"I was informed this morning of his intentions. We fully expected LeBron to opt out and exercise his free-agent rights, so this does not come as a surprise," Miami Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement. "As I said at the press conference last week, players have a right to free agency and, when they have these opportunities, the right to explore their options.”
While Riley may not have been surprised by James’ decision to opt out of his current contract with the Heat, the way in which James opted out has surely sent shock waves through the entire organization.
James had until June 30 to inform the Miami Heat as to whether or not he would exercise his two-year, $42.7 million option with the team or become an unrestricted free agent heading into the 2014-15 NBA offseason.
There was plenty of time for James to bring the other members of the Big Three together with himself and Riley to discuss their future in Miami.
And even if James didn’t want to bring Riley into the mix after some of the harsh words Riley had spoken during his June 19 press conference, he could have sat down with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to discuss how they wanted to proceed with their contract options.
But this is apparently something James decided not to do.
Wade and Bosh have yet to make their decisions as to whether they will exercise their two-year options with the Heat.
And according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, James is expected to meet with Wade and Bosh in the coming days to discuss their future with the Heat, which would indicate that James did not have a great deal of discussion with Wade or Bosh prior to making his own decision to opt out.
The fact that Wade and Bosh have not yet made a decision about their contract options and the reports emerging that James will meet with them in the coming days means that James essentially went out on his own to make this decision—and it was likely done to send a message to Wade, Bosh and the entire Miami Heat organization.
It is of course possible that James’ decision to become an unrestricted free agent means that he has already decided to hightail it out of town and collect a max contract that could be worth up to $96 million over the next four years.
But that seems somewhat unlikely when considering that James already took a pay cut to play with Wade and Bosh in Miami; that decision was made at a time when James was less financially secure than he is right now.
According to Forbes, James earned $72.3 million in 2014, $53 million of which came from off-the-court endorsement deals.
So while James could possibly be after a max-contract deal, it seems unlikely based on his past salary decisions and the amount of money he is currently earning off the court.
James’ decision to go out on his own and opt out of the final two years of his current contract with the Heat has essentially told Wade and Bosh that he could be willing to renegotiate his deal in order to bring in another big-time free agent such as Carmelo Anthony and build up another championship team for several years to come.
However, by already opting out of the final two years of his contract, James has also told the likes of Wade and Bosh that he is willing to walk should they decide not to opt out of their contracts or work with he and the organization to create a situation where the Heat could acquire the assets needed to contend for another title in 2014-15 and beyond.
James’ decision has also sent a clear message to Riley and the Miami Heat organization: You better find a way to build another championship team around me, or I am prepared to leave town.
It would have been easy for James to gather up the Big Three and Riley and come to some kind of agreement together before the June 30 free-agency deadline.
But James would have been entering that conversation with very little leverage.
By opting out of his current contract with the Heat, James will now enter negotiations with about as much leverage as one could possibly possess.
If Wade, Bosh and Riley don’t work with James to get the team into a position where James feels as if they can legitimately contend for a title next season and beyond, the best player in the world is prepared to head for the door, which would immediately downgrade the Heat from a contender to an almost non-factor in the Eastern Conference.
Back in 2010, James decided to take a pay cut and bring his talents to South Beach. He is now using his talent and contract options to give himself the leverage he needs to either create another championship team in Miami or head to a team that he feels will give him the best chance at winning another NBA title.
Either way, James is the one holding all of the cards. Wade, Bosh and Riley now need to decide whether they will fall in line or let one of the greatest basketball players of all time walk out the door.