% from the field and was a -27 throughout the finals. And all of a sudden the supporting cast that looked so capable and reliable throughout the season and the rest of the playoffs looked amateur and unprepared.

The Heat don’t have the space for real role players because their roster is so clogged up by the salaries of the Big 3. The Heat can beat a team like the Thunder who rely on stars to win games, but when it comes to beating real, dynamic, well-rounded basketball teams like the Spurs of this year or the Mavericks of 2011, the Heat can’t survive because they don’t have the pieces to do it. Having stars is great, but if the players surrounding those stars aren’t showing up, or partly in Miami’s case, very old, then Miami won’t win anymore rings. They cruised through the regular season, largely because the Eastern Conference is so bad, they send teams below .500 to the playoffs. They had an easy trip to the finals but once they got there it was clear as the skies in Miami that LeBron needs help and he won’t get it, and isn’t in a position to get it in the future.

Why would LeBron stay with a team who’s other star is slowly becoming a shell of what he once was. Dwyane Wade is no longer a viable 2nd option for LeBron if he wants to win more championships. He’s getting old, he’s less athletic, his lift is disappearing and without a jump shot, he won’t be able to extend his career the way guys like Vince Carter or Jason Kidd did. Shane Battier has retired, Ray Allen is mulling it over, and while Udonis Haslem might be back, players like Chris Andersen will likely be offered more money than the veteran’s minimum this summer during free agency.

Point guard play was a huge problem for the Heat this series, as was defense. This year the Heat dropped out of the top 10 in defensive efficiency for the first time since the Big 3 came together in 2010 and a large part of that is lack of athleticism and energy on the defensive end. Dwyane Wade used to be an all-nba defender but looking at him now, he doesn’t have the physical abilities to contain quicker players on the perimeter. The Heat lack any interior defensive presence so rotations and help defense is pivotal to their defensive performance. Unfortunately, when you have a team full of aging veterans, rotations will be slow and help defense may not be there. The slower, older players won’t be able to keep up with ball movement or penetration of a team like the… I don’t know… Spurs. LeBron can’t do it all. He played 400 more minutes than any one of his teammates this year and about 1300 more than Dwyane Wade, the guy who was supposed to be the Robin to his Batman. Playing the minutes LeBron did the entire season, and carrying that sort of load means only bad things for him come the playoffs when that load and that grind is inevitably increased. He needs some young talent. He needs to join the current of a team on the rise, instead of fight the current and try to carry a team on the decline. His trip to the finals was easy as it could be this year, but next year will not be as easy. His teammates are only getting older, and the other teams in the East are only getting better. Who’s to say Washington can’t give the Heat a run for their money next postseason? What about a Bulls team with a healthy Derrick Rose? The Pacers never seem to give up either. Staying in Miami with the team he has doesn’t help him while every other team in his way is only getting better.

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LeBron’s Decision Could Decide the Rest of His Career

What are his options? Well, we always hear things about Chicago, Houston and Dallas and their willingness to do just about everything they can to get Carmelo on their team. Well, if LeBron was a free agent, those teams would forget about Carmelo entirely and focus their attention on LeBron. While a Rose, James, Noah superteam in Chicago seems unlikely considering the rivalry between the two teams, a sign and trade with Houston isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, especially when people think Carmelo joining the Heat is a plausible off-season event. Then there are other teams who are less popular options for LeBron but are certainly there. There’s Cleveland who with Kyrie Irving and a No.1 pick coming up in 7 days would welcome LeBron not only with open arms but with a team full of young talent and role players to help out. There’s always Philadelphia and even the Hornets; the Michael Jordan owned franchise who have enough room this off-season for another max contract to join LeBron with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson down in Charlotte. There’s also been rumors of a move to the Clippers. LeBron and his wife, Savannah love Los Angeles and although it would involve trading DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford, the Clippers would love to get LeBron to team up with Griffin and Paul. All of this is speculation, and hypothetical but what is concrete is that LeBron cannot do it on his own. Through a combination of lack of youth and lack of talent off the bench, the Heat aren’t a viable option to win more championships in the future and LeBron has to see that now while he’s still in his prime.

