LeBron James may be the busiest man in sports. He has two NBA titles and an MVP trophy to defend, on top of a growing marketing firm that recently signed college football and future NFL star Johnny Manziel.
The 29-year-old, whether intentionally or not, also abruptly reminded Miami Heat and NBA fans of his impending free agency decision this summer. James can opt-out of his current contract and test the free agent market for the second time in his 10-year career.
On Friday, James congratulated Heat teammate and one of his best friends Dwyane Wade on Instagram for his 32nd birthday, but also alluded to this summer.
Along with a collage chronicling their friendship, James’s message on the popular photo sharing site read:
“Happy Bday to my running mate, homie, brother, and most of all straight up friend! The friendship we've created our rookie year at pre draft camp was pure and that's why we stuck together from that point on! Obviously didn't know we would eventually become teammates and do the things we've done so far. I came to Miami for 2 reasons. To play with U and to win championships and I can't thank u enough for the sacrifice you've made since I arrived homie! No matter what happens in the future we stuck together like brothers for life. And no matter what they say, u still a BAD Mutha-Shut-Yo-Mouth out there on that court! @dwyanewade. Oh almost forgot u old as dirt! Boy you look 40. Hahaha!#TreyBallBDay #YouASuckaOnYoBDay”
The key phrase in the long post being: “No matter what happens in the future we stuck together like brothers for life.”
Joining Wade and forward Chris Bosh, James famously jilted the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with Miami back in 2010, coining the phrase “Taking my talents to South Beach.” The trio signed nearly identical six-year, $100 million contracts, with the option to terminate in 2014. Even if all three decide not to opt-out this summer, they can also turn down the player option in their final year of 2015-16.
Success quickly followed the NBA’s latest version of the “Big Three.” They earned three straight trips to the NBA Finals, winning the last two and are heavily favored to win another.
Besides technical contract clauses, the Heat also faces another complication in keeping their stars. According to the Sun Sentinel, should James sign an extension it could only add one more year to his existing contract under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.
In essence it’s actually in Miami’s best interest for James to opt-out and sign a brand new deal, but that also allows other teams the opportunity to lure the perennial All-Star away.
Several major market teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, could have the salary cap space to sign James and another star. As will his former team the Cavaliers, and James has expressed regret about how he left Cleveland fans.
Before Dwight Howard left last summer, it was believed the Lakers were aligning enough cap space to also bring on James and current New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.
Chicago just traded away Luol Deng’s contract, waived center Andrew Bynum’s $12 million deal, and could clear even more space if it uses the amnesty clause on the final year of forward Carlos Boozer’s contract.
Before the season began James praised the Heat organization, but also sidestepped the free agency issue.
"I have absolutely no idea," James said ESPN.com. "I would love to spend the rest of my career in Miami with this great team and great organization as we continue to compete for championships. That's ideal. But we don't know what may happen from now to the end of the season. That's the nature of the business. It's the nature of not knowing what tomorrow brings.”