LeBron James took control of the Miami Heat’s offseason the moment he opted out of the final two years of his contract, and he is continuing to control the situation as the NBA’s free-agency period has officially begun.
Actions often speak far louder than words, and when James decided to exercise his early termination option days before the other members of Miami’s Big Three had made a decision about their contract options, he sent a message to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the entire Miami Heat organization.
James’ decision to opt out of his contract made it clear to both Wade and Bosh that if they weren’t willing to opt out of their contracts and take a pay cut next season in order to allow the Heat to retain James and bring in at least another quality role player or two for the 2014-15 season, that James was ready to walk out the door along with any chance the Heat may have had to capture another NBA title in the near future.
James’ decision has also put a tremendous amount of pressure on Heat president Pat Riley to find a way to organize new deals with Wade and Bosh and/or find a way to acquire the assets necessary for the Heat to make another title run next season.
Riley may have attempted to take control of the Heat’s offseason during a June 19 press conference with some strong comments about players needing to “have the guts” to stay together and “not find the first door and run out of it” when things get tough, but James is the one holding all of the cards in Miami right now, and he has been for quite some time.
James seized any power Riley may have thought he possessed the moment he opted out of his contract with the Heat and became an unrestricted free agent.
The Heat, of course, went through a somewhat similar situation in 2010 when Riley was able to convince James, Wade and Bosh to all take pay cuts and sign almost identical contracts in order to give themselves the best opportunity at winning an NBA title.
But while James was willing to take a pay cut back in 2010, he now appears ready to cash in his chips.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, James will be looking for the maximum salary allowed by the NBA from whatever team he decides to sign with for the 2014-15 season.
Some may view James’ demands for a max salary as something of a selfish move that could dismantle the Heat’s Big Three, but we must also realize that things are much different today than they were back in 2010.
Right now, James is far and away the best basketball player on the planet, while Bosh’s production has dropped in recent years and Wade is nothing more than a shell of the player he was just a few seasons ago.
It is abundantly obvious to anyone who even remotely follows basketball that James is significantly more valuable to any organization, including the Miami Heat, than Wade or Bosh.
So, it should come as no surprise that James is no longer content with earning the same amount of money as players who possess only a fraction of the value that James currently holds.
So far, Wade and Bosh have shown a willingness to fall in line by both opting out of the final two years of their contracts with the Heat.
But from this point there is essentially just one option for Wade and Bosh to pursue if they have any aspirations of staying in Miami while also keeping James in town and giving themselves a shot at another NBA title.
Wade and Bosh will need to accept lower salaries while the Heat will need to appease James with a deal that is at least close to the maximum allowed by the NBA.
This does not necessarily mean that Wade and Bosh will lose out on the $40 million apiece they would have earned in Miami had they not decided to exercise their early termination options.
The Heat could still get Wade and Bosh to that $40 million mark but just stagger it over four seasons rather than two.
This would bring their salaries down to around $10 million per year, which may be half of what each earned last season, but it would also get them their $40 million back while allowing the team to re-sign James and bring in some other quality free agents.
Any way you slice it, the deal just described or one similar to that is essentially the only option for Wade and Bosh if they have any desire to remain in Miami along with James.
While there may potentially be a lot of behind-the-scenes discussion going on among James, Wade, Bosh and the Miami Heat organization, James’ actions over the past two weeks have made his intentions quite clear.
It is now up to Wade, Bosh and Riley to accept James’ demands or watch the Heat’s title chances crumble to the ground.