Option 2: BIG 3 Take Pay cuts and Welcome Some Help 

Right now the Big 3 is due about 20 million each this year and even more the next year. They want some help, but ironically their contracts are the things preventing them from receiving that help. While they already took pay cuts to come to Miami in the first place, taking even less might be the thing they need to surround themselves with a supporting cast that can compete with the likes of the Spurs. Dwyane Wade certainly doesn’t deserve to be earning 20 million a year anymore, and for these stars, and especially for LeBron who is still trying to build his legacy by way of rings, cutting salary to create a better team could be pivotal for his future success. LeBron could also look down south in Charlotte and see that there is still money after the career. Jordan just became a billionaire through a combination of larger stakes in the Hornets (previously bobcats) and endorsement deals, of which LeBron has an ocean full, meaning while he may get paid less now, post-career life for LeBron will be anything but lucrative. While its easy to sit here and tell people to take less money, if the real goal is to win championships, which is really the only thing differentiating LeBron and Michael at this point, then why not take 13 million a year instead of 20? Is the lifestyle they’re living really going to change that much? Sure LeBron and the Big 3 won’t be making what they’re worth, but it’s the kind of selfless thing that the Spurs Big 3 did and look where its got them.

Once on top of the world, taking another salary cut may be the thing to get them back there.

Once on top of the world, taking another salary cut may be the thing to get them back there.

 

This 4th player doesn’t have to be of a Carmelo Anthony caliber. Frankly, adding another superstar isn’t what they need. Carmelo wouldn’t help them defensively or athletically, two problems they faced against the Spurs. There are rumors of a Kyle Lowry addition going around, which would surely help the Heat’s lack of point guard play they so severely suffered with during the final stretch of the playoffs. He would likely have to take about 10 million a year and the Heat can afford him if the Big 3 were to cut their salaries immensely. Another addition could be power forward Pau Gasol who has been openly unhappy in Los Angeles for the past few seasons. His price range is probably in the same realm as Lowry’s. Pau could help the Heat with rebounding and a presence inside both offensively and defensively. Pau can still attract a lot of attention in the post and has the ability like Bosh to play a stretch 4 or 5 if he needs to. Bosh has developed into a stretch 4 so there won’t be any issues about a clogging in the paint. Gasol is also a very talented passer and could not only help the Heat move the ball but an inside passing tandem of Bosh and Pau could be very effective.

If they choose not to go with players of that caliber, there is always the smart, yet rarely talked about option of using the large cap space to add several effective role players rather than one expensive star. While the star will bring firepower and more responsibility for opposing defenses, it still doesn’t help the bench problem. Using the space to sign a number of guys like an Andray Blatche, Rodney Stuckey and Evan Turner could be a direction in which the Heat acquire more value and address the problem of depth rather than making headlines with an addition of another star. The Spurs proved it this season that its not about the stars but about the role players and how everyone co-exists and plays together on the floor. Once again, these are all of the most hypothetical order but very possible if the Big 3 would do the usually improbable with famous star athletes: take less money.

Option 3: LeBron Stays in Miami and Waits for Free Agency Next Year

James and Love, both teammates on USA, could both be free agents in 2015

James and Love, both teammates on USA, could both be free agents in 2015

If LeBron were to opt into his contract and play out next season he actually may have the best of both worlds. Here’s why: Although the Heat were embarrassed by the Spurs, you really can’t discredit what the Heat have accomplished in their time together. Like LeBron said, “he’ll take 50%.” If the Heat stayed together they’d likely be the 1 or 2 seed once again and a definite lock at #3. It won’t be as easy as this year as players are only getting older and younger teams are only getting better but a LeBron Heat team is still one of the best in the league. The Heat also have the opportunity to sign some smaller free agent additions that could help reinvigorate them. Rashard Lewis is a free agent, as is Mario Chalmers, both of whom they could let go without feeling uneasy about it. In their place, there are some interesting options for role players on the market. Given the wide selection as well as Pat Riley’s uncanny ability to convince players to take less than what they’re worth puts the Heat in a good position to pull in some surrounding pieces.

