Rumblings out of Miami indicate that the Heat are in trouble in their race to resign LeBron James. ESPN and Yahoo Sports are reporting that James and the other two members of the Big Three, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, are no longer in active communication. Reports indicate a tension between the Heat’s need to upgrade the roster to placate James and a reluctance by Wade and Bosh to accept significant pay cuts to give Miami the salary cap flexibility to do so. By all accounts, James expects to receive a full maximum contract of $20.6 million per year. Giving James a raise while upgrading the balance of the roster creates tremendous pressure on the Heat, Wade and Bosh.
Possible free agent targets mentioned for the Heat to upgrade the roster include Kyle Lowry, Trevor Ariza, Anthony Morrow, Luol Deng, Marcin Gortat, Pau Gasol and Marvin Williams. Out of this group, Lowry has already agreed to resign with the Toronto Raptors and Gortat has cut a deal to stay with the Washington Wizards. Ariza is looking for a raise and is being pursued by several teams. Morrow remains in play and the Heat have significant competition from the Oklahoma City Thunder for his services. Deng and Williams are reported to have limited interest in pay cuts as part of a deal to sign with the Heat or anywhere else. Gasol is subject to tremendous speculation as he ponders his future. He is reported to seek a contract in the $10 million range annually. Carmelo Anthony reportedly is trying to contact Gasol about coming to play for the New York Knicks. Given the substantial competition for “name” players and apparent salary cap constraints for offering raises to free agent recruits, the Miami Heat appear troubled in their race to secure LeBron James’ services once again.
In the past, when players have changed teams on a discounted contract in order to contend for a championship they were established veterans who had already made a significant amount of money. Gary Payton and Karl Malone played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the twilight of their legendary careers in efforts to win a title. Payton also hooked on with the Heat to finally win his elusive title in the season ending in 2006. When the Miami squad signed Ray Allen, he previously made significant money as the focal point of the Seattle Sonics and the Milwaukee Bucks. Younger guys still in their prime earning years are generally uninterested in taking less pay for their efforts in order to play for a contending team. While the likes of Deng and Gortat would no doubt prefer to play on a team slated for the NBA Finals in a perfect world, they are not inclined to give up financial security for themselves and their families in order to play for a guaranteed winner.
Reports indicate that Bosh seeks a five-year deal in the total $80 to $90 million range and Wade hopes for a four-year deal at around $55 to $60 million. If the Miami Heat give LeBron James his maximum contract, then the team will have trouble granting Bosh and Wade new contracts within their preferred parameters and still have room to attract quality free agents. Perhaps the best thing the Heat have going for them at the moment is negatives with other James suitors. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster needs more quality talent and the Dallas Mavericks have holes to fill as well. The Houston Rockets could offer a new Big Three, but need to make moves to clear salary space for James. Finally, the Phoenix Suns could be a wild card because they have room for James’ salary and an intriguing young core. The next few days will be exciting as everyone watches the free agent roulette.
Commentary by William Costolo