In summer 2014, Miami Heat star LeBron James can once again change the course of the NBA with his free-agency decision.
Since James chose to sign with Miami in 2010, the Heat have gone on to win the past two NBA championships and have appeared in all three NBA Finals.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, left shocked and betrayed by James, are now on Year 4 of their rebuilding process with no playoff appearances to show for it. The Cavs have done a nice job of stockpiling draft picks and young talent since James' departure, but they have yet to turn all of those assets into wins.
With the opportunity to play for any team in the Association, it's likely that James will lean toward staying in Miami or returning to a young Cleveland team on the rise.
We know priority No. 1 for James is winning championships, something he was never able to do with the Cavaliers.
Those Cavs teams never had Kyrie Irving, however.
To continue winning those coveted titles, James is going to need help.
Miami has the veteran roster, one that's proven to be the best in the NBA. Cleveland's youth may be a blessing for James, who will turn 30 in just over a year.
If he has to choose between these two teams in free agency, James will have to look at his primary running mate and decide which one can help him win more moving forward.
Can Dwyane Wade continue to be the Robin to his Batman, or should James opt to play with the rising star, Irving?
As good as James and Wade both are, it took them a while to sync their games.
Miami began the 2010-11 season just 9-8, hardly the look of a superteam.
Both players had to make sacrifices.
Since James and Wade were both used to being the alpha dog of their respective teams since probably elementary school, this wasn't easy to do. In their first year together, James and Wade both saw their field-goal attempts and scoring numbers drop.
Eventually those sacrifices turned into NBA championships, although Wade admitted earlier this season to ESPN that things still aren't where they should be.
If you're in a relationship with a woman for a long time, you start getting comfortable. You stop doing the little things that you should do, that you did in the beginning. It's just like a relationship. We got a little comfortable. Now we have to get back on that edge a little bit.
With the Heat off to a 23-7 start this season, it's safe to say their chemistry is still pretty strong.
If James chooses to join Irving in Cleveland, there would have to be a whole new adjustment period. Would James be willing to wait years for another title, knowing that he's likely on the downside of his career?
Staying with Wade would be the safe decision.
Age and Durability
When they joined forces in 2010, James was 26 years old and Wade 28. Signing long-term contracts wasn't as issue, as Wade was in his prime and James was entering his.
Now, James must turn an eye to the future when making his next decision.
If James and Wade do indeed opt out this summer, it would only be to sign maximum contracts. This means a five-year deal if they choose to stay in Miami (that a team can use one time), or a four-year contract anywhere else.
James turns 29 on December 30, meaning re-signing with the Heat would take him through age 34. There's no reason to believe James won't be playing at an incredibly high level then, too.
Wade, however, is a major question mark.
He's now 31. Signing Wade to a four-year contract means he'll be 36 by the end of the deal. Even Kobe Bryant, once thought to be immortal by Los Angeles Lakers fans, began facing his battle with injuries at age 34. Wade has battled knee issues for years now and has missed eight of the team's first 30 games this season.
The thought of Wade, already on questionable knees, with four added years of wear and tear, is a bit alarming.
Irving, on the other hand, won't even turn 22 until March 23. By the time LeBron's new contract would run out, Irving would be 26 and entering his prime.
While Irving has had his own injury concerns in the past, he's yet to miss a game this season for the Cavs. Wade may have the chemistry advantage with James now, but Irving is young enough to grow and develop with James by his side.
Going back to chemistry issues, the main problem between James and Wade was their similar playing styles.
Both operated best with the ball in their hands, and both were drivers and distributors to teammates. While they've now worked out their differences, putting James next to more of a spot-up shooter would probably be best for him.
Be it in Cleveland or Miami, James has never played with a great point guard. No offense to Mo Williams or Mario Chalmers, but the opportunity to play next to a floor general like Irving would represent a major upgrade.
Both Wade and Irving are at their best slashing to the basket and making plays for themselves and others. When it comes to shooting, though, one player has the clear advantage.
Wade is a lifetime 49 percent shooter from the field, but he connects on just 29 percent from three. Although he's at a career-best 35.7 percent this season, Wade has attempted just 14 total three-pointers in his first 22 games.
This kind of limited range shrinks the floor for a player like James, who relies on open lanes to be effective both passing and driving. Players don't have to truly respect Wade's range, and instead they can cheat off of him to help double LeBron.
Irving has proven to be a much better marksman in his young career. In his first three years, Irving is shooting 38.2 percent from deep, and he won the NBA's Three-Point Contest in 2013. This kind of range and offensive versatility would be a much better complement to James' game both now and in the future.
Wade wins the chemistry battle, but Irving is the better running mate in terms of age and playing style.
Both are tremendous guards with careers that just happen to be going in opposite directions. While Wade is now in his 30s with recurring knee problems; Irving is 21 and already an All-Star.
This isn't an argument for James to return to Cleveland. It's not a campaign for James to leave Miami. Regardless of which city or team he ends up with, James' best choice for a star teammate is abundantly clear.
Irving may not be the best teammate for James today, tomorrow or even next year. Looking into the future, however, Irving will be a better option than Wade due to his talent, age and overall style of play.
All stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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