There is a plethora of role players on the market this off-season who have the potential to give the Heat a boost in a number of ways, especially in their guard play. These are affordable guys like a Rodney Stuckey, Jordan Farmar, Evan Turner, Mo Williams, Dejuan Blair, and Jodie Meeks… The list goes on and on. Not only are these players cheap as it stands, but also role players do have a history of taking less money to join the Heat. With a few of those type of players joining the already proven, championship caliber Miami Heat team, the Heat can trampoline themselves back to finals success next season. So LeBron could stay, and see what magic Pat Riley is able to pull off and if its not to his liking, and the Heat don’t win a championship next season, he still has the 2015 offseason where he’ll be 30 years old and in a free agent class with superstars like Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, possibly Carmelo Anthony, or LaMarcus Aldridge. Then in 2015 he has the ability to form another superteam with that class of stars, or wait for teams like the Knicks or Bulls who will have much more cap space when contracts like Bargnani, Chandler and Boozer all expire, respectively. So opt-in, play it out, see what Riley can muster up and if he doesn’t win, look at 2015 as a completely fresh beginning with a new crop of stars to team with and a new batch of teams begging at his knees – sounds nice doesn’t it?

Option 4: LeBron Opts Out and Signs An Extension

This to me is the most unlikely of the bunch, but it is possible. Say LeBron opts out and resigns with the Heat. In 2015, Dwyane Wade may face the idea of retirement as he’ll be in the second half of 33 years of age. Chris Bosh will be an unrestricted free agent. And LeBron will have the Heat to himself and leverage to say to Pat Riley, “I don’t want Wade and Bosh back. Bring me new stars.” Or, at that point in Wade’s career, he’ll sign a much smaller contract and play a Manu Ginobili type of role, enabling the Heat to treat his contract as that of a 6th man, and sign other big free agents on top of Wade and James. LeBron will be able to dictate who the Heat sign, and with the expected cap space in 2015 – barring any extended contracts with new players – he’ll be on a team in a position to recruit other free agents to join him. If teams like the Knicks think they’re an appealing place to play, what do you think a free agent is going to be thinking when he has a meeting with LeBron James and Pat Riley and they ask said free agent to join LeBron. Which player in his right mind, looking for championships, is going to say no to not only playing in a place like Miami, but on a championship caliber team with the greatest player in the world and 4 finals appearances in the last 5 years?

It’s appealing, one of the more appealing pitches that teams will be able to offer free agents in 2015. This extension also doesn’t have to be that long. LeBron can sign a shorter extension, something along the lines of 3 years, it doesn’t have to be a 4 or 5 year deal. He’ll also probably opt for an early termination option to give him the freedom to get out of Miami if the new look team isn’t panning out how he planned.

With so many options, hypotheticals and different outcomes at every turn, this offseason will be a complicated one for LeBron. He might be on vacation with family, and might insist to the media that he hasn’t thought about free agency, the only thing on his mind is where he’ll be playing in 2014-15 and where he can win a championship. All we can do now is wait and see.

NBA Predictions

After the first week of the NBA season, I have developed some bold predictions about the season. Here we go!

Rookie Of The Year:

Report: Iman Shumpert made a speedy recovery and is expected to make his return tonight at MSG. Could be a tight race between these two guys.

I had Iman Shumpert as the surprise rookie of the year this season, based on his sheer confidence in the games he played. He is extremely athletic and plays very good defense, unfortunately he sprained his MCL on Christmas Day and will miss 2-4 weeks. In this compressed season 2-4 weeks could be everything. He will miss potentially 8-16 games in a 66 game season. Therefore, I think that will effect his case for rookie of the year. So, I will go with Kemba Walker. I was shocked to see him go so late in the draft. He may be a bit short, but he can do everything at the point guard position. In my opinion, he showed the most leadership for a college level player. He also proved he can be the go-to-guy in late game situations. Like this play right here….

Not only did he hit that buzzer beater but he completely crossed up Gary Mcgee. He can score, he is a leader already at such a young age. And he can defend. Not only in college, but he translated his whole game to the NBA style and is doing nothing differently in the NBA. He’ll win rookie of the year. There is no doubt in my mind.

MVP:

The candidate is Kevin Durant. The young scoring champion playing on the best team in the West. He has waisted no time this year putting up unbelievable numbers and carrying his team. Take a look….

