Could LeBron James sign short-term maximum contract with Heat?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat star is reportedly asking for a maximum contract, but just for one or two years, which would make him a free agent in 2015 or 2016. Is this believable?

As free agency begins, it appears highly likely that Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will return to South Beach, with James receiving a maximum contract and Bosh and Wade taking less than that. But one intriguing scenario has been suggested by the Oregonian's John Canzano: James taking max money, but not max years.

Could James sign a one-year, $22 million contract or something of the sort? It'd be unprecedented, but it could be done.

Why this makes sense

This is not the first time this possibility has been floated. From ESPN's Brian Windhorst:

James' demand for the length of his next deal is in flux. After the Finals, James said flexibility was important to him, hinting that he may not be looking for a full four- or five-year contract.

There are several reasons why James might sign a short-term deal. For one, the NBA's television contract is up in 2016, and if that yields a rights deal as explosive as many project, player salaries could also explode. A five-year maximum deal now may seem lucrative, but by 2016, it might not be. James could therefore double dip and set himself up to cash in when that new deal is signed.

Another possibility: the short-term deal puts more pressure on the Heat to build a competitive team. There aren't really many viable alternatives to Miami this summer, but the Heat also don't have a lot of money available to upgrade their roster. Signing a short-term deal buys both the Heat and potential James suitors time to maneuver their rosters to best suit him.

Why this doesn't make sense

It'd be an unprecedented move for a superstar. James, Wade and Bosh laid the groundwork for their 2010 union by only accepting a three-year maximum extension on their rookie contracts, but this is different. Based on Canzano's information, James would be acting alone.

It's also much more of a risk to take a short-term deal at 29 than it is so early in James' career. It's highly unlikely that James suffers a career-ending injury, but it is remotely possible he isn't the best player in the world in two years. It's a financial risk.

Likelihood

The deal surely isn't quite done yet, but the reasons for James to take a short-term maximum make more sense the more one thinks about this arrangement. It allows him to stay in Miami with his star teammates while giving himself and the Heat flexibility to improve their rosters. Let's say 7 out of 10.

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