Pat Riley has an interesting word for them.
They are plentiful in the ocean when compared with the NBA, so when one of these rare creatures comes available you must pay attention. The whales can change everything.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the two whales of the moment, the only difference-making, earth-quaking players who have the option to become free agents and sign anywhere starting July 1.
Rather incredibly, there is a plausible scenario in which Riley’s Miami Heat could land either whale this summer or even have its choice of the two, but wishing that to happen requires Heat fans to do the once-unthinkable in these NBA playoffs:
Cheer for LeBron.
Pray he wins it all.
Hope he makes good on his promise of delivering a championship to Cleveland — the very thing that drove him to abruptly (and rather messily) leave Miami.
That would tip the domino that might make possible this franchise’s biggest blockbuster summer since LeBron first took his talents to South Beach in 2010.
I said possible. Skeptics might still place the likelihood somewhere between long shot and pipe dream. (Just like they also did before the Big 3 happened down here in ’10, it may bear noting.)
Riley already has said Miami’s offseason priority is re-signing center Hassan Whiteside long term. It has been speculated that doing that and also keeping Dwyane Wade probably would mean the Heat would have to put off its whale-watching excursion until the summer of 2017.
But the Heat isn’t buying that.
Riley has an impressive track record of getting bargains on luxury items and is hoping the club can lock up Whiteside perhaps for less than market value, crafting a deal that would allow the financial leeway to also sign James or Durant.
Whiteside would be the key figure in enticing James to return to Miami or Durant to come here — the whale magnet.
“You know we’re always looking for a whale if there’s one out there. It changes things,” Riley said in his recent postseason State of the Heat media talk. “We have the flexibility to do that.”
The supposition on James and/or Durant becoming available is twofold:
1. That LeBron winning a championship and fulfilling his dream for Cleveland would make him free to leave, but that he would stay with the Cavaliers and keep chasing that title if he fell short this year.
2. Oppositely, that Durant likely would leave Oklahoma City to seek a championship elsewhere if he fell short in these playoffs, but that he would not leave the Thunder as a champion.
And a Cavaliers-Thunder Finals that would have Heat fans begrudgingly rooting for LeBron looms as likely.
The Cavs were 2-2 with Toronto entering Game 5 in Cleveland on Wednesday night but were overall betting favorites at 7-5 odds to win it all entering the game. Oklahoma City leads Golden State 3-1 entering Thursday’s game and is right behind Cleveland at 8-5 title odds.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith “reported” this week that LeBron might be agreeable to rejoin Miami if he is able to parlay these playoffs into an NBA title for Cleveland. I put “reported” in quotes not derisively or dismissively but because it was speculative in the “I’m hearing” category.
Still, remember it was Smith who broke the news of LeBron coming here in 2010 when the rest of the basketball literati harrumphed that it wouldn’t happen. Smith has his sources, and sources often are not the athlete or agent. Sometimes they are members of an entourage, or family. Sometimes information comes indirectly, indeed.
(You know what the initial tip was in 1989 that first led to my knowing Jimmy Johnson was leaving the Miami Hurricanes to join the Dallas Cowboys? An assistant leaving with him, Dave Wannstedt, had a school-age daughter who told a friend who happened to be the child of a friend of mine.)
One thing Smith didn’t address in what he was hearing about James maybe coming back to Miami:
Would the Heat take him back? Specifically, would Riley, after the way LeBron left the Heat president feeling used and angry?
Answer: Very likely, if only because Riley’s bosses, Micky and Nick Arison, might take the rare position of overruling Riley for the good of the franchise.
But if Miami had its choice of signing Durant or taking back James, Riley would have every justification for opting for Durant — and take every delight imaginable in saying “no thanks” to LeBron.
That is the scenario that could play out — could — only if the starting point is LeBron James winning a championship for Cleveland.
That gives Miami a clear rooting interest left in these playoffs.
Just not the one Heat fans might have imagined or prefer.