ORLANDO -- The decision might not come in the desert, but the meeting between LeBron James and Pat Riley that could signal the continuation of the Heat’s golden era is set for Wednesday in Las Vegas.
While the Heat’s summer-league team toiled away in Orlando on Tuesday, the Heat’s front-office team led by president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra prepared for a far-more-important bit of team building in the nation’s other play-land destination. Riley and Spoelstra will meet with James to discuss James’ future with the team and how exactly the Heat plans to improve the team.
So far, Riley’s answers include recent free-agent commitments Josh McRoberts, who elbowed James in the face in the first round of the playoffs, and Danny Granger, who has had a history of poor performances against James throughout his career.
While Riley and James discuss the Heat’s future, the rest of the NBA will remain in a holding pattern. The league has been on standstill for the past two weeks waiting for James and another high-profile free agent, Carmelo Anthony, to plot their careers.
James’ first face-to-face meeting of free agency will go to the Heat, but he could meet with other teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns. Both of those teams have had discussions with James’ agent, Rich Paul.
Anthony has approached free agency differently, touring the country and meeting with prospective teams. Now he must decide between playing for the third team in his career or sticking with the New York Knicks and new team president Phil Jackson. If he remains in New York, Anthony could command a contract worth $129 million.
Like Anthony, James is seeking a max contract, and signs point toward him signing it with the Heat.
Burn away the media frenzy and Twitter swirl, and James has played in the NBA Finals every season he has worn a Heat jersey (four) and won titles half the time. The Heat is confident that means something to a player whose only clue into his free-agency thinking in the last year has been a public desire to be put in the best position possible to win championships.
That Riley delivered on that promise in 2010 will be part of his pitch to James.
James flew to Las Vegas on Monday, and on Tuesday attended to the other half of his growing empire — his sponsorship deals. He met with representatives and posed for photo shoots. Of course, every minor movement by James left a seismic footprint on Twitter.
For James, nothing that happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
On Monday night, James and Dwyane Wade met for dinner at LAVO Italian restaurant. The meal was reported as breaking news by Yahoo!Sports and, by Tuesday afternoon, a press release from a New York-based public relations firm gave the details of what James ordered.
“James and Wade enjoyed items from the LAVO menu such as sea bass, steak and grilled vegetables but stuck to their strict offseason paleo diet,” read the press release.
The release offered more details of the fun night in Las Vegas, which had all the classic earmarks of paid public appearances: “The free agent went to Marquee's Boom Box Room with Wade after dinner where his hometown friend and personal DJ Steph Floss hopped in the DJ booth and played some of his favorite hits while the guys danced and took pictures.”
Tuesday morning, Wade and James worked out together, according to the Associated Press. By Thursday morning, they could be celebrating the next chapter of their careers together, or toasting an excellent four-year run that all of South Florida will cherish for years to come.
James is expected to make an appearance at a Nike-sponsored basketball camp for elite prospect on Wednesday before sitting down with Riley.
Former Heat draft pick James Ennis was one of the stars of the Orlando summer league over the weekend, but showed some inconsistencies Tuesday.
Ennis finished with four points in less than 23 minutes, went 1 of 6 from the field and also committed a foul in the final seconds of the game that cost his team a victory. The Heat’s summer-league team lost to the Pistons’ summer-league squad 80-78 after leading by four points with 14 seconds to play.
Ennis fouled Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope during the act of shooting a deep, spot-up jumper with 14 seconds left in the game. Caldwell-Pope made all of his foul shots, cutting the Heat’s lead to one. Ennis, who played last year in Australia and Puerto Rico, then missed two free throws. On the final play of the game, Caldwell-Pope made a three-pointer to win the game.
“I told the guys that’s a learning experience,” said Heat summer-league coach Dan Craig. “Those late-game situations, it’s an opportunity … for them to learn and get better.”