It's hardly too soon to begin thinking about the summer of 2014, especially if you're a general manager in the NBA.
This isn't the time or place to fly by the seat of your pants. The difference between a dynasty and a never-ending rebuild often comes down to planning and foresight—in this respect at least, a franchise isn't all that different from any other business attempting to make wise investments.
So this report from ESPN's Brian Windhorst shouldn't be all that surprising:
James has the ability to terminate his contract in either 2014 or 2015 before it comes to a natural end in 2016. On face, it seems hard to believe he'd do such a thing, especially on the heels of his first title and second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with the Heat.
But things change.
After all, this is the guy who brazenly left the team upon which he promised to never give up, a team that had itself made it to those NBA Finals. A sub-par season or fallout with Dwyane Wade could be just enough to send him packing once more.
Windhorst views James as a potential replacement for Kobe Bryant in the event the Lakers icon calls it quits in 2014. Even if Kobe opts to return, however, Los Angeles could re-sign him and treat LeBron as a replacement for Pau Gasol instead. It might make for a tight fit under the cap, but we've seen big names make it work before (as they did in Miami).
With James spending so much time at power forward recently, and given Dwight Howard's imposing presence in the paint, it's entirely possible that Bryant, James and Howard could ever-so-briefly coexist in what would immediately become the most remarkable lineup in league history.
Steve Nash could stick around for the ride if he doesn't first retire. His contract doesn't run out until 2015.
Of course, James won't be a realistic target for most clubs—you know, the ones with rosters composed of mere mortals. There should be plenty of options for those organizations, too, though. In fact, the summer of 2014 could be one of the deepest free agent classes in recent memory if the stars align just right.
Here's a look at the best of what might be available.
Note: This list won't include every player whose contract is subject to an option. Though some are listed, I've excluded potential free agents who are either highly likely of picking up their own options or having their options picked up by the organization. I've also left out players with very little chance of exercising early termination options.