In the NBA, superstars don't leave their teams after winning championships. They don't leave future titles on the table.
And they certainly don't ditch three-peats.
Unless they're named Michael Jordan, in which case extenuating circumstances lead one on a year-and-a-half journey of self-discovery through baseball's minor leagues.
So, for those fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers and any other team that might have enough cap room in 2014 to offer a max contract to a marquee free agent—like, say, LeBron James—I offer you these five words too discouraging for "Home on the Range."
Don't get your hopes up.
In three years with the Miami Heat, James has been to three NBA Finals, won two rings and taken home a pair of MVPs.
Along the way, he's rehabbed his image from the damage wrought by "The Decision," entered the debate as one of the greatest basketball players of all time and established himself as one of the two most popular athletes on the planet.
And he's done it all in the company of friends and family from the picturesque shores of Biscayne Bay. What more could a guy ask for, really?
Surely, if there's anyone who's equipped to appreciate these blessings, it's LeBron. He grew up on the streets of Akron, Ohio, amidst the poverty of a single-parent household. As James proclaimed after winning his second championship this past June, he was "not even supposed to be here."
Beyond that, James appears to have learned just how hard it is to win a championship and just how fleeting the opportunities truly are.
Granted, he won't soon live down counting out not five, not six, not seven titles upon arrival in Miami.
But he's since figured out firsthand how grueling the journey to the top can be and so often is. His Heat have played in six elimination games in the past three years, including three Game 7's in the last two.
They could just as easily be 0-for-3 in titles as they are currently 2-for-3.
Nothing comes easily in the NBA, and really, James should've known that from the jump. During his seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals twice—beating the Detroit Pistons in six before getting swept by the Spurs in the NBA Finals in 2007 and losing to Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic in six in 2009.
That first year in Miami should prove particularly instructive for LeBron, should he seriously consider opting out of his current contract and seeking a new home next summer.
The 2010-11 season was fraught with growing pains, from the 9-8 start all the way to the six-game stumble against the Dallas Mavericks in the finals. The chemistry didn't develop instantly, nor did the team—as talented as it was—have a clue how to play together until partway through the following year's playoffs.
LeBron is certainly a superior player now to what he was then, but even he would have to admit building the proper team around him would take time and effort—probably more of each than he'd want to sacrifice at the peak of his powers.
Pat Riley didn't have the proper personnel and Erik Spoelstra didn't have the right system in place to perfectly suit James' peculiar talents until Year 3 of the Big Three era.
Even then, the puzzle was incomplete. Chris Andersen emerged in January as the two-way big man off the bench the Heat had long sought, though he proved to be far from perfect at times in that role during this past postseason.
The point being, leaving Miami under any circumstances would necessitate starting from scratch for LeBron. He'd have to wait patiently while a new organization built a roster to his specifications, and wait longer still for the players and coaches to gel.
Not that a similar situation won't play out in Miami.
As ESPN's Brian Windhorst recently noted, the Heat could be dealing with a clean slate themselves next summer if the Big Three, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and Birdman all decline their player options.
Mario Chalmers, James Jones, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis are bound for free agency in July of 2014, with Allen and Battier potentially courting retirement. The Heat can also decline to pick up Norris Cole's option and withhold a qualifying offer from Jarvis Varnado if they so choose.
So, really, James could just as easily be starting over on South Beach as he could anywhere else. The difference is, the Heat have a team of coaches and front office folks he trusts.
Chances are, they'll have the supporting cast he wants too. It'd be tough to imagine Dwyane Wade, LeBron's friend-turned-partner-in-crime, opting out to leave the only franchise he's ever known. Chris Bosh would seem a strong bet to stay put as well, though he could be on the outs if Riley decides the roster needs a serious revamping.
An unlikely scenario if the Heat do, indeed, win a third consecutive championship in 2014—and almost as unlikely as LeBron leaving that bit of history behind.
After all, why would Riley blow up a team that's enjoyed such success? And why would James not want to be a part of it?
If you've won three championships in a row, why not go for four? Five? Six? Why not seize the opportunity to become just the second team, after Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, to string together such a dominant dynasty?
Why not make that preemptive victory celebration from 2010 look significantly less foolish?
Why would LeBron, a man with the talent and drive to be the greatest basketball player who ever lived, relinquish the shot at immortality that comes with "winning forever"?
Is there another team out there that'll have both enough cap room to sign a max free agent next summer and the requisite talent to challenge for a championship right away?
If LeBron's going to end up as the all-timer of all-timers, he can't afford to forfeit opportunities to contend while bouncing around the league. Stability is the key to success in the NBA, and that's what James has right now with the Heat.
Simply put, LeBron won't bid Miami adieu except in the case that he feels the Heat's window has closed and another one has opened elsewhere.
But if the Heat can pull off the three-peat, there will be no reason to believe the former and thus no reason to go chasing after the latter again.
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