Biggest Factors That Could Influence LeBron James' 2014 Free Agency
Despite the recent free-agent departures we've seen around the league, it's difficult to imagine any superstar leaving a team that's won big the past three seasons.
Beyond that, however, there will certainly be many other factors that could influence James' 2014 free-agency decision.
The status of teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who could both become free agents this summer as well, will be ultimately critical. The ability of Miami to position its roster with young talent moving forward to support James could also be an influential factor.
No. 5: Winning a Third Straight Title in 2014
I simply can't imagine any scenario where LeBron James would leave the Miami Heat as a free agent after winning a third consecutive championship in 2014.
If that did happen, I'd almost be as stunned as I was when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010.
Assuming James is once again a driving force behind the Heat's potential three-peat, he'll stay in Miami regardless of what happens around him this summer. The opportunity to win a fourth straight title alongside whoever his teammates are in 2014-15 will be too much to simply dismiss.
Even if that means passing on an opportunity to join the Los Angeles Lakers, return to his hometown Cavs or launch a campaign for President of the United States.
No. 4: Failure to Win the Eastern Conference
If the Miami Heat advance to the NBA Finals and potentially lose, I still find it difficult to see LeBron James opting to leave as a free agent next summer.
But if the Heat fail to win the Eastern Conference for a fourth consecutive time, the unrest that may cause could inspire James to explore other options.
His hometown Cavaliers could prove with a playoff berth of their own to be a team heading in the opposite direction of the pieces currently around him in Miami. They might get a long look from James, as well as the Lakers, who will be in a salary cap position to add multiple superstars this summer.
It is only after failing to win his conference, though, that James could truly begin to explore options outside of Miami-Dade County.
No. 3: Trust in Pat Riley's Ability to Maintain a Championship Roster
Pat Riley assembled a roster capable of winning multiple championships by convincing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade in Miami.
More than that, though, Riley seemingly moved within the shadows to put those pieces together during the summer of 2010. The NBA community and Heat fans alike didn't see those moves on the horizon until they were ultimately executed by Riley.
For as long as he continues to be in a leadership position with the Heat, there is reason for James to trust that Riley will equip him with the talent needed for years to come.
If Riley decides to retire, however—or is forced to this year for any reason—James may not be comfortable enough with the Heat's decision-making process to sign a long-term contract.
No. 2: If Chris Bosh Leaves and Isn't Replaced with a Young Star
Chris Bosh's overall production has declined during the past three seasons. After averaging 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds during his first year in Miami, Bosh finished with 16.6 and 6.8, respectively, in 2012-13.
Along with James, he will also have an opportunity to become a free agent this summer.
But while Bosh may eventually become the odd man out in Miami due to those declining numbers, he may need to be replaced with an All-Star-caliber player to keep James around.
Regardless of the criticism he's received, there isn't a third-best player on any team who's better than Bosh. He's put his ego aside in Miami and helped the Heat win championships because of those sacrifices.
If Bosh eventually leaves, he will need to be replaced by an emerging young star in order to convince James to continuing chasing titles in Miami moving forward.
No. 1: The Future of Dwyane Wade
LeBron James' free-agent decision this summer could ultimately come down to his relationship with Dwyane Wade.
It was Wade who invited James to join his team with open arms in 2010, and it was also Wade who accepted James as the new MVP in Miami.
As injuries catch up to the 31-year-old superstar, James may feel a debt of loyalty to Wade because of all of that. Regardless of production, James may simply stay in South Beach for as long as Wade is wearing a Heat uniform.
But if Wade decides to potentially return home and join the Chicago Bulls this summer, for example—or leave the Heat for any reason as a free agent—James may have less reason than people realize to stick around.