He might end up re-signing with the Miami Heat, but the news that LeBron James, the consensus best player on the planet, will opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent next week has reverberated around the NBA in genera,l and sunny south Florida in particular.
The league’s four-time NBA MVP, whose team lost in the Finals to the San Antonio Spurs in five games last week, was scheduled to make $20 million next season. He had another $42.7 million due to him over the last two years of the deal. But almost a week before the deadline to make the decision, James’ agent confirmed with ESPN that James would become a free agent.
“Being able to have flexibility as a professional, anyone, that’s what we all would like,” James said last week. “That’s in any sport, for a football player, a baseball player, a basketball player, to have flexibility and be able to control your future or your present. I have a position to be able to do that. . . There’s a lot of times that you’re not in control of your future as a professional.”
James has been more than a player seeking the highest financial reward or one who has been afraid of public backlash over his decisions. He did, after all, put his reputation on the line with “The Decision,” the ill-advised, television broadcast when he announced he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach,” abandoning his home-state team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Aware that many of his fans are politically astute, he also participated in a public service announcement for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, unafraid of backlash from Obama detractors. James said he knew some people would disapprove of his support of the legislation, but he did not care.
Now this. Speculation is rampant about where James might end up, but the reality is that few teams have the combination of salary-cap space and enough talent to contend. Cleveland, the team closest to his hometown of Akron, has been listed as a destination. The Cavaliers likely will draft Duke’s talented forward Jabari Parker with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday. They already have brilliant young point guard Kyrie Irving. Might that be enough to lure back James?
The Chicago Bulls has cap space and has, reportedly, expressed interest in Carmelo Anthony, the star forward who opted out of his deal with the New York Knicks. Could Anthony and James, good friends, look to sign somewhere together?
What of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? They have until June 30 to decide whether they will become free agents. In the end, will the Heat’s Big 3 decide to make another run at it?
All interesting scenarios, but rest assured the balance of the league will shift toward where James lands.