LeBron James Sweepstakes has Front Runner in Miami Heat

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LeBron James Sweepstakes has Front Runner in Miami Heat
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

LeBron James will be a member of the Miami Heat in 2010-11.

At first glance, the above statement seems a bit strong.  

However, it seems probable since the hiring of Tom Thibodeau nullifies the potential return of Phil Jackson to Chicago—in which case I would have expected James and Dwyane Wade to join the Bulls to become the modern day Jordan and Pippen duo in the Windy City. 

But back to the Heat.

Miami has several key advantages in the battle for the King's services going forward.  

Most notably, they had Dwayne Wade on their roster for more than the last three seasons, meaning they retain "Bird Rights" on him. So assuming the Heat ownership is willing to do whatever it takes to build a dynasty including paying a hefty luxury tax bill, they have the ability to sign both James and Wade to a max deal.  

The Heat also has a coach to rival Jackson waiting in the wings in Pat Riley—a man who has publicly stated he is willing to return to the bench as coach of the Heat if LeBron wants.  

Riley is highly respected league-wide as the Hall of Fame coach he is. LeBron needs to play for a coach that is on his level after being enduring five years of Mike Brown. 

Sitting $23.9 million beneath the projected 2010-11 salary cap, the Heat are in good position to make a serious run at not only James, but maybe even a power forward like Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, or Amar'e Stoudemire.  

They would have to work out a sign-and-trade because the first year number for a max deal to James, Boozer, and Bosh would be $16.83 million. Stoudemire would get $17.19 million because he made more in 2009 than the other three.  

So, the number for two of the four would be $33.66 million in the first year or $34.02 million if Stoudemire was one of them. This means that the Heat would have to shed either $8.26 million or $8.62 million in a sign-and-trade to make it work. Or it could convince one or both to take less than $16.83 million at say, $15 or $16 million a year.  

However, the only Heat player that might be attractive to the Raptors, Jazz or Cavs is 6-10 forward Michael Beasley.  

Beasley, the second overall pick in the 2008 Draft, has yet to live up his lofty expectations. Still, he did average 13.9 points his rookie season and improved to 14.8 in his second season in the league. He also increased his rebound number from 5.4 to 6.4 in 2009. So his potential should be attractive to a team trying to rebuild after losing its best player in free agency.  

It's also possible the Heat could resign Jermaine O'Neal in order to trade him.

Although he is a shell of his All-Star self, he still averaged around 13 points and six rebounds a game over the past two seasons in Miami. He is versatile enough to play center or power forward, which could make him attractive to other teams.  

The other advantages the Heat has over the rest of the league have nothing to do with basketball.

First, the weather in Miami is gorgeous year round, a bonus that should not be overlooked.

Second, the state of Florida does not collect income tax, meaning the players would stand to actually receive more of the money they sign for in Miami than they would if they were to sign with another team.  

Third, Miami is a big, metropolitan city that would enable a player like James to advance his aspirations of becoming an international brand-name, a la Michael Jordan. 

So due mainly to the "Bird Rights" it holds on Dwayne Wade and an abundance of cap space, the Miami Heat is the clear front runner in the LeBron James sweepstakes.

This position also makes it a favorite to land a Boozer, Bosh, or Stoudemire as well, particularly if they will take less money.

A scenario in which the Heat end up with Wade, James, and one of that trio of big men Bosh, Stoudemire or Boozer would likely be enough to start a dynasty in Miami under Riley's reins.

And if Wade stays in Miami and the Heat add some top tier talent, there will be a clear favorite for the 2010-11 NBA Championship.

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