Money may not be the root of all evil, but you could certainly fool Miami Heat fans into believing otherwise.
It's money that could reportedly tear the Heat apart, rendering the immensely successful Big Three but a fond memory.
The first problem is that LeBron James wants all the money he undoubtedly deserves.
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported, "Once James is satisfied with the direction of Riley's roster makeover, he plans to sign a max-contract extension – or something close – and his Big Three teammates will follow his lead, sources said."
Something of a chicken-and-egg scenario has emerged. If Miami doesn't upgrade its roster, James may walk. But for Miami to pull off such an upgrade, at least one of the team's stars will have to take less money. If not James, that leaves Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Per ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, when the three met together, "James did not ask or suggest that Wade and Bosh opt out of their deals or take lesser salaries to allow the Heat to add other top players, according to the sources."
All the same, the writing is on the wall.
The question is whether Wade or Bosh will take heed.
According to CBSSports.com's Ken Berger, "A rival team executive told CBSSports.com Friday that the growing belief around the league is that Bosh would prefer a four-year max deal with another team to a discounted, longer-term deal with Miami."
There's additional evidence to support that claim.
If such calls are indeed being made, that's a dangerous sign for the Heat. Much as Bosh and Wade have ostensibly been on board for a return to Miami, it might not take much for the wheels to fall off those best-laid plans.
All it would take is another Decision.
As Berger puts it:
James is involved now in the big-boy version of free agency -- the grown-up version. And everyone wants to know what it means that his agent has been speaking with the Rockets, Mavs, Suns and Cavs while James himself has been on vacation. Some of those meetings, at least preliminarily, took place on the phone, according to one team executive involved in the conversations.
Though we can't be entirely certain about James' thinking, we can probably assume his agent isn't wasting teams' time. The risk that he'll bolt is a legitimate one, and it fundamentally stems from Miami's inability to improve the rotation—a struggle that's in large part due to Wade's and Bosh's would-be salaries.
That's one way to look at it anyway. You could argue that James should set a tone by first agreeing to take less money, but recent history suggests he shouldn't be the one to do so. The four-time MVP carried the franchise throughout the postseason, proving time and time again that he's not just the team's best player—but that he's the best player on the planet.
If Wade and Bosh really want to keep him around—and a good thing going in the process—they know what to do.
And chances are at least one of them may very well be willing to do it.
That may not seem to square with Berger's report about Bosh eyeing the money, but there could be an ulterior motive behind some of the league-wide sources beginning to come out of the woodwork.
Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick explains:
"Some of the chatter, specifically the allusion to a disconnect between James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, would benefit an organization that is competing with the Heat for James or some other player, and wants to portray the Heat in disarray."
That may not explain away the calls being made by Bosh's agent (inquiring about the availability of a max deal), but it could put it in some much-needed perspective. Perhaps these calls are merely exploratory in nature, indicative of a free agent who's attempting to cover his bases in the event James withdraws his talents from South Beach.
According to Wojnarowski, "Bosh is back in a second if LeBron commits."
It makes for a less dramatic story, but it may be a more credible one. It's certainly more consistent with the posture that originally brought these three together—the collective willingness to take less money in the name of winning.
As Wojnarowski puts it, "For all the machinations and fluidity of this complex dance, James holds the power to bring everything back together for the franchise."
One way or the other, though, Wade and Bosh have their shares of power, too.
Broussard suggested on Thursday that, "The decisions of Bosh and Wade to opt out of the final two years and $42 million of their contracts were sparked by their desire to add better players in an effort to entice James to stay in Miami, one source said."
If true, that means Wade and Bosh have seen the light from the outset, doing their parts so that team president Pat Riley can do his.
Of course, much depends on the details of those contract negotiations—just how much sacrifice Wade and Bosh are willing to make. A couple of million dollars to either one of them could be the difference between Riley having $5 million or $10 million at his disposal. In turn, that could dictate just how serious the Heat can be about pursuing someone like Luol Deng or Pau Gasol.
There had been suggestions the renegotiated contracts of James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade could leave the space for a $9 million-$10 million annual salary slot, but the figure that Miami has floated to prospective players is a first-year salary in the range of $5.5 million and hazy suggestions about sign-and-trades that would ultimately be difficult to execute, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
That begs the question: Are Wade and Bosh willing to give up enough money?
The conversation quickly becomes speculative without knowing where they stand.
Here's something that's not speculative, though.
He points out that, "What made the overture alongside coach Erik Spoelstra so intriguing is that Deng earned $14.3 million this past season, with the Heat not in position to offer nearly that sum in free agency."
All the same, could Riley's aggressiveness signal a willingness among Wade and Bosh to give up big dollars? Could the organization wind up with that $9 million to $10 million in spending room after all? Interest in someone like Deng certainly makes you wonder.
And for now, that's all we can do. Wonder.
This trio has heretofore demonstrated admirable selflessness both on and off the floor. It has the opportunity to do so again, and that's really the only decision that matters.
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