Miami Heat president Pat Riley (l) speaks during an end of season NBA basketball news conference; and Miami Heat’s LeBron James (r) gestures as he answers a question during a news conference.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley drew his line in the sand earlier this week and dared LeBron James to cross it. In a highly publicized press conference, Riley commented on everything Heat-related from their crushing Finals defeat by the San Antonio Spurs, to the pending free agency of Miami’s Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He also challenged the possibility of James potentially opting out of his contract for greener pastures when he issued his classic Rileyism by boldly stating, “You’ve got to stay together, if you’ve got the guts, and you don’t find the first door and run out of it,” in a Wednesday press conference. While James’ courage has never been an issue in his decade-plus long career, he’s proved he’s not shy about relocating if he feels he has to. Consecutive championships in Miami gave James a taste of National Basketball Association (NBA) history but fell a little short of his “not one, not two, not three…” proclamation when he first joined the Heat in 2010.
Four years later and the Heat are at somewhat of a crossroads. They’re still in the upper class of the NBA but that unbeatable aura was zapped from them after the Spurs trounced them by an average of 19 points over the last three games of the Finals. Chicago, Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers and even a return trip to Cleveland could all be possibilities for James this summer. With Miami’s rapidly aging roster, could James be on the move again? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Pat Riley has made his statement and he expects James to stay but how cool would it be if he relocated? James has already bucked the trend of superstar NBA’ers moving on so why not do it again? LeBron in L.A. would be exciting, if he’s surrounded by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Or even a return to Cleveland to run with Kyrie Irving and the 2014 top overall pick would definitely fill the stands. The bottom line is its James’ prerogative to depart if he chooses, that’s what free agency is designed to do: give players options. But if he did leave, who could blame him? Wade at this stage is better suited for a bench role and the older Bosh gets, the farther away from the basket his game goes. It was clear against the Spurs that James needed help and if Miami is going to compete with the super teams of the Western Conference and the growing teams of the East then he’s definitely going to need some added help. Boston’s Big Three aged extremely quick and consecutive deep playoff runs will do that to any team. However, James is still squarely in his prime and while his counterparts seem to be exiting theirs.
Green: First of all, Pat Riley should feel confident because I don’t think LeBron is going anywhere. He’s not stupid. He understands his best opportunity to win is in Miami with a front office executive like Riley, who has proven he’ll make the right moves to put his team in the best position to compete for a championship. LeBron is 30-years-old so he’s no longer a young man. However, even at the age of 30 there is still a lot of learning to do. I think LeBron has learned from his mistakes in the past. He learned that turning his last free-agency decision into a primetime televised special wasn’t the smartest move. I don’t think we’ll see that from him again. Now LeBron hasn’t exactly handled everything smoothly this offseason either. Instead of telling reporters he wants to go on vacation before he announces any decisions, I think he should have come right out and told the world he plans on staying in Miami. What is there to think about? You just lost in the Finals. The team that beat you in the Finals is the exact same San Antonio Spurs team you beat one year earlier for the championship. When the Spurs lost in the 2013 Finals, their star players didn’t say they needed a vacation before they decided what they wanted to do. They told reporters they’re coming right back for a shot at revenge. I think LeBron will eventually learn and realize that’s the approach he should have taken as well.
Riley: It’s more complicated than that though. To stay in Miami and get other star players to come too, LeBron would probably have to take less money. But James is already the most underpaid player in the league. He does so much not only for Heat basketball but also for the NBA. He’s officially the face of the league so asking him to take less money should be translated as an insult. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will definitely get approached first as far as restructuring their deals and taking less money because James is just too much of an asset to take less. And why take less money when he could easily go elsewhere and sign for big money while potentially being surrounded with better talent? The Clippers, the Rockets and even the Cavaliers would offer LeBron the type of talent that he could easily run with for the next three to five years of his prime. Can we really expect Wade to be able to contribute at a championship level next season?
Green: After the backlash from his Cleveland departure, he’s going to be reluctant to head elsewhere so the best thing that Riley can do is bring in the necessary talent to help the Big Three out and keep James from possibly tarnishing his image. Like Riley said in his press conference, Miami only needs to retool, not rebuild. Wade is still a superstar when healthy and I can easily see him bouncing back next season with a vengeance, similar to how Spurs’ star Manu Ginobili did this year after his disastrous performance in the 2013 Finals. James’ bond with both Wade and Bosh is pretty strong so I’m sure the core of his heart is begging to stay in South Beach. And as much as the media and even Pat Riley admits that they need to retool, the fact is as long as LeBron stays then they’re still the class of the East and good for another Finals run. An additional piece or two easily makes them Finals favorites again and the cohesiveness is already there for James as opposed to him joining a new team and going through the motions of finding his place in a new environment. The options will definitely be tempting for James this summer but between the prestige, the surrounding talent, the front office and the weather, LeBron’s already in the best place for his future.