His stats are as follows: 27 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. He obviously scores but his rebounding numbers are up from last year as well, proof of a developing overall game. Kevin Durant is that rare superstar besides Derrick Rose that is naturally modest. He includes his teammates in all of his success and while Lebron participated in the Decision, Kevin Durant signed a quiet deal and announced on twitter. He works incredibly hard, and is the best scorer we’ve seen in years. When people guard him the question they ask is not how do I stop him, but how do I make it hard for him to score. This may be the year that he takes that giant step from scorer to MVP.

Coach Of The Year:

I will go with Mike Brown. He has the hardest job for a coach out of everyone in the league. Since he’s replacing arguably the best coach in the world, the amount of pressure riding on his shoulders is not measurable in comparison to any other coach. The expectations are high. I mean very high. However, I think he’ll be able to do it. He’s transformed the way the Lakers play basketball and his emphasis on defense is visible in the games. They’ve held the Nuggets to 89. (their first game below 100 points), they’ve held the Knicks to 82 points (without Bynum), and they’ve held the Jazz to 71 points. Not only has he rubbed off his defensive strategies but he’s turned Metta World Peace from a declining veteran last year to one of this years best 6th men by giving him the freedom and confidence to play his game. The way he is coaching the Lakers will pay off, he’s stressing an outside in game, which could let Bynum develop as a player and give Kobe the rest he needs. I think he’ll rise to the challenge.

Most Improved Player:

I think I’ll have to have two picks for the Most Improved Player. First, I’ll go with Ryan Anderson on the Magic. He’s helped Dwight Howard a lot during this season carry the load. His numbers have improved from last year to this. 10 points to 19, and 5 rebounds to 6. He’s also shooting 91% from the stripe and 44% from long range. That’s a big improvement and could persuade Dwight to stay if keeps consistent. His play is important for his own game, but especially important considering he plays for the Magic who have been waiting for one of the role players to step up and help Dwight carry the load.

If not him, then Kyle Lowry from Houston. His scoring hasn’t improved much, but who needs scoring when you’re playing alongside Kevin Martin and Luis Scola. He is transforming into a point guard that every team would want. He’s still putting up solid scoring numbers with 13 a game, but he’s improved his assists per game from around 7 last year to lead the league with around 12 this year. He is distributing and is one of those players who can see the floor from every angle.  He’s also improved his defense on a team that otherwise doesn’t emphasize defense too much. He’s grabbing around 2 and a half steals per game. Tied for first place in that category as well. Then there is his rebounding. He leads the league in rebounding for guards with about 6 per game. This is a 6’0 ft guy grabbing 6 rebounds per game. That’s almost unheard of.

Defensive Player of the Year:

This one’s kind of obvious. Dwight Howard’s going to win this one again. Without any dominant centers in the league Dwight kind of has this one in the bag for years to come. He protects the paint like it’s his house. He’s got about 3 blocks per game as well as around 2 steals per game.

NBA Champion:

For me, this one is easy. The Miami Heat will win the NBA championship. I’ll tell you why. Last year the Heat didn’t have a bench since Udonis Haslem was gone, and they didn’t have any rookies to step up. This year, Udonis Haslem is healthier then ever, they added a gritty defender and a knockdown shooter in Shane Battier and they got lucky with Norris Cole a rookie point guard flaring with confidence. They lack a true center but when you have one of the best defenses in the league a center becomes less and less essential. Last year they also struggled with continuity and gelling on the court. After a year of playing together, they know their roles. Especially the Big three who understand how to play alongside one another. This season should be easy for them. 5-1 in the first 6 games is a sneak peak of their future domination. And finally they have determined who their go to guy is. They made the right choice when they decided Dwyane Wade would take the last shot. Take a look….

Oh, and don’t forget this one. 
. With roles determined, some dependent role players and the two of the best three players in the NBA, the Heat should steamroll through the season and win the championship with ease. I predict this will be the year where their 1st ring of not two, not three, not four, not five and so on rings will arrive.

Heat-Bulls Series Preview.

Exciting match-ups have filled the playoffs this year, but this series could be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We have the MVP from this season in Derrick Rose playing against the MVP of last season in Lebron James. We have two all-star caliber power forwards matching up, in Carlos Boozer and Chris Bosh. We have the two best finishers in the game in Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. We have the coach of the year, in Tom Thibodeau against the co-executive of the year in Pat Riley. We have the best defensive team in the NBA in the Bulls against the 3rd best defensive team in the NBA in the Heat. We have the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, in the Bulls against the number 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, in the Heat. Most of all, we have two very hungry, talented teams hoping to reach the finals, and hopefully win an NBA championship.

