After agreeing to all opt out of their contracts together, Miami Heat stars LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have been discussing financial terms of new contracts among each other, sources told ESPN.com.
Bosh's agent says his client has not decided officially on whether to opt out, but sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that the All-Star big man will indeed follow suit and choose free agency by Monday's midnight ET deadline.
Maybe this doesn't seem like a big deal. After all, top-tier free agents almost always opt out of their contracts at the first opportunity because the chance to ink long-term extensions is generally a good business move.
But this is different.
The Big Three aren't opting out to lock in multiyear, max-level extensions. They're opting out to take less money—at least that's what it seems like.
Calling this development inevitable is probably a bit of an overstatement, but it was widely expected. Heat president Pat Riley had this to say on June 24, per an official team release:
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. 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.
Here's his (prepared) reaction to the next wave of opt-outs:
Today we were notified of Dwyane’s intention to opt-out of his contract and Udonis’ intention to not opt into his contract, making both players free agents. Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade ... We look forward to meeting with Dwyane and Udonis and their agent in the coming days to discuss our future together.
If Riley and the Heat brass weren't surprised, they must have been at least slightly relieved.
That's because all these opt-outs pave the way for Miami to build yet another super team.
Practically speaking, the opt-outs had to happen. Without them, the Heat had no way to substantially improve the roster because the contracts of the Big Three alone would have pushed the Heat right up to the brink of the projected 2014-15 salary cap of $63.2 million. That would mean Miami's options for roster improvement would be limited to veteran's minimums and the mid-level exception.
It should. That's essentially how the Heat have operated in recent seasons, and this past campaign proved a new approach was in order.
It's unclear exactly how the Heat will proceed from here. Much depends on the extent of the pay cuts the team's stars will accept. Make no mistake, though; even with relatively minor salary reductions for James, Wade and Bosh, the Heat will almost certainly have enough cash to pursue another impact player.
From there, Miami can exceed the cap to bring back whichever of its own free agents it desires. So if Ray Allen, Chris Andersen or even Rashard Lewis figure into Riley's plans, they could return. (The Heat could renounce their rights for all of their ancillary free agents to free up as much cap space as possible, then re-sign them after inking the Big Three.) After that, the Heat can rely on the championship appeal of an improved core to attract more ring-hungry vets at a discount.
More important than the practical, necessary flexibility the Big Three's triple opt-out allows is the unity of purpose it conveys.
NBA teams are made up of different personalities with different agendas, which makes consensus ridiculously difficult to achieve. By agreeing to walk away from millions of guaranteed dollars, theoretically committing to take much less in the short term, James, Wade and Bosh are making a decision that would seem unprecedented if they hadn't already done it in 2010.
The fragility of the Heat's plan is difficult to overstate.
If any one of the Big Three had refused to opt out, the scheme doesn't work. And Wade deserves more credit for his sacrifice than either James or Bosh because for him, the $41 million he's giving up over the next two years will be nearly impossible for him to recoup on the open market.
Miami's grand plan is far from complete, and things could fall through at any moment.
James could wake up on July 1 and decide the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets offer him a better chance to win rings. Maybe he'll feel that familiar tug of his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Maybe he'll suddenly decide he wants to be part of the next Los Angeles Lakers dynasty—a legacy-building position if ever there was one.
The same is largely true for Bosh, who is still young and productive enough to potentially field a max offer from another club.
The dangers of unrestricted free agency are real, and even if there's already some kind of pre-arranged deal between the Big Three to return to Miami, it's hard to discount the options that have suddenly become available elsewhere.
We can't call this process a success for the Heat until all three of their stars are back under contract—along with another impact free agent and at least three or four starter-quality veterans to complete the rotation. We're a long way from that end point right now.
But the first step is complete.
So, in a summer everyone thought would involve player movement that could redefine the power structure in the NBA, it turns out the biggest moves might be the ones that preserve the status quo.
In a strange way, this all feels familiar.
Nobody thought the Heat could pull such a complicated, risky plan together four years ago, but they did. And in executing that plan, they created a super team that visited the Finals in every season of its existence.
Now, Miami is effecting an even bolder gambit, and to the dismay of the rest of the league, it looks like it's going to work.