The quest for a three-peat is over. With the San Antonio Spurs’ game five victory, the Heat’s quest for a three-peat has fallen short. And now LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, has a decision to make.
LeBron James can opt out of his contract this summer and elect to go to free agency, where he’ll have a plethora of suitors including the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers. Or he can opt in for another season with the Miami Heat.
UPDATE: According to multiple reports, LeBron James has indeed opted out of his contract. He exercised his early termination option and become a free agent.
Here’s what his free agency options look like:
Currently the 2014-2015 Heat roster looks like this: (Salary Cap figures from HoopsHype.com)
- LeBron James – $20,590,000 (Opted Out)
- Chris Bosh – $20,590,000
- Dwyane Wade – $20,048,000
- Mike Miller – $6,000,000 (Amnestied)
- Udonis Haslem – $4,620,000
- Chris Andersen – $1,448,490
- Norris Cole – $2,150,188
- Justin Hamilton – $816,482 (Team Option)
In total, the Heat have a little over $69 million in cap commitments for the 2014-2015 NBA season. The 2014-2015 salary cap has been set at a little over $63 million with the luxury tax kicking in at $77 million.
Over the cap and nearing the luxury tax threshold, the Heat have very little room to maneuver. The Heat has one draft pick, the No. 26 pick in the first round, which is slated a salary of $925,000. That leaves the Heat over the cap and will little room under the luxury tax threshold.
They can re-sign their own free agents, the Heat have nine of them, but it would be tough for the Heat to acquire any free agents or make any trades as they cannot take on much salary.
Alternatively, all of the big three, could opt out and sign smaller deals, giving the Heat more room to sign free agents or make trades – Carmelo Anthony has been rumored – but at this point I don’t see that happening. It would take a lot of maneuvering, opting out and players taking a lot less money for this to happen, which frankly, I don’t think will.
At this point in his career, I doubt Wade is going to take much less money, and the same goes for Bosh. And even if the Heat were able to assemble this big four, in my opinion, I don’t think they’d be that much better than this year’s team.
Carmelo Anthony is a scorer. That’s it. He doesn’t play defense, something the Heat sorely needed during the NBA Finals and he has never been a winner. With Melo they’re still the best team in the East, but I don’t think he makes them that much better.
There has also been rumors of the Heat courting Kyle Lowry, a free agent point guard from the Toronto Raptors, but again, without much cap space, the Heat would not be able to offer as much money as a 29-year-old would want. Lowry, at this stage of his career, isn’t going to take less money.
With LeBron, the Heat’s starting five would look like this:
- PG Norris Cole
- SG Dwyane Wade
- PF Chris Bosh
- SF LeBron James
- C Chris Andersen
The Heat roster, going into the 2014-2015 season, will most likely look very similar to the roster that was beaten by a better Spurs team, except everyone will be another year older.
Los Angeles Clippers
Next season the Clippers roster currently looks like this:
- Chris Paul – $20,068,563
- Blake Griffin – $17,632,688
- DeAndre Jordan $11,440,123
- JJ Reddick – $6,792,500
- Jamal Crawford – $5,450,000
- Jared Dudley – $4,250,000
- Matt Barnes $3,396,250
- Darren Collison – $1,985,500 (Player Option)
- Willie Green – $1,448,490 (Team Option)
- Reggie Bullock – $1,200,720
- Glen Davis – $1,400,000 (Player Option)
With their current salaries, the Clippers next year, are a little over $73 million, way over the cap, even if Collison, Green and Davis’s options aren’t picked up. The Clippers also own the No. 28 pick in the NBA Draft, which is slated a salary of $893,500. Over the cap, the Clippers couldn’t sign LeBron James as they stand, but they could work out a sign and trade with the Heat, if indeed LeBron did want to come to Los Angeles.
A possible Blake Griffin for LeBron James swap has been theorized, as their salaries would be about the same and the Clippers would stay under the luxury tax threshold if they didn’t pick up Collison’s option and were very savvy in free agency and with the draft.
A team of Chris Paul, LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan, alongside shooters J.J. Reddick and Jamal Crawford, would be a force in the Western Conference. They could matchup with any team in the conference, and most especially the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs.
With LeBron, the Clippers’ starting five would look like this:
- PG Chris Paul
- SG J.J. Reddick/Jamal Crawford
- PF Glen Davis
- SF LeBron James
- C DeAndre Jordan
The Clippers would need to find a better power forward if they traded Blake Griffin, but even without one, this starting five is stacked. Paul is the best point guard in the NBA and alongside the best player in the NBA, would give the Clippers a superstar one, two combo. Jordan would man the paint, and a driving LeBron or Paul would kick it out to wide open threes for the sharpshooters in Reddick, Crawford and Dudley off the bench.