It’s not going to be an easy series to win for either team. The Heat have played like the team to beat in this postseason, they’ve beat the 76ers in 5 games as well as the defending Eastern Conference Champs in 5 games. The Bulls have played lockdown defense this postseason, but haven’t played like the number 1 seed in the NBA at all.They struggled in the 1st round against Indiana, they beat them 4-1 but in their first 3 wins they won by a total of 15 points. In the second round they struggled at times against the Hawks, but seemed to re-gather their swag, in game 6. This matchup is very interesting because these teams have two completely different specialties. The Bulls pride themselves in their defense, they have the best defensive mastermind in the NBA as their head coach, which is why they are the number 1 defensive team in the NBA. Their offense has been weak at some times in this postseason but it’s their rock solid defense that keeps them winning.The Heat on the other hand, although are a very strong defensive team, they’re speciality lies on the offensive end. The athleticism of Lebron, Wade and Bosh are perfect for fast breaking, and fast tempo offense, of which the Heat are the best at.

For the Heat to win this series they’re going to need Wade to take over his mismatch at shooting guard. He’ll either be guarded by, Keith Bogans or Ronnie Brewer. Neither of which are quick or athletic enough to keep on Wade. If D-Wade can take advantage of the mismatches then the Heat will be in very good shape going forward. Also, Bosh is going to need to be very aggressive inside if the Heat want to win. The Bulls have a top 5 interior defense, with Omer Asik, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Bosh has been criticized for being too soft during the season, if he plays soft against the Bulls tough interior D then the Heat can kiss goodbye to the finals. Another thing that the Heat will need to do is get some bench production. They’re going up against the most productive bench in the league, the Bulls bench plays tough defense, and smart, efficient offense. This series could easily go to the Bulls if the Heat’s bench can’t provide numbers when the Big 3 are on the bench. The last thing the Heat have to do to win this series is to keep D-Rose under control. The MVP has been averaging about 29 points and 8 assists this post-season. He needs to be stopped, if the Heat can keep him out of the paint then that’s the best way to limit Roses production. He has improved his midrange jumper and 3 point jumper but most of his points come from the line and from lay-ups.

It’s a different story for the Bulls.They’re going up against the best offensive duo in the league. They’re going to need Luol Deng to step up on defense. He is a top class defender but to take on Lebron James for a 7 game playoff series, it’s going to take a lot of energy out of him. He has to come out every night and think less about his offense and much more about his defensive game to hold of LBJ. Which will put a lot more pressure on D-Rose to play offense. I think they’ll be up for the challenge though. Derrick Rose has to take advantage of the mismatch at point-guard. He didn’t really take advantage against Jeff Teague enough, but here he has another chance. He will be guarded by a veteran in Mike Bibby or a turnover prone Mario Chalmers. Neither of them can keep up with his electrifying penetration or fancy dribbling. I am looking for D-Rose to average 30 points a game in this series, he will be guarded by lesser players and he’s going to show everyone that he deserved the MVP against the former MVP. For the Bulls to win then they also need their young core of big men to take advantage of the slow, and veteran Miami big men. The Bulls have 4 core big men in Omer Asik, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson all of which are under 30. The Heat big men are Zydranus Ilgauskas, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony. The Bulls big men are quicker and more athletic and should try to beat the Heat in the low post. They’re bench is going to have to play like they’ve never played before. They’re younger, more athletic, and just better players all around. They have to play as a unit. That’s the Bulls biggest advantage in this series, it’s their depth. They’re depth is their bench and their bench will win them this game along with their defense and hustle plays. The most important things for the Bulls is to continue to do the things they’re known for, like tapping back offensive rebounds, playing lockdown defense, and passing with lots of ball movement. They can shut down any team, they need to do the same with the heat.

I’m very excited for this matchup, there is so much talent between these two teams. I just think that the Bulls’ defense and bench production will be too much for the Heat squad and their big 3.  If I had to make a prediction right now, I’d have to say the Heat’s star power will be just too much for the Bulls. Heat in 7.

– Max