Nobody was the least bit surprised when LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat for the 2014-2015 season on June 24. The assumption all along was that even if James returned to the organization, it was in his best interest to become a free agent and keep his options open. James is the best basketball player in the world and can essentially name his price for any organization in the NBA.
Fair or not, the moment James terminated his contact with the Heat the speculation began as to when (not if) teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would follow suit. Unlike James, Wade and Bosh are not guaranteed the same money/security with other organizations in the NBA – this made their decision to opt out a much more complex one. Ultimately, both Wade and Bosh did decide to opt out of their contracts with the Miami Heat (Wade on June 28/Bosh on June 29).
When free agency began at 12:00 am July 1, the Big Three (James, Wade, Bosh) were all officially on the market. The Miami Heat organization (specifically Pat Riley) was then tasked with finding a way to bring them all back together for next year and beyond. Four days into free agency has made it clear that the opt out route each star decided on has both helped and hurt the Heat in their strategy this offseason.
How it Helped
If the Miami Heat were determined to retool a roster worthy of more championship aspirations, it was never going to happen unless the Big Three opted out of their current deals. The reason for this is pretty simple – money. The Heat (and the other 29 teams in the NBA) are required to manage their contracts in such a way that keeps them within the salary cap figure of $63.2 million in 2014-2015.
Had James ($20.5 million), Wade ($20.1 million), and Bosh ($20.5 million) refused to opt of their contracts, nearly all ($61.1/$63.2 million) of the team’s cap space would be filled by three players. In other words, this scenario would have never worked out unless they were content teaming up with twelve other players making league minimum.
With the Big Three all opting out of their contracts, the Heat had an NBA record $55 million in cap space heading into free agency. They were now in prime position to bring back James, Wade, and Bosh at discounted (more cap-friendly) deals. As a result, they would have more money to lure in other free agents to retool the roster while keeping their core in place.
How it Hurt
Had the Big Three been locked up to discounted contracts the moment free agency began, the Miami Heat organization would be in a much better place. Unfortunately, this was not the case, as none of the three have officially committed to staying with the team heading into the future.
Two of the three (Wade and Bosh) have publicly stated on more than one occasion that their wish is to remain in Miami. Wade is believed to be seeking a contract in the range of a four-year, $55-60 million while Bosh a five-year, $80-90 million. Those close to James (ESPN’s Brian Windhorst among others) claim that the four-time MVP is seeking a max-contract that is projected to be $20.7 in 2014-2015.
The Miami Heat would have no problem giving James maximum money for the next few years if Wade and Bosh were open to taking back-loaded contracts (contracts that pay significantly less in the beginning and more towards the end). For example, if Wade signs a four-year, $55 million contract he could earn $10 million in 2014-2015, $12 million in 2015-2016, $15 million in 2016-2017, and $18 million in 2017-2018.
The problem here is that James, for one reason or another, has yet to verbally state his desire to return to Miami or to take his talents elsewhere since free agency began on Tuesday. He seems intent on waiting for Pat Riley to sign quality players to fill out the roster before committing himself to the franchise for the next few years.
It is definitely understandable to see James’ perspective and logic in this case. It doesn’t make sense to commit with a team that basically has nobody signed. On the other hand, his decision to hold out and play the wait-and-see game has negatively affected the team’s opportunity to build the best quality roster possible.
Since none of the other free agents around the league can know for sure if James and company will be returning to Miami, they are put in the undesirable position of not knowing whether or not to sign with the Heat. Top-tier names such as Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat, whom the Heat had serious interest in, have been re-signed with their respective teams. Pat Riley and Heat fans all around the world can’t help but wonder if the Big Three were already signed, would their chances of landing some of the bigger-named free agents have improved as well?