“Follow my lead” LeBron James told teammates before tip-off of Game 5.
The rest of the Miami Heat couldn’t fall in line. LeBron scored 17 points in the first quarter, more than any other Heat player would score for the entire game.
LeBron tried to get his teammates involved, pushing passes across the court, weaving them into tight windows. He was grabbing rebounds, hustling on defense for blocks.
He was setting an example that his team simply could not duplicate, nor put together anything close. The game was over after three quarters. The Heat got blown out for the third-straight game by a better San Antonio Spurs team, losing 104-87 with its bench warmers on the court.
So now we enter the offseason, a summer that we wondered curiously about all season. Will LeBron come back? What happens with Dwyane Wade? Does Chris Bosh take a pay cut?
They will heed LeBron’s words this time.
LeBron is unquestionably the team leader. Wade’s best days are clearly behind him, and Bosh relinquished alpha dog status the moment he signed in South Beach.
The World’s Best Player faces a decision. He can opt in to the final year of his contract worth about $20 million or opt out for greener pastures. He can also take less to free up cap space in order to revamp the Heat roster.
After the game, he said he had been too focused on a three-peat to worry about that decision just yet.
“I will deal with my summer when I get to that point,” James said. “Me and my [management] team will sit down and deal with it. I love Miami. My family loves it. But obviously right now that’s not even what I’m thinking about.
“You guys are trying to find answers. I’m not going to give you one. I’m just not going to give it to you. When I get to that point, I’ll deal with it, and when it gets to that point.”
We want answers, but so do the Heat. So do Wade and Bosh. Bosh has said he’ll be staying in Miami, and all signs point toward Wade and LeBron staying too.
But what about the specifics?
Does LeBron opt out and take less money, say, around $14 million a season? Do Wade and Bosh follow his lead then? When it comes to dollars? Does he do so in order to convince Carmelo Anthony to leave New York and joins the ranks in Miami? Or does he free up the space and tell Pat Riley to mimic the Spurs and add multiple players with fresh legs?
Either way, it is ultimately up to The King. He has veto power. He has final say. And, by his actions alone, can alter the landscape of the NBA.
This summer, everyone is following his lead. And not just the Heat.