The remarkable thing happening with the Miami Heat and its biggest stars takes a page from a 19th century French novelist and also borrows from English folklore even older than that.
The writer Alexandre Dumas in his epic 1844 novel, The Three Musketeers, brought to life a trio of inseparable friends who lived by the motto, “All for one, one for all.” Some 170 years later, the Heat’s basketball brothers, known as the Big 3, seem to be of a mood and a mind to continue operating under that same rather noble credo.
Dwyane Wade made it known Saturday that he would opt out of his existing Heat contract to become a free agent, just as the more celebrated of the triumvirate, LeBron James, had previously done and as Chris Bosh is expected to do on Sunday. Lesser-priced team stalwart Udonis Haslem also joined the opt-out crowd.
It sounds ominous on the face of it, “opting out,” as if it were bad news — as if all of them are plotting their exits.
The exact opposite almost certainly is true.
The belief is that all three (plus Haslem) opting out is good news signaling a cooperation, a willingness for each to renegotiate and re-sign with Miami under terms that would give the club financial flexibility to then augment and improve the surrounding roster.
This, of course, depends on a nod to European fiction even predating The Three Musketeers. Here, the Big 3 would be borrowing from the folklore of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. James, Wade and Bosh would be robbing from themselves, in effect, in order to make the rest of the team less poor.
Such sacrifices were made in 2010 to enable this grand experiment to first come together. Two NBA championships and four consecutive trips to the Finals later, Heat president Pat Riley must now convince the Big 3 to do it again — to take less money in the name of winning.
Their opt-outs (expected to include Bosh) alone suggest a strong willingness to listen, to buy in. It is an indication the Heat’s core believes this epoch in franchise history still is trending upward and has more rings in it.
The Big 3 could have opted in at full contract value. That was Haslem’s right, too. That would have assured they’d all be back with the Heat, but ruined chances to substantially improve the team around them, a need that became evident when Miami lost the recent Finals to San Antonio, 4-1, losing the last three games by 57 combined points.
Instead, with Wade’s opt-out and Bosh’s expected opt-out, come indications that they both are willing to deal down from maximum contracts in the $20 million range to something closer to $15 million each, and that Haslem will accept a reduction from the $4.6 million he was due.
This would mean Miami has an NBA-record $55 million in salary-cap space, most of which would be used of course to re-sign the Big 3 and Haslem. But even if James is paid closer to the maximum, the sacrifice of the others would mean Miami and the builder/architect Riley would have at least $12 million more to spend in free agency this summer than they would have had everyone opted in.
The opt-out parade with an eye on all re-upping always seemed very likely.
Bosh has been the most outspoken in terms of his plainly stated desire to remain in Miami. He and his family love it here, and he has not been coy. He wants to stay.
Wade, at 32, would find limited options, if any, to make more money elsewhere than he could make here even at a reduced rate. Beyond that, he, too, has said he’d like to stay. And Riley, in his recent postseason news conference, made clear his loyalty to Wade, saying, “He’s a Miami Heat for life. I would be very surprised if he — more than anyone — were anywhere else but in a Heat uniform next season.”
Haslem, who was born and raised in Miami, also always seemed sure to return.
Riley on Saturday reiterated the club’s desire and intention to keep the Big 3 together, and to retain Haslem as well.
James has been the only real wild card because of his singular stature. He also has been the most careful to not be pinned down about his intentions.
The best player in the NBA will have serious suitors.
The King will have his options, enticements to leave.
While Wade and Haslem declared for free agency Saturday — with Bosh expected to do the same Sunday — almost as a procedural matter with intentions to re-sign, James is expected to listen to competing offers. Even as Miami remains the frontrunner to retain him, the team and Riley must show their best hand.
Miami fired a major salvo in The Battle to Keep LeBron during this week’s NBA Draft by trading for University of Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier — a personal favorite of James’.
Wade, Bosh and Haslem all opting out and next all re-upping at reduced rates would be another essential step.
Yet another would be Riley outlining to James how he plans to retool the roster and what free agents he might bring in with the money freed up by the Big 3 and Haslem renegotiating their deals.
Owner Micky Arison also must play a role in wooing James’ return.
LeBron became upset when Arison last year would not agree to spend the money needed to keep three-point specialist Mike Miller, whom the Heat dearly missed.
Riley recently said, “I’m sure Micky will do whatever he has to do to keep this team together.”
That’s fine. But that isn’t as good as Arison himself assuring James directly and unequivocally that he is willing to spend over the salary cap and pay NBA “luxury tax” penalties to improve the team and keep it a championship contender.
Meantime, the fictional ghosts of The Three Musketeers and Robin Hood surely would be nodding approval at what they see the Heat’s stars doing. Again.
Commitment and sacrifice seem to still be in vogue around here.