The Clippers with LeBron would be better than the Heat, as they currently stand, with LeBron and probably even a Heat team with Melo.
New York Knicks
Next season, the New York Knicks’ roster currently looks like this:
- Carmelo Anthony – $23,530,000 (Player Option)
- A’mare Stoudamire – $23,410,998 (Player Option)
- Tyson Chandler – $14,596,888
- Andrea Bargnani – $12,000,000
- JR Smith – $5,982,357
- Raymond Felton – $4,360,000
- Iman Shumpert – $2,761,113
- Pablo Prigioni – $1,662,961
- Metta World Peace – $1,661,550
- Tim Hardaway Jr. – $1,250,640
- Jeremy Tyler – $948,163 (Team Option)
While Carmelo Anthony is expected to opt out of his contract, freeing up over $23 million of cap space, A’mare Stoudamire is expected to void his early termination option and play for the Knicks in the final year of his deal. The Knicks have no picks in the upcoming draft.
With Melo off the books, the Knicks would still be over the salary cap, at just above $68 million, but under the luxury tax threshold. (If Melo were to not opt out, the Knicks would be at $91 million, way over the luxury tax threshold)
As the roster stands, there is absolutely no way LeBron is going to come to New York. Without Melo, the Knicks are a lottery team, and still over the cap. While New York is the biggest market and LeBron would be playing on the biggest stage, I just don’t see him playing for this roster.
With LeBron, the Knicks’ starting five would look like this:
- PG Raymond Felton
- SG Iman Shumpert/JR Smith
- PF Andrea Bargnani
- SF LeBron James
- C Tyson Chandler
That starting five is not a title contender. Bargnani is an overpaid former No. 1 pick, Felton is an aging distributor and neither Shumpert or Smith are more than one or two-dimensional players. The Knicks would be a 3-5 seed, depending on how much LeBron could will the team. It’d be a similar situation LeBron left in 2010, where he was the go-to-guy and after him, there was nobody else.
Melo would have to re-sign for LeBron to even think of coming to New York and then to sign LeBron it would take some crazy salary dumping and trades. It’s just not happening, even though Phil Jackson, the Knicks President, is the only one that can throw more rings onto the table than Pat Riley.
Next season the Bulls roster currently looks like this:
- Derrick Rose – $18,862,876
- Carlos Boozer – $16,800,000
- Joakim Noah – $12,200,000
- Taj Gibson – $8,000,000
- Mike Dunleavy -$3,000,000
- Tony Snell – $1,472,400
- Jimmy Butler – $2,119,214
- Greg Smith – $948,163
The Bulls are currently right at the salary cap cut off, with a little more than $63 million in salaries for next season. They also own the No. 16 and 19 picks in this year’s draft which are slated salaries of $1,419,200 and $1,223,200 respectively.
As they stand, the Bulls do not have enough cap room to sign LeBron James, but they are expected to try to move Carlos Boozer and his $18 million contract, which would free up enough space to sign LeBron or another free agent (Carmelo Anthony).
With LeBron, the Bulls’ starting five would look like this:
- PG Derrick Rose
- SG Jimmy Butler
- PF Taj Gibson
- SF LeBron James
- C Joakim Noah
With LeBron (or Melo for that matter), the Bulls immediately become the team to beat in the East. LeBron gives them the offense that they so desperately need, along with another defense stopper for Thibodeau to work with. With a healthy Derrick Rose, which is a BIG if, this team would be the best in the East and would challenge the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder for the title.
Next season the Rockets’ roster currently looks like this:
- Dwight Howard – $21,436,271
- James Harden – $14,693,906
- Luis Scola – $6,541,037 (Amnestied)
- Omer Asik – $14,898,938
- Jeremy Lin – $14,898,938
- Terrence Jones – $1,618,680
- Donatas Montiejunas – $1,483,920
- Francisco Garcia – $1,316,809 (Player Option)
- Chandler Parsons – $964,750 (Team Option)
- Patrick Beverley – $915,243 (Team Option)
- Isaiah Canaan – $816,482
- Robert Covington – $816,482
- Troy Daniels – $816,000 (Team Option)
The Rockets are over the salary cap, with just under $72 million in commitments for next year. The Rockets also own the No. 25 pick in the upcoming draft, due a salary of $957,500.
As their roster stands, the Rockets cannot sign LeBron as they are over the cap. However if they can get rid of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin’s bloated contracts, they would have enough room to sign LeBron.
