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NBA News: Heat’s ‘Big 3’ Discussing Contract; Carmelo to Meet With Bulls; Jason Kidd Could Go to Bucks

Perhaps all the discussion of LeBron James truly considering leaving the Miami Heat via free agency has been premature. James and “Big 3” cohorts Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have all optioned out of their contracts, but have been discussing future deals–an indication that they are strategizing a return to Miami.

All three, and Udonis Haslem, will officially become free agents on Tuesday. Unlike in 2010 when all three took nearly identical contracts, the discussions this time have included the possibility that James would draw the highest salary among the three, sources told ESPN.

James, 29, has never been the single highest-paid player on his team in his 11-year NBA career.

Under league rules, players are not allowed to negotiate new contracts with their teams until July 1. However, there is nothing preventing the players from working it out among themselves, and cutting up the Heat’s upcoming record $55 million in available cap space is believed to have been a major part of the discussion when Wade, James and Bosh held a meeting last week in Miami.

The trio of Heat stars working collectively have three general options on how to put together their deals that could affect how aggressive the team will be going after other free agents. The Heat’s front office, led by president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg, will consult but have different plans for all three contingencies, sources said.

James, Bosh and Wade could all re-sign and take raises to the maximum salary starting at $22 million each, which would carry the Heat into the luxury tax and significantly limit their spending options this season and in the following seasons.

They could all take significant pay cuts, perhaps in excess of $5 million per year each, that would take the Heat below the salary cap and leave enough room to chase a major free agent like point guard Kyle Lowry. Though the Heat may ultimately investigate the possibility of Carmelo Anthony, that option has not been seriously discussed among the parties yet, sources said.

The last option is that the Heat stars could all take moderate pay cuts and stagger their salaries at different levels. This would likely not leave significant cap space, but it would take the Heat below the luxury tax line and enable them up to use the full mid-level exception of $5.3 million and the biannual exception of $2 million to bring in multiple role players.

With James saying the team needs to improve “at every position,” it seems possible the third option may end up being the most likely, especially after the Heat players all took pay cuts when they came to Miami four years ago.

Carmelo Anthony to Visit Chicago Bulls First

Carmelo Anthony, who has committed to opting out of his contract with the New York Knicks, plans to visit the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, the first day free agents can have contact with other teams.

Anthony, who maintains an offseason home in Los Angeles, is also expected to meet with the with the Los Angeles Lakers in LA next week.

But reported Saturday that although Anthony is about to be courted hard by the aforementioned suitors, the New York Knicks remain optimistic that Anthony will re-sign with the team. A source told the website that Anthony, the star forward, and new Knicks president Phil Jackson, have  “connected.”

Bucks Seeking Jason Kidd as Head Coach; Larry Drew Out

Jason Kidd, after just one year as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, could become the new leader of the Milwaukee Bucks if the teams agree to a trade for a draft pick.

The Nets want a first-round selection; the Bucks are offering a second.

“If the Nets agree then there will be a deal, if they don’t then [the Bucks] are comfortable moving on and there will be nothing further to talk about,” said the source. “The only thing (the Bucks) would give them is a second-round pick. They want a first. In the next 24 hours, there will either be a deal or there won’t be a deal.”

All this leaves Larry Drew out of a job for the second year in a row. The Atlanta Hawks unceremoniously dumped Drew prior to last season. Now, after one nondescript year with the roster-suffering Bucks, he’s out again.

“If Jason accepts, then they will work it out [with Drew],” said the source. “If the deal doesn’t happen, then there will be an issue with Larry.”

A league source told Saturday that Lionel Hollins has already emerged as “a very serious candidate” to become head coach of the Nets in the event Kidd does end up in Milwaukee.

“In a lot of ways he makes the most sense,” a league source said of Hollins. “He represents stability, and stability is very important right now. He rules with an iron fist and gets a lot out of his players, so he’d be very high on the list right now, and likely the leader.”

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