LeBron James Would Be Foolish to Leave Miami Heat in 2014 Free Agency

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2014

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16: LeBron James #6 of the Eastern Conference All-Stars talks to the media following the 2014 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Ray Amati/NBAE via Getty Images)
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LeBron James is smart enough to know that his immediate future lies with the Miami Heat.

Attempts to drum up his impending free agency are made regularly, portraying this summer as if it isn't any different to 2010, when James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in shambles for want of something more than revolving mediocrity and a fallow legacy.

What follows this season will be nothing like 2010, and not merely because James is also smart enough to know nationally televised decisions imply insatiable hubris.

"At this point, I can't," James told NBA TV's Steve Smith when asked if he could envision leaving Miami if the Heat won a third straight title. "At this point, I can't."

Of course he can't. Who can?

No stranger to navigating rocky waters and tricky interviews, James did leave himself an out.

"We don't know what could happen from now until July," he continued. "What I've been able to do this whole season, to this point, is just worry about what's at hand. And that's winning a championship."

Diplomatic routes are the only ones James traverses these days. His first decision offered a learning curve, and learn he has. Just as he's not about to bring The Decision: Part II to movie theaters, he's not going to render an ironclad decision nearly six months in advance.

James is going to take the responsible route. He has taken the responsible route. All free-agency questions will be met with meticulously thought-out answers, leaving us no closer to reading James' mind than the average average crystal-ball gazer who substitutes snowballs for actual crystal balls.

But deep—or not-so-deep—down, we know James isn't going anywhere. Not this summer.

 

Win or Lose

Winning a third straight title compels him to stay in Miami for obvious reasons, none more important than pursuit of a fourth.

Michael Jordan never won four in a row, and Magic Johnson didn't either. Neither has Kobe Bryant. So many of the legacies he's pinned to and compared against could be rivaled or dwarfed by a fourth-straight championship.

"That’s my personal goal," James said after naming his Mount Rushmore of NBA players, per The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn. "I don’t really care what other people say, where they put me, how they define me. That’s not for me to care about. For me, I have an opportunity to maximize my career and be the greatest of all time and I feel I can do that."

Merely contending for a fourth consecutive championship brings James closer to his ultimate goal. It doesn't catapult him past Jordan (six total titles) and Magic (five), among others, but greatest of all-time conversations are about distinction. 

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 24: LeBron James of the Miami Heat attends the NBA Championship victory rally at the AmericanAirlines Arena on June 24, 2013 in Miami, Florida. The Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.  (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/
Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

In Miami, if he wins this year, he has an opportunity to do something certain historical equals never did. And make no mistake, it would have to be Miami. Leading a separate team to his fourth successive title wouldn't have the same meaning.

Furthering a dynasty he helped forge prevails over everything else he could do if he left this summer.

What if the Heat don't win, you ask? What if the Indiana Pacers or Oklahoma City Thunder, or some other Western Conference power, unseats them? Then he should still stay put.

The ride in Miami doesn't have to end with a second failed championship endeavor. Next season, James would still have the opportunity to win a third in five years. That's pretty damn impressive. That's still a dynasty, the same one he promised nearly four years ago when he first joined the Heat. 

James cannot walk away from that, either. Not now. 

For James, the 2014-15 season, whatever it holds and whatever it's for, is best spent in Miami.

 

Also...

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 24: Udonis Haslem and LeBron James of the Miami Heat attend the NBA Championship victory rally at the AmericanAirlines Arena on June 24, 2013 in Miami, Florida. The Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.  (Photo by A
Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

Where else will James go?

To the Cleveland Cavaliers? That's cute.

To the Los Angeles Lakers, where he could help increase Bryant's ring count? That's adorably adorable.

There aren't any better options than Miami, uncertain futures of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh included. No other team with cap space offers the same combination of historical precedence, front-office stability and camaraderie. Not one. 

Pay no attention to the looming threat of James forcing a sign-and-trade to a team without cap space, either.

"This time is going to be different," a source close to James told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst. "If LeBron decides to look at other options it won't just be teams with cap space. He has 30 options if he wants them."

This version of James isn't going to force a trade from Miami. The public-relations backlash would be too great and I shudder to think of the strain it would put on his deep-seated friendship with Wade. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers greet each other before their game at Staples Center on January 13, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

If James truly wants to keep his options open, if he truly wants to explore more possibilities than 2014 free agency presents, he'll simply opt into the next year of contract, spend the season playing for Miami and reevaluate his situation in 2015, when even more teams are projected to have cap space.

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 20: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat celebrates with team President Pat Riley in the locker room following the Heat's victory against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals on June 20, 2013 at American Airlines Arena
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Remaining with the Heat doesn't demand another long-term commitment. If there's any doubt in James' mind that Pat Riley cannot continue assembling and fielding an Eastern Conference Goliath, he can enter wait-and-see mode.

We're not talking about fellow free agents Carmelo Anthony and Luol Deng here. James' value isn't in danger of declining anytime soon. Equally lucrative and lengthy contracts will await him in 2015, and they'll come in a higher volume.

Then, if James wishes to leave the Heat, be it after a third or fourth championship, or second or third failed title run, he can depart knowing he did as much as he could.

Whatever his future holds, whatever he wishes upon legacy, all roads lead through Miami, which, nearly four seasons later, is still the best spot for James to chase down basketball immortality for at least another year.