Chances are LeBron James is not leaving the Miami Heat. We have some evidence that LeBron really likes Miami: he picked them four years ago when the entire league was recruiting him. His family likes Miami. He's been to four straight NBA Finals with the Heat and won two titles. Money is little object for the team's owner, cruise ship magnate Micky Arison, and LeBron would appear to have a say in personnel decisions. It's a pretty neat home base from which to rule his empire. Chances are he'll stick around, whether by not waiving his early termination option or re-signing as a free agent.
But the mere specter of him potentially considering leaving the Heat will have the NBA in jitters for the next two or three weeks. This is how LeBron is most unlike Michael Jordan: he's a star of the free agency, player-power era. MJ was never leaving the Chicago Bulls until he did ... in retirement. LeBron is more of a free agent wild card because, well, he's already left one team. We can imagine it happening because it's already happened once in very public fashion.
This could go any number of ways. If LeBron remains coy, teams theoretically in play -- the Cavaliers, Lakers and whoever else fancies themselves ripe -- could revert to 2010 mode and do everything they can to look welcoming to King James. That might mean Cleveland trading the No. 1 pick for Kevin Love. That might mean the Lakers hiring a LeBron-friendly head coach. Even the Spurs, faced with an opportunity to recruit LeBron, would drop everything to build a blueprint centered around him.
This applies to the Heat, too. If LeBron wants Pat Riley to make a play for a major free agent or wants Arison to pay gobs of luxury tax, there's no other option. One imagines LeBron wants revenge on the Spurs, that he wants No. 3 as badly as Tim Duncan wanted No. 5. The Heat got embarrassed in the Finals through no fault of LeBron. That's not how the best player in the world is going to go down. Miami management must know that, and must feel it, too. Two championships is a brilliant accomplishment, but this team intended to win a fistful worth and they aren't even halfway there.
It's really too bad The Decision went so poorly. It'd be pretty brilliant and honest for LeBron to sit down with all of his suitors again, to invite them to woo him with their plans to reign. We don't need another primetime special, and we certainly don't need more Jim Gray. But everything leading up that fateful night was rather entertaining and transparent. The optics are so bad that if LeBron does speak with other teams, it'll be done quietly. Team LeBron is much smarter about publicity these days and they won't allow a media stakeout. Team LeBron will make it tougher for the scoop artists to make this a spectacle, assuming there's even any consideration toward leaving.
We just witnessed the perfect example of team basketball winning a title. There were multiple legitimate candidates for Finals MVP, you'd struggle to definitively call any single Spurs the team's best or most important player. Their style of play de-emphasized the solo artist.
LeBron James will command the attention of the entire league while deciding whether to remain with the Heat, Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
That's how powerful the draw of LeBron has become. Despite that example of a LeBron-led team getting killed by a more balanced, less peaky squad we just witnessed, all eyes will be on King James until he makes us look away.
LeBron could make this really uninteresting by leaking that he plans to remain with the Heat, possibly even taking another pay cut. Or he could own the rest of June and early July by letting other teams believe they have a chance. Few players have that power, and none have as much as LeBron. Even in defeat, no one can take that from him.