With LeBron, the Rockets’ starting five would look like this:
- PG Patrick Beverly
- SG James Harden
- PF LeBron James
- SF Chandler Parsons
- C Dwight Howard
Theoretically the Rockets could play LeBron at power forward and allow Parsons, who will also need to be extended, to start as well. Or they could make Parsons their sixth man and start someone else, either Terrence Jones or Donatas Montiejunas, at power forward.
This lineup would be one of the better ones that LeBron could slide ride into and play for a title contender. Alongside Howard and Harden, LeBron would push this Rockets’ squad to the next level, especially if they could keep Parsons and one of either Lin or Asik – with the help of a restructured contract.
Next season the Cavaliers’ roster currently looks like this:
- Anderson Varejao – $9,800,000 (Team Option)
- Jarrett Jack – $6,300,000
- Kyrie Irving – $7,459,924
- Anthony Bennett – $5,563,920
- Tristan Thompson – $5,421,233
- Dion Waiters – $4,062,000
- Alonzo Gee – $3,250,000 (Team Option)
- Tyler Zeller – $1,703,760
- Sergey Karasev – $1,533,840
- Scotty Hopson – $2,450,00 (Team Option)
Even if the Cavs pick up all three team options and sign Irving to a max extension, they’re still just about $30 million under the salary gap. The Cavs also have the No. 1 pick in the draft, which is slated a salary of $4,436,900. With the pick, the Cavs would have just above $36 million in cap commitments, with over $25 million available. The Cavs are also expected to try to re-sign center Spencer Hawes, who had a $6,500,000 salary this past year.
The Cavaliers have more than enough cap room to sign LeBron and possibly another free agent as well (Carmelo Anthony). The Cavs also have assets in the No. 1 pick, the expiring contracts of Varejao, Gee and Hopson, along with young talent to make a trade for Kevin Love, Al Horford or someone else to pair with LeBron. And even if they don’t make the trade, the Cavs will most likely select either Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick, who could also be paired with LeBron.
With LeBron, the Cavs’ starting five would look like this:
- PG Kyrie Irving
- SG Jabari Parker
- PF Tristan Thompson
- SF LeBron James
- C Anderson Varejao
But, if the Cavs trade the No. 1 pick, their starting five could look like this:
- PG Kyrie Irving
- SG Dion Waiters
- PF Kevin Love
- SF LeBron James
- C Anderson Varejao/Spencer Hawes
This starting would be a contender in the East and for the championship. A big three of Kyrie, Kevin Love and LeBron James would give the Cavs three superstars than can all shoot, drive and score and a big three that is better than Miami’s big three, as it currently stands. Theoretically, the Cavs could put together a team with a big four, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love as well.
Without the trade for Love, the Cavs would still be a contender, with Irving, Parker and James making up a new big three . Both of these lineups also give LeBron something he doesn’t have in Miami, a good point guard and center.
The Cavs are also a much younger team than the Heat, and any of the other teams that LeBron is choosing from.
More so, going to Cleveland would be a homecoming for LeBron, a chance to write his wrongs. Even though they didn’t make the playoffs last year, Cleveland cannot be ruled out. In the words of Bill Simmons: ““He goes back to Cleveland and convinces Carmelo to come with him. Do NOT rule this out. Especially if Cleveland hires a coach that LeBron likes. The Cavs are loaded with young assets and could create whatever team LeBron wanted.”
The Decision II
Looking at his options, and the way Miami’s roster looks at this moment, it makes sense for LeBron to leave Miami. The Heat roster, as it stands, is not poised to win a championship next year without major changes and cap maneuvering – something that while Pat Riley may be capable of doing, is not a sure thing.
LeBron James will really need to think long and hard about where he wants to play next season. He wants to win, we know that, so anywhere that can put together a roster that can win multiple championships, the keyword being multiple, will be considered by James and his camp.
I fully expect LeBron to meet with all the relevant parties: Bosh and Wade, Pat Riley, Carmelo Anthony and all the teams interested, before he makes a decision that will not be another one hour ESPN television special. James made that mistake, but he won’t be making it again.
As to where I think he will go? In my completely biased opinion, I really think his best option is to leave Miami. Unless Riley can convince Wade, Bosh and LeBron to take tens of millions of dollars less, there’s no way the he can put together a roster that can compete with the Spurs, Thunder, Bulls, Pacers, Clippers and others who are only going to get better.
As to where he should go. I’m completely biased, so of course he should go to Cleveland. The Cavs have lots of young talent and assets to create a team based upon what LeBron wants. They could trade for Kevin Love, sign Carmelo Anthony, draft Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins or do something else. But Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles also look like enticing options where he could win multiple championships.
There are a lot of options for LeBron to choose from this summer. He just has to make sure he chooses the right one.