Miami Heat Players Must Make Biggest Sacrifices Yet for Third Championship

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 2: Dwyane Wade #3, LeBron James #6, and Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat stand during the national anthem before the game against the Golden State Warriors at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Jan. 23, 2014. 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 NBAE 2014 (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh gave up a little cash four years ago to chase championships together with the Miami Heat.

If they'd like to continue that pursuit, now's the time to double down.

In order to field a roster capable of extending the Big Three's remarkable run of four straight Finals visits, everybody—from the Heat's big guns to their smaller, supporting sidearms—must make concessions.

Before anything else happens, Miami's three stars have to bite the bullet first. Practically speaking, the Heat need to lock in their core at reasonable rates so they know how much they can spend on a rebuilt cast of reserves.

Saving money on those stars will make seemingly unlikely acquisitions of guys like Kyle Lowry, Pau Gasol, Luol Deng or any of a number of other intriguing free agents more plausible.

Fortunately, it appears the big names are already on board, a fact made evident by their shared decision to opt out of their contracts. Scary as the Big Three's unrestricted free agency might be to some Heat fans, it's a necessary step in the process. And while it's true that James, Wade and Bosh could all theoretically begin negotiations with other teams on July 1, all signs indicate they have no intentions of "exploring" free agency.

A special nod is owed to Wade here, as his opt out represents the biggest sacrifice. Clearly wearing down and unlikely to make back the nearly $42 million he gave up by opting out, D-Wade's selfless move indicates his goals go beyond money.

Plus, he's sending a message to teammates and potential free-agent acquisitions that the next iteration of the Heat will be led by a core committed to the greater good, i.e., championship rings.

James' reported contractual demands are cause for mild concern, though.

Per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski: "James, the NBA's four-time MVP, is seeking a full maximum contract extension—or something close to it—to stay with Miami, sources told Yahoo Sports."

Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) calls a play during the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

We know James values his flexibility, so the chances of him signing a five-year, $130 million contract seem slim. But he could make as much as $22.2 million next season if his insistence on a max salary is real.

Committing that much money to one player would substantially complicate the Heat's overhaul plans, making it almost impossible to drastically improve the roster through the addition of a top-end free agent.

On the one hand, James' reported insistence on a max deal is believed to be an indicator he'll at least stay with the Heat, per's Brian Windhorst:

These details have led to a growing pessimism among teams that James is seriously considering leaving the Heat. ESPN reported Sunday that the Bulls and Rockets have scheduled in-person free-agent meetings this week with Carmelo Anthony as a top offseason target.

On the other, it's difficult to get past just how counterproductive James' reported salary stance is to the Heat's goal of rebuilding a super team.

Wasn't this summer supposed to be about putting money aside?

Still, we can't begrudge James for wanting to be the highest-paid player on his team for the first time in his career, especially when he's actually worth far more than the current "max" under the collective bargaining agreement.

Even at $22.2 million per year, James would technically be sacrificing—if we're talking about what he's worth on merit.

Regardless of whether James collects maximum money from the Heat in his next deal, the team's supporting cast will have to prepare for leaner times as well.

Udonis Haslem has already opted out, perhaps as a formal step toward a cushy front-office job with the Heat that won't count against that delicate cap figure.

Ray Allen would like to come back for another run, but the Heat can't realistically afford to give him more than the veteran's minimum going forward.

Little more than a spot-used sniper now, Allen simply can't be paid like a real rotation player if the Heat hope to add meaningful talent elsewhere. The same goes for just about every veteran free agent who played for Miami last season.

If the much-maligned Mario Chalmers wants to re-sign, he'll have to take a pay cut.

Chris Andersen spent the past season-and-a-half making the veteran's minimum, and his decision to opt out indicates he might be on the hunt for a bigger salary. If he is, he won't get it from the Heat.

Miami also has the $5.3 million mid-level exception, the $2 million biannual exception and a $2.2 million trade exception to use toward free-agent additions, per Windhorst. Under normal circumstances, it's difficult to acquire serious talent using those relatively small roster exceptions.

But ideally, the veterans Miami pursues with those tools will adopt the same approach Miami's last crop of title-chasing role players did: taking less money in exchange for a shot at a championship.

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 30:  (L) Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat, (C) Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat and (R) LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat look at their 2012 NBA Championship rings following a ring giving ceremony prior to the game against the Boston Ce
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

So, even incoming players, ones who haven't even logged a game for the Heat yet, will have to share in the mantra of sacrifice defining the Heat's offseason. Think of it like an initiation.

James knows the Heat must get better to achieve the goal of winning multiple championships he and his teammates established when they came together in 2010. He said as much in the glum afterglow of his latest Finals defeat, per Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald: "The whole league continues to get better every single year,” James said. “Obviously we would need to get better from every facet, every position. It's just how the league works."

That's true. LBJ hit on a reality in the Association: Staying on top means constantly improving.

Another truth in the current world of the CBA and finite cash is this: It takes sacrifice to get the job done.

If the Heat—not just James, Wade and Bosh—are willing to give something up in the form of money, there's a good chance they'll get it back in the form of championship rings.

And wasn't that the point of this whole "superteam" thing in the first place?