LeBron James' looming free-agency next offseason will be the dominant storyline in the NBA for the better part of five months.
James can opt out of his deal with the Miami Heat after this season. He could always honor the remainder of his contract, but he'd be a pretty noble man to leave a bazillion dollars on the table.
Even if James opts out of the final year of his deal with the two-time (and possibly three-time by the end of the season) champion Heat, he could re-up for a long-term deal once again.
Say what you will about James, but he went to Miami with his two Olympic buddies to win championships. Winning still matters to James. He has four MVPs and two Olympic gold medals, but that's not the end game.
James wants to go where he has the best chance to win more rings. Yes, Miami is nice, so I've heard, and the money was good. But James believed the Heat offered the best opportunity for a title.
Let's assume that will be the driving force in his next decision, and not money. The next 11 generations of the James family could live comfortably off LeBron's wealth. Remember, James took slightly less than the max to go to South Beach.
But, money is a factor because any prospective suitor needs to have some in order to sign the game's best. Teams are already re-structuring deals, not offering contracts to prospective free agents and gearing up for a run at LeBron.
Let's assume the money is equal, and winning is the priority, why wouldn't James just stay in Miami? The Heat are favored to win another NBA title. How could you make the argument that if Miami won three championships in a row, that isn't the best destination for success?
Pretty simply, actually. James is the dominant reason for the Heat's success. Wherever he goes, he is so good that he vaults the team into instant contention.
The rest of the Heat roster is good, but not great.
Dwyane Wade is heading toward the home stretch of his career. He had a spectacular regular season last season, but his knees bothered him in the playoffs and he was a shell. An aging two guard whose Hall of Fame career has been based on slashing and athleticism will take steps backward as age and tread catch up to him.
Chris Bosh has been a loyal soldier playing the center spot, banging with guys who have 20 pounds plus of a muscle advantage. He could be a viable No. 2 option, but if that ascension occurred, it would weaken the Heat some.
The Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly going to be in hot pursuit of King James. Kobe Bryant will be a free agent and could sign something cap-friendly to have one more run, this time with James. Bryant could give James the Lakers' torch he desperately wanted to pass to Dwight Howard.
And for a season, maybe two, James and Bryant would be awesome theater. But there is no young player on the Lakers roster coveted by any other team in the league. Not a single one, so after the nostalgia tour ended, James would be left with little.
Los Angeles is nice, so I've been told, but winning, not climate and Denzel Washington in the stands, will drive James' choices.
The other team you hear is the Cleveland Cavaliers, the franchise James crushed to bits by exercising his free-agent rights three-plus years ago. They torched James jerseys in the streets, the owner lost his mind in front of the media and the town grew to hate him.
But the thinking has always been that James would, at some point, like to right that wrong. He's an Ohio guy, but would he return this quickly?