The NBA’s free agency bonanza is reaching its boiling point, and it seems every player is waiting for LeBron James’s cue.
James reportedly left his meeting with Miami Heat president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg without making a decision on where he will play next, which evidently puts announcements from Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, and perhaps Kevin Love’s future, on hold.
Many reports have stated James intends to leave Miami and return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the home-state team he played for for seven years before bolting for South Beach in 2010. Four straight Finals appearances and two titles later, and James may be on the verge of forgiving Cavs owner Dan Gilbert for his scathing public letter and eager to make amends with Cleveland fans.
With an overwhelming number of rumors about a James return floating around the Internet, Cleveland made its intentions to sign James very real to fans Wednesday by freeing up salary cap space with a three-team deal with Brooklyn and Boston. According to USA Today, the Cavs can now offer James a maximum deal, albeit it with one less year, which only Miami can offer.
The Cavs have a young, talented backcourt with All-Star Kyrie Irving and recent No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, and James can stay in the weaker Eastern Conference for an easier route to the Finals.
The Heat were reportedly the only team James met with personally, with his agent and friend Rich Paul holding meetings with the Mavericks, Lakers, Rockets, Suns and the Cavs. Miami has a leg up on every team since they can offer the four-time MVP the maximum-level contract he’s demanding, and Riley is hoping his recent agreements with forwards Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts, as well as the draft pick he spent on point guard and James-favorite Shabazz Napier, will be enough to keep James.
Nevertheless, the Heat face an uphill battle in terms of building a stronger team around James. Both Wade and Bosh will have to take pay cuts if Miami desires to keep each member of the Big Three while satisfying James’s contract demands, and Wade has shown serious signs of wear and tear at the age of 32.
Bosh reportedly has a four-year, $88 million contract offer from the Rockets on the table, and will sign with Houston if James opts to leave the Heat, according to ESPN.
After opting out of the two years and $41 million remaining on his contract, Wade is the only member of the "Big Three" whose plans remain unclear. However, neither Wade nor his representatives have been linked to any team other than Miami. Wade was handpicked with the No. 3 overall selection in 2003 by Riley, and he’s been the face of the franchise ever since. Should Wade leave South Beach, it could be even more shocking than James’s possible departure.
Then there is New York Knicks seven-time, All-Star forward Anthony, who has been at the center of conflicting reports. The New York Daily News cited a source on Wednesday that the 30-year-old scoring machine intended to re-sign with the Knicks for five more years and $129 million, the max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.
But only hours later, ESPN quoted Anthony’s agent Leon Rose as saying his client hadn’t made a final decision. It’s believed Anthony is waiting to see where James lands, with the outside chance they could team up. Both would have to take less money, around $16 or $17 million per season, should they join forces on say the Lakers, but Phoenix has enough cap space to sign both for more money, albeit in the much more challenging Western Conference.
Finally, where the aforementioned superstars wind up could ultimately affect where Love spends the next half decade playing. Unhappy with the direction of the Minnesota Timberwolves and never making the playoffs after six seasons in the league, Love has reportedly told the Wolves he won’t sign a contract extension and intends to opt-out of the final year of his contract in 2015.
That leaves team president and recently self-hired head coach Flip Saunders in a precarious position. Love is arguably one of the Top 10 players in the league, and giving up on a talented, multifaceted scorer who gobbles up rebounds is something Saunders has said he doesn’t want to do.
But much like Anthony held the Denver Nuggets hostage in 2011 before he was traded to New York, Love’s declarations mean Minnesota could see him walk away for nothing next summer rather than gain some assets back in a sign-and-trade with another team.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the Cavs will attempt to trade for Love if they land James. There was speculation around the draft that Cleveland was angling for Love, but he reportedly said he wouldn’t sign an extension with the Cavs. But later it was learned Love would move to Cleveland if James was already under contract.
Armed with as many as four first-round picks in next year’s draft, the Boston Celtics are also in play for Love, but, as reported by SI.com, the Cavs may need to offer Wiggins to pry Love away.