Cap room and the power of persuasion won't be enough to break up the Big Three in Miami. Something big would have to trigger the decision for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh to leave South Beach.
Think about it. What's the incentive for the Big Three to leave? From top to bottom, Miami has proven to be a first-class organization, a hospitable home, and a place where title contention is guaranteed every year. There's virtually nothing another team can offer that can't be had in Miami. If you had to handicap the 2014 offseason, Miami would be the heavy favorite to retain all three players.
It's difficult to understand why a guy like Dwyane Wade would ever leave. Wade has played his entire career in Miami, and that's where his home and legacy exist. He's beloved there, and there's essentially no chance he would bolt town before James or Bosh did. After all, he's not going to find a better player to play with, right? It's hard to imagine Wade even considering exercising his Early Termination Option unless he was the lone player left in Miami, abandoned by James and then Bosh.
While more touches and a bigger role might appeal to Chris Bosh, he already had his time as the face of a franchise in Toronto. He knows the challenges that entails, and there's probably a reason he left them behind. Perhaps a younger set of stars to join up with would be a smart play for the sake of longevity, but willingly leaving the side of a player who will always be contending for rings wouldn't seem to make much sense. Why cross LeBron James when you could stay with him?
And what about LeBron? So long as everyone stays healthy and the Miami Heat contend again, why leave early? He wants rings, and Miami has already provided three straight opportunities. After this year, there's a good chance that number grows to four. LeBron's chase of Michael Jordan and history is probably more significant to him than any other emotional attachment elsewhere.
It's a good old-fashioned standoff this offseason between LeBron, Wade and Bosh to see who will pull the trigger and opt out to head somewhere else, but there's a lack of incentive for anyone to feign leaving so long as Miami is healthy and contending for titles.
For those reasons, the chances of the Big Three breaking up are very slim. However, these teams could have some appeal should the right circumstances arise.
Target: LeBron James
If Wade is the last domino to fall, James is the first. The decision to keep the Big Three together another season likely rests with James, as Wade and Bosh would be reckless to pass up the level of success and opportunities James provides.
Perhaps James really does want a hero's homecoming back to Cleveland, however. Maybe he views it as a challenge, and a way to retroactively wipe clear the one stain on his impressive resume. That's possible.
It would help, though, if Dan Gilbert and Cleveland's organization stopped being so petty about everything LeBron. It's hard to imagine James choosing to pair with Gilbert (and Mike Brown!) once again. Kyrie Irving is fantastic, and Anderson Varejao got along well with James, but there's a lingering vitriol that still emanates from all of Cleveland.
The opportunity to win back his hometown probably isn't enough on its own, but what if Dwyane Wade's knees don't cooperate this season? If Wade looks like he has nothing left in the tank, misses a ton of games and comes up short in the playoffs, perhaps LeBron will see the writing on the wall and choose his next team a year early. If he did leave Miami and a banged-up Wade behind, Cleveland would be just about the only landing spot that wouldn't result in a reputation hit, for whatever that's worth at this point.
Target: Chris Bosh
The Rockets may seem like a weird inclusion here, particularly because they aren't scheduled to have any cap room going into next season. However, if the Rockets could dump Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin while not bringing back future salary (which wouldn't be too difficult), all of the sudden Houston would be able to offer a salary in the ballpark of max money. Scary, right?
So maybe instead of playing with a broken-down Dwyane Wade and LeBron James with one year remaining on their contracts, Bosh would opt out to secure more long-term money and position himself with what looks like the league's best shooting guard and center going forward for a long time. Bosh and Howard would fit perfectly together offensively, and Howard's presence could lessen the physical pounding Bosh would take.
For longevity's sake, this wouldn't be a bad move for Bosh. Rockets GM Daryl Morey would have to do some creative shuffling, but he's proven plenty capable of that.
For what it's worth, Morey and the Rockets showed interest in Bosh back in 2010, and Bosh is originally from Texas. Is that enough reason to leave before anyone else does? Probably not, but it would be an intriguing option if Houston made the necessary moves.
Target: Chris Bosh
We already know that the Lakers don't believe they can sign LeBron in free agency, but what about Chris Bosh? If Bosh really wanted his own team in the not-so-distant future, a big market and the spotlight, leading the Lakers into a new era would make sense.
Still, it's hard to consider the Lakers as being a major player here. They won't force the Big Three to break up, but they could be the rebound.
Target: LeBron James
LeBron is a Cowboys fan, right? Mark Cuban is pretty convincing on Shark Tank, yes? This is grasping at straws, huh?
Depending on what happens with Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks should have a healthy chunk of cap space to play with. That hasn't panned out for them in previous offseasons, and there isn't a whole to like in terms of talent, but they're a long-shot landing spot should something go horribly wrong in Miami.
Target: Dwyane Wade
The Bulls should have a little spending room if they let Luol Deng come off the books, and maybe Wade will take the homecoming route if he believes LeBron James is going to do the same. Pairing up with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and that elite defense would definitely be the best option for Wade to hunt down another ring if he opted out of Miami.
While there are some interesting options available for James, Wade and Bosh, the safe bet is that the Big Three forgo the Early Termination Options on their contracts this offseason and stick together for at least one more year. As it stands right now, Miami is just too good of a situation to want to leave behind.