The 2014 offseason is a massive one for the Miami Heat and its president, Pat Riley.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all have player options next summer, and many expect them to opt out of their contracts with the Heat. Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony have player options, too.
The contracts of Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, James Jones, Rashard Lewis and Greg Oden all come off the books. This is a franchise-defining offseason, one that will require Riley to work his magic once again to keep the Heat as the NBA's crown jewel.
His first priority is obvious: convince LeBron to sign a long-term contract with Miami.
Riley doesn't have to worry about Wade; he's not leaving Miami. Wade means too much to the Heat to spend the final few years of his career elsewhere. And as valuable as Bosh is to Miami, he needs them more than they need him. LeBron is the biggest concern, because he's the best player in the league and the most likely to want to leave.
Riley needs to sell LBJ on the Heat being a first-class, stable organization, which the team seems to be already preparing for by extending coach Erik Spoelstra's contract on Sunday, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, and promoting Andy Elisburg to general manager on Saturday, which the team announced.
Riley needs to assure LeBron that he can win now and in the future, that as Wade ages Riley will still put enough around LeBron that the Heat can win championships. Riley's seven championship rings are his biggest weapons.
Riley's message has to be, in part, that LeBron didn't have any championships before Riley and has two since Riley. Riley is the one who can help James climb the unofficial list of "best player of all time."
If he can successfully make that pitch, then everything else will fall into place. Wade is already going to stay, and with LeBron in the fold also, Bosh is staying, too.
But Riley's work is not done there. We've seen the difference between the Big Three Heat without depth (2010-11 season) and the Big Three Heat with depth (2011-12 season, 2012-13 season).
Haslem and Anthony will likely opt in, and the contracts of the Big Three are going to be expensive. So Riley isn't going to have a lot of cash to work with here.
But Riley's job is made plenty easier thanks to what I like to call "The LeBron Effect." Everyone wants to play with King James, and some are willing to take pay cuts and have smaller roles to win with LBJ (see Haslem, Battier, Lewis, Oden and Mike Miller).
Riley must scour the free-agent market to find more of those players, as there's a good chance guys like Battier and Allen retire and guys like Lewis and Jones aren't even desirable anymore.
It really can't be overstated, though, just how important Riley getting LeBron to sign on the dotted line again is.
Without James, it's going to be extremely difficult for the Heat to remain title contenders, as good as the free-agent class in 2014 is and as wizardly as Riley is.
Wade and Bosh on their own aren't winning a championship, and Riley isn't going to be able to convince players like Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan to come to the Heat. Even someone like Carmelo Anthony is a long shot, as he recently told Al Iannazzone of Newsday that he isn't going to leave New York.
The NBA is easy to understand in that stars win championships in it. And Riley has a chance to lock up the biggest one of them all, again. He needs to do whatever it takes to keep James in Miami. As smart as the Heat are as an organization, the future success of their franchise is beholden to one guy: LeBron.
If Riley can convince LeBron to stay, then the Heat are title contenders for the foreseeable future. Really, it's as simple as that.