Howard announced his intent to sign with the Houston Rockets on Friday evening via Twitter, leaving the Lakers with a huge hole to fill. Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy reports that they will look to tab James as their next superstar should he decide to become a free agent next summer.
Of course, every team in the NBA with a hint of cap space will make a run at James, so that's not exactly shocking news.
James' first decision is whether or not he will opt out of his contract next summer, which could put a damper on the free-agency bonanza if he decides not to. However, opting out would not only allow James to pick up a longer contract, it would give him the ability to leave Miami if he so chose.
One of the main options is now the Lakers, who will have virtually no money on their books past the 2013-14 season. Everyone but Steve Nash will be without a contract after next season, and he's only signed through 2014-15.
Nash's contract is worth $9.7 million in 2014-15, but there's a possibility that he'll be traded this season, or the Lakers could simply waive him and use the stretch provision. With that, the Lakers would take Nash's salary impact and stretch it over the course of three seasons.
James could tab a handful of other free agents next summer—a list which includes Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Danny Granger, Luol Deng, Paul Pierce, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Carmelo Anthony, Andrew Bogut, Marcin Gortat and potentially any of James' current teammates, among others.
With the Lakers completely clearing their books after this season, a group of players could get together and decide that pay cuts and coming together in L.A. might be mutually beneficial. Of course, the first hurdle would be getting James out of his contract.
Why would James opt out of a situation in which the Heat could be coming off back-to-back-to-back championships?
With Dwyane Wade poised to make nearly $20.2 million during the 2014-15 season, a salary he couldn't possibly find elsewhere if he opted out, Miami finds itself in a luxury-tax bind.
With James, Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem all having the opportunity to exercise player options next summer, Miami would already be over the luxury-tax line with just six players.
Not only that, but as repeat offenders and with at least six players left to add to the roster, the Heat would be facing serious luxury-tax penalties. They would be forced to pay north of $12.5 million for every $5 million spent on salary past the luxury-tax line.
With another season of basketball between us and the summer that could potentially change not just the landscape of the NBA, but the way teams are built, the only thing we can do now is speculate.
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