Will LeBron James Consider Leaving Miami Heat in Free Agency Now?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 16, 2014

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 12:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the 2014 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 12, 2014 in Miami, Florida. 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.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

LeBron James joined the Miami Heat so that he could win one championship after another. 

So far, he's been able to lead his squad into the NBA Finals year after year, but the Larry O'Brien Trophy hasn't exactly been duplicating itself over and over on his mantle.

The brutal domination of the San Antonio Spurs, who proved themselves a vastly superior squad with their 4-1 NBA Finals romping, handed him his second runner-up finish in his time at South Beach. 

Remember, James and Co. lost to the Dallas Mavericks back in 2011 before reeling off back-to-back titles and allowing hope of a three-peat to rise to the surface of the world's collective consciousness. But the Spurs would have none of that, moving LeBron's Finals record to 2-3 over his incredible career. 

Now, there's a new question bursting forward to the forefront. 

Instead of wondering about LeBron's three-peat dreams and chances of moving up in anyone's historical rankings of individuals, we now have to consider whether the four-time MVP will leave Miami in free agency. 

After all, he can opt out of his contract—along with the rest of the Big Three—and hit the open market, deciding where he'd like to play the next phase of his basketball career.

But "can" and "will" are different things. 

"Soul searching, there won't be much of that," LeBron said during his postgame news conference after a devastating Game 4 rout, as reported by Ramona Shelburne on ESPN.com. "We're a veteran ballclub that's won a championship, that's won a couple of championships, that's been to four straight Finals. We know what it takes to win. We've just got to go out and do it."

Significant, but not the biggest revelation from Shelburne's June 13 piece. That honor would belong to this tidbit: 

The Miami Heat would have to make history to come back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit, but the future of their best player doesn't hinge on that happening.

The Heat's success or failure in these Finals will not affect LeBron James' decision on whether to opt out of his contract by the end of this month, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Interesting. Very interesting. 

Keep in mind that the anonymous source isn't saying that he'll opt out, or that he won't, for that matter. Just that the decision itself won't be affected by this defeat at the hands of a team playing some of the most beautiful basketball ever. 

Ultimately, LeBron's decision will center around one fundamental question: Where is he going to win another title? 

That's the driving force here. He doesn't need a new location to gain novel and lucrative marketing opportunities or to achieve an even higher level of fame. The appeals of the large markets are lost on him, though it's also unlikely he'd go to a smaller one than Miami. 

Winning is the only thing that matters. 

"My legacy will speak for itself after I’m done playing," he told reporters before the start of the 2014 NBA Finals, as relayed by Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver. "To be in this position to win a third straight [title], it’s a blessing. I couldn’t ask for more. This is an opportunity for me to do what I always wanted to do and that’s to continue to win championships. That’s what I’m here for."

Thus far, Miami has given him an opportunity to compete for the Larry O'Brien Trophy time and time again. But the reason the outcome of this series was completely irrelevant is the simple fact that it doesn't affect the future. 

Even if the Heat had completed a miraculous comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, becoming the first team to ever accomplish such a feat in the Finals, it wouldn't have changed the fundamental makeup of the 2014-15 roster. 

Right now, only Norris Cole is guaranteed to be under contract. Everyone else is either a free agent, subject to a contract option or in possession of a non-guaranteed salary. Win or lose, it would stay the same. 

The Finals shed a light on this Miami squad, though. 

We learned that Dwyane Wade is no longer the D-Wade of old, lacking the explosiveness that made him so special in his prime. He was routinely tortured on both ends of the court by the Spurs, and that doesn't speak highly to his ability to continue looking like the star LeBron needs him to be. 

Even worse was the play of the bench. 

There's no quality presence at point guard, and there's no true center who can protect the rim on a consistent basis. The role players coming off the pine largely struggled with their shots, and that aging bunch was unable to keep up with the brilliant ball movement of Gregg Popovich's squad. 

Those are legitimate concerns, but are they enough to drive LeBron away? 


Where, exactly, are things going to be better? LeBron will be forced into an adjustment period with any new team, leading to a potential repeat of the 2010-11 campaign, when he and Wade were attempting to learn how to play together on the fly. It wasn't until they stopped alternating possessions and started playing with chemistry that they were able to thrive, and that type of mentality shift takes time.

The Los Angeles Lakers? He'd have two seasons with Kobe Bryant, but the rest of the roster is mired in uncertainty, and there's no telling how successfully Mitch Kupchak will be able to put together a supporting cast. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers? They aren't that close to competing, especially after missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season and given the uncertainty surrounding star point guard Kyrie Irving.

The New York Knicks? They'd have to gut the roster in order to land him, meaning his best bet is opting in with the Heat and waiting until the 2015 offseason gives him a chance to join other new arrivals. 

The Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets? There are no guarantees that he could fit in with the established stars on those rosters, and he already knows that his playing style meshes rather nicely with the All-Stars on his current squad. 

There are question marks everywhere. Yes, even in Miami. 

But there's one certainty in South Beach—Pat Riley. 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

As Sam Amick writes for USA Today, James has plenty of confidence in the Miami front office: 

James' respect and affection for this Heat organization has certainly grown in his time here, and the proven track records of owner Micky Arison and team President Pat Riley ultimately may give James the faith to believe they'll find a way to retool and remain elite if he stays (with Carmelo Anthony's help or otherwise).

So long as the slick mastermind is running the show, LeBron knows there will be no financial limitations. He can make personal decisions with the full understanding and confidence that Riley will do everything possible to bring as many quality pieces onto the Heat roster as possible, even attempting to land players like Carmelo Anthony. 

At this point, that certainty trumps the mysterious nature of the other locales. 

Wade might be declining. Chris Bosh might not be a true superstar anymore, though he was an incredibly crucial piece of the Heat puzzle during the 2013-14 regular season and the ensuing postseason. So long as they're both in place, this is a team capable of competing for a championship, and it's not like the long-term future in Miami is tied to either player. 

As for that struggling bench?

Riley can essentially pull the plug and start over this offseason, bringing in new veterans who can shoot the ball from the perimeter and help space the court without turning into dinosaurs at the end of the campaign. It's not as though a team with so much talent will be lacking in the ring-chasing-veterans department.

There's a certain appeal to novelty, but it can't trump what James has at his disposal in Miami. And that's saying nothing of the fact that his family is settled in, which has to be quite important to a family man like this particular superstar. 

Other teams can dream all they want. But unless something drastically changes, LeBron is staying put. 

Though the 2014 NBA Finals were a drastic defeat, they weren't a drastic change. 


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