Since July 2010 and “The Decision,” LeBron James has remained at the center of the NBA universe as the game’s most loved and most hated.
With James’ agent Rich Paul reportedly meeting with teams earlier this week according to Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein of ESPN, this is starting to sound a lot like what happened in 2010. At that time, James had official visits with six other teams before he left the city of Cleveland to join the Miami Heat.
Windhorst and Stein’s report states that at least four teams, including the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and the Cavaliers, made their recruiting pitch to Paul to get his client to sign with them.
It’s clear that James isn’t working in conjunction with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh anymore, as the three were wavering at the thought of taking steep paycuts so that team president Pat Riley could rebuild the core group of players around them.
That all changed once James declared he will be seeking a max salary that would pay him close to $20.7 million next season. Ultimately, James is forcing Wade and Bosh to make their own decision: “Take less so that we can build around us, or I’m gone.”
The miscommunication between the three has led to James’ agent meeting with these other teams. Each team represents a unique scenario for James should he decide to leave South Beach. Cleveland is not a strong possibility due to owner Dan Gilbert’s public letter of resentment towards James once he left in 2010.
What can Phoenix, Dallas and Houston offer James as he enters the peak of his prime?
Assuming they match any offer given to restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe, who is close friends with him, the Suns already hold some appeal to James, along with cap space. Currently, they could have around $30 million in cap space with the guaranteed contracts on the roster (cap holds on Emeka Okafor, Leandro Barbosa and Channing Frye).
Goran Dragic, due $7.5 million, was the Most Improved Player this past season. The talent doesn’t end with those two.
James could still demand his max salary, play alongside Bledsoe who looks like a future All-Star point guard, and other complimentary players could be added to fill out the roster via free agency.
The franchise would have it’s best team since the 1992-93 season with Charles Barkley that won an NBA-best 62 games that year.
Owner Mark Cuban is wasting no time trying to build a powerhouse in the Western Conference. By trading for Tyson Chandler last week, the Mavericks are going back to their 2011 championship roots.
Dirk Nowitzki just signed on for three more years and has shown he’s still capable of averaging 20-plus points even at 36 years old. Don’t forget, the team took the champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round, San Antonio’s toughest outing during the entire postseason.
Led by coach Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks would be the favorites out west with a big three of James, Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. And Chandler would be the defensive minded rim protector James never had in Miami.
A trio of James, Dwight Howard and James Harden is almost unfair on paper. In Miami, James had to be the do-it-all man, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. That wouldn’t be the case in Houston.
Howard is an elite defensive big man who can clean up that end of the court and has won the rebounding title multiple times. Harden, since he’s a ball dominant guard, can be the playmaker that Wade once was in his prime. Essentially, these two are a better, young version of Wade and Bosh.
The Rockets issue will be clearing the necessary cap space to give James that max salary slot. Jeremy Lin is on his way out of town, but it will be tough to trade away Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas and not take on salary coming back.