LeBron James has made no secret of his affinity for spending time with those he considers his friends. That's what led him to Miami in 2010.
That also explains this juicy quote in an extended profile by Bleacher Report's Howard Beck on James' relationship with Carmelo Anthony.
"I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together," James said of Anthony. "At least one, maybe one or two seasons, me, Melo, [Dwyane Wade], [Chris Paul], we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that."
Maybe at the end of their careers, James said. Maybe sooner. One more ring chase, this time with everyone on board.
"It would be pretty cool," James said. "I've definitely had thoughts about it."
Before bounding away, he smiles and closes with a coy chirp: "We'll see."
The prospect of James, Anthony, Paul and Wade uniting seems completely absurd in a salary cap league. However, there is a series of highly unlikely events that could actually lead to it happening THIS summer in Cleveland.
STEP 1. Trade Kevin Love to get Carmelo Anthony
This part isn't so hard to imagine. The Cavaliers and Knicks reportedly discussed a Love/Anthony blockbuster prior to the trade deadline, with a third team (likely the Celtics) receiving Love. Those discussions could easily be rekindled.
STEP 2: Trade Kyrie Irving for Chris Paul
It's unlikely the Clippers knock off the Spurs or Warriors this postseason, which means they'd go home prior to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight season. That could lead to Doc Rivers pressing some sort of reset button on his core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. In a preseason interview with ESPN's Zach Lowe, Rivers admitted that the Clippers were "right at the edge" of radically changing their roster if they failed to advance in the playoffs this year.
Those conditions could cause one of the league's most famous fantasy trades to become a reality. Getting the 24-year-old Irving in return for the older Paul would be a coup for the Clippers, so long as Rivers is willing to make the move.
STEP 3: Clear the hell out of the books
(Note: This step isn't necessary if Wade agrees to the taxpayer mid-level exception which would mean he takes an even bigger paycut. The Cavs would only have to clear the books if Wade won't take less than the non-taxpayer MLE.)
This is where the plan get difficult. James is a free agent with a gigantic cap hold of more than $36 million -- the Cavaliers need to keep that on their cap sheet if they want to re-sign him to any sort of deal. Wade is an unrestricted free agent., but in order to devise the easiest path to signing Wade, the Cavaliers will likely need to get rid of nearly every player making more than a minimum salary.
Finding new homes for Iman Shumpert (three years, $31 million) and Channing Frye (two years, $15 million) should be doable. Their contracts will look even better once teams strike out on top free agents and find themselves with money to burn and nobody to take it.
Timofey Mozgov, James Jones and Richard Jefferson are all free agents themselves, so the Cavaliers can simply renounce their cap holds and say goodbye.
Mo Williams has a player option for $2.1 million, and he would be smart to opt in with all the salary-cap space around the league. Cleveland could also convince him to opt in and give itself an affordable contributor.
J.R. Smith also can opt out of his contract this summer, and there's plenty of logic in him doing so given his strong play and the amount of money available. Should he opt in, though, the Cavaliers can release him and only be on the hook for $2.1 million.
That would leave a team of James ($36 million cap hold), Anthony ($24.5 million), Paul ($22.8 million) and Tristan Thompson ($15.3 million). Thompson is represented by Klutch Sports, the agency funded by LeBron, so he likely isn't going anywhere. That's a total of four players for $98.6 million.
That does put the Cavaliers over the salary cap (expected to be around $90 million) but below the luxury tax (likely to be around $110 million).
LeBron on Epic Collapse
STEP 4. Sign Wade to the mid-level exception
Wade is a free agent this offseason, and while he clearly loves Miami and the Heat, he's also made it clear that he's equally loyal to LeBron. Wade and the Heat ran into some issues during negotiations on a contract last year, eventually settling on a one-year pact. They appear to be on good terms now, but for the sake of this admittedly semi-absurd hypothetical, let's say Wade still bears some ill will from the difficult negotiation last summer.
The Cavaliers could offer him the full mid-level exception if they remain under the luxury tax, but because they have a roster to fill out, it's more likely they can only offer Wade the taxpayer mid-level exception for around $3 million per season. That's a huge cut from the $20 million Wade currently makes, but perhaps the idea of reuniting with his buddy and also playing with Paul and Anthony is enough to convince him.
STEP 5. Use Bird Rights to re-sign LeBron
Now that the other business is complete, the Cavaliers can go over the salary cap to re-sign James to whatever he desires.
One other possibility is to flip steps 4 and 5. James indicated he might be willing to take a pay cut to play with his best friends, and there is a way for him to do that and get Wade more money.
James could first sign at a discount from his maximum salary -- let's say that number is $18 million for next year, but it could be anything. The second he officially signs that deal, his new salary replaces his cap hold on Cleveland's books. That would give the Cavaliers significantly more breathing room under the luxury tax and allow them to more easily sign Wade for the full mid-level exception starting at around $5.7 million. That would lock the Cavaliers in at a hard cap of $4 million above the luxury tax threshold, but it might be worth it. Any attempt to sign Wade for more than that using cap space, though, is impossible without also losing Thompson.
In both cases, the Cavaliers would have a difficult time filling out the rest of the roster. They do possess a $9.6 million trade exception thanks to some creative financing on last month's trade for Frye, but otherwise they can only use minimum contracts to get to 13 players.
Nevertheless, it can be done. LeBron's dream of a reunion with his friends is technically alive.
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