During the postgame press conference of the Miami Heat’s Game Seven victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals Thursday night, LeBron James was asked about his plans for the summer and when he plans to pick up a basketball again.
The 28-year-old and now two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP said he didn’t want to answer any questions about next year.
But James will have to answer at least one question next season: “Can the Heat win a third consecutive title?”
Only three franchises have pulled off the elusive three-peat. Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics of the 1960s won eight consecutive titles; Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls completed two three-peats over an eight-year span, and the Los Angeles Lakers, headed by the two-headed monster of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, won from 2000 to 2002.
The Heat have the chance to equal all three of those legendary teams, with the majority of their core returning next season.
James, Wade, and Bosh are locked up until all three can opt-out in the summer of 2014. Ray Allen has a player option for $3.2 million next season, and considering his advanced age and the fact that he currently calls the best player in the world in James his teammate, he should play out the rest of his deal.
Key role players Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers provided plenty of extra scoring for Miami in Game Seven, and both will enter the final years of their contracts next season. Chalmers will make $4 million and Battier $3.2 million. Other than an unlikely trade, both should be with the Heat for the duration of next season.
Same goes for Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, who like the Big Three, have player options in 2014.
Shooters James Jones and Rashard Lewis also have player options. Neither got much burn during the playoffs and won’t garner a more lucrative contract on the free-agent market. They should stay put and ride the Big Three’s back for another season.
The only wild card that could test free agency is shot-blocking forward Chris Andersen. He made just under $700,000 this season after signing on in February, and may expect a pay increase considering his timely rebounding and defense in the playoffs.
Miami will have the second highest payroll in the league next season at $85 million, and the new salary cap penalties could force the “Birdman” out if he expects too much of a raise.
The Heat and Big Three will dodge questions pertaining to the summer of 2014, and will instead go the route of “task at hand” and “one game at a time” answers. But Miami team president Pat Riley will have to figure out a way to keep his top players, while trimming down more than $34 million in cap penalties.
Otherwise Miami’s title run may end at three.