By opting out of his contract this summer, LeBron James has the power to change the landscape of the NBA – again.
Back in July 2010, James decided that it was best to team with Olympic teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to pursue championships with the Miami Heat. His “decision” was attacked on a variety of levels, from envy and jealousy to hatred and scorn. After three seasons together, the trio has produced three straight NBA Finals appearances including back-to-back titles.
Think James wishes he was still in Cleveland?
The Heat face their toughest challenge yet of reaching the Finals for a fourth straight time this season, something the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls (the last two franchises who won a three-peat) could not do. Much has been made of the Indiana Pacers‘ rise as a legitimate threat to win the Eastern conference and the impact it could have on James and company this summer.
James may have foreshadowed a bit through social media last month, saying that he does not know what the future holds for him and his close friend Wade but what regardless of what happens, that they would be brothers for life.
The reality of the situation is that if the Heat ultimately do not win the title, James’ best move may be to opt out and join forces with another superstar. With the leverage and clout he has as the best player in the game, he could force his way to a team via a sign-and-trade if that team did not have the cap space to sign him outright.
Reports surfaced this week that James has Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers on his radar should the Heat fail to win. From James’ standpoint, this almost makes too much sense. He can pair with Paul, who like Wade was at the time, considered a top-five player. James and Paul’s relationship goes back years, and they would be playing together with one of the elite coaches in the game in Doc Rivers. With a supporting cast full of shooters in J.J. Redick, sixth man of the year candidate Jamal Crawford and Jared Dudley, the Clippers could play a similar style to how the Heat space the floor around James now. With Paul and James on the floor together, DeAndre Jordan could turn into one of the most productive centers on both sides of the court.
James’ departure from South Beach could lead to a domino effect as well. Would Wade consider going back home to play for Chicago? What about Bosh, who could be the star of another franchise?
Examining the rest of the league, some of the teams preparing to recruit James are losing their appeal. The Cavaliers are a dysfunctional mess and just fired their general manager, making little to no progress this season. The New York Knicks are focusing all of their energy on keeping Carmelo Anthony. Under Jim Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers have lost the Hollywood appeal that has led to 16 championships. In Chicago, Derrick Rose‘s health could be a deterrent in its own right.
Of course, the possibility of staying in South Beach could be an option for James, but you have to dismiss this idea that he has an undying loyalty to Wade or even Pat Riley. Loyalty goes out the window when it comes to winning championships – he proved that to Cleveland. At the end of the day, to every one of the all-time greats, it’s a ring counting game. James said it himself.
Not five, not six, not seven, not eight…
With Kevin Durant proving this season that he is unwilling to finish second to James again and plenty of other young, emerging stars making their MVP cases, how could James just sit back and spend the years past his prime with a broken down Wade? Durant is coming. Paul George is coming. James Harden and Dwight Howard are coming. Stephen Curry and Golden State are on the rise.
That is why James has no choice but to be strategic about finishing the latter part of his career in the best position possible to win more titles. His second “decision” might be even more important than the first.