And now begins the Big Sleep.
For almost two years, LeBron James worked nonstop to push his body and his game to historic levels. It was all worth it. In one year’s time — 365 days, to be exact — James won two NBA championships for the Miami Heat and one Olympic gold medal for the United States. Since the beginning of his quest for the 2012 championship, which began in the summer of 2011, James has rested for all of 2 1/2 weeks.
The Heat won its second consecutive championship Thursday night and since then James, Dwyane Wade and most of their teammates have partied just as hard as they played the last month of the postseason. The intemperance will end Sunday night — or, most likely, early Monday morning — and the team’s victory parade will cap off yet another monumental achievement.
And then the healing begins.
What are James and Wade going to do over the next month? They’ll conduct a few basketball camps, but not much else. Mostly, they’ll just sleep. Get lots of sleep.
“I need to rest my body,” James said. “I do. As much as I love working out and as much as I love getting better, at this point I think the smartest thing to do is to rest my body. Give my body a break. I think that’s the smartest thing.
“I got a wedding coming up with my beautiful fiancée. And it will be an unbelievable wedding now that we’ve won, instead of losing. I might have called it off if we lost. So now it’s going to be one of the best weddings ever.”
Assuming James has hired hands to plan his multimillion-dollar wedding with Savannah Brinson on Sept. 11-13 in San Diego, he’ll get plenty of rest this summer.
As for Wade, his knees have earned a break as well.
“I talked to my knees, Wade said after Thursday’s Game 7 victory. “We had a conversation, and I told them, I said, ‘Listen, both of you guys, y’all can give me one great game, you’ll have a great summer.’ So I’m going to treat my knees very well this summer. And rest them.”
The injury to Wade’s right knee that affected him throughout the postseason will take time to heal. He had his knee drained of fluid the day before Game 7 against the Spurs, according to a report by The Associated Press, but said Thursday that he hopes to avoid surgery this offseason. He had surgery on his left knee last summer.
“He had a deep bone bruise,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That won’t get better unless you take time off. Continuing to play at this level and have collisions and jumps and all that. It just continually got reaggravated.”
But while James and Wade are sleeping away the summer, the Heat’s front office will be busy trying to figure out how to get its payroll to a manageable level because of an onerous luxury tax put in place during the last collective bargaining agreement.
The Heat is already a 2-1 favorite to win the 2014 championship, according to oddsmaker Bovada, but defending another championship most certainly will be more difficult the next time around, as preposterous as that might sound. The Hawks have plenty of cap space, Derrick Rose (knee surgery) returns for the Bulls, Danny Granger (knee surgery) will be back with the Pacers and the Nets and the Knicks are on the upswing. And that’s just the Eastern Conference.
Off the court, adding to the difficult task of winning three in a row is a luxury-tax mechanism built into the latest collective bargaining agreement aimed at leveling the playing field. How the Heat navigates its offseason financially could be the difference in not only the Heat winning its fourth championship in eight years but also keeping the Big 3 together past next season.
“It’s a question of the economics of the game, so there’s going to have to be some strategic planning not only from that standpoint but just personnel-wise over the next couple of years to deal with it,” Heat president Pat Riley said before the playoffs began.
James, Wade and Chris Bosh are under contract for next season, so the core of the championship-winning formula will be in place for another run when preseason camp begins in October. That’s the good news. The bad news: If Arison and Riley keep everyone on the roster for another go, and sign a free agent to replace Juwan Howard, next year’s tax bill alone would be around $38million. Also, the Heat doesn’t have the luxury of draft picks this summer to help reduce costs.
Without getting into a debate about whether the Heat’s dominance is good or bad for the game, outgoing commissioner David Stern and the league’s small-market owners would be to blame if Riley’s handiwork goes up in smoke after next season, at which point Wade, Bosh and James could opt out of their contracts. More or less, the new CBA was put in place to prevent dynasties.
“Other than the Heat and South Florida media, our league owners think this is a great idea, because we have owners who want very much to compete, and they want to be able to tell their fans they can compete,” said Stern, who represented owners during the contentious 2011 labor negotiations that forced a lockout. “So despite the fact as a promoter I know the Heat have done a great job; they’ve put together a great roster; they put together perhaps a team for the ages — it has consequences that they are now dealing with, and actually they’re much less harsh than the consequences that would have followed had we gotten what we really wanted in the collective bargaining.”
Arison could argue all he wants about how the Heat is actually one of the league’s small-market teams, but the ledger shows that his team is painfully over the league’s luxury-tax threshold, which is expected to be at $71.6 million next season.
The new salary cap is projected at $58.5 million for the 2013-14 season. On the Heat’s books right now: $85.6 million for 12 players if Ray Allen, James Jones and Rashard Lewis exercise player options to stay put.
The 2013-14 luxury tax calls for $1.50 for every $1 over the threshold between $1 and $4.99 million, $1.75 for every dollar over the threshold from $5 million to $9.9 million, and $2.50 on the dollar for $10 million to $14,999,999. The Heat paid the NBA $6.1 million in luxury taxes last season, making it a tax “repeater,” and the luxury tax for teams in that category gets even more punitive beginning in the 2014-15 season.
“It’s doable in this tax economy, but I’m going to leave that to Micky,” Riley said. “And we’ve already had internal conversations about it — Nick [Arison] and Andy [Elisburg] and myself and Micky. That will all be tackled after the season. We’ll start talking about that. But it is doable.”
Doable with handcuffs, perhaps, which Arison joked about using to keep the Big 3 intact beyond next season while being interviewed by Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard on his radio show Friday.
“What do you want me to do?” Arison asked rhetorically.
But before you begin worrying about the 2014-15 season and how much Arison is willing to dish out to keep civic pride burning in white-hot Miami, there is a more imminent concern, which is reducing costs this season while staying in the hunt for a three-peat.
Where they stand
Removing Mike Miller’s contract from the equation would be a painful loss for the Heat, but it would potentially save the team $14 million in taxes. An amnesty clause was worked into the new CBA to allow teams to remove one player from their rosters, and the window for exercising the amnesty this year is July 11-17.
Lewis and Jones are planning to use options on their contracts to remain, and Allen, who is now calling his three-pointer in Game6 the biggest shot of his career, has been noncommittal about whether he would use his player option to return. Joel Anthony, due $3.8 million for each of the next two seasons, will most likely be back. Shane Battier has one more year on his contract and might retire after next season. Point guard Mario Chalmers has a team option on his contract for next season, which will most likely be used to keep him.
Chris Andersen, a fan favorite who provided the extra muscle needed for a 66-win season and played beyond expectations in the Eastern Conference finals, could be re-signed for the veteran’s minimum, but he likely could sign for more on the open market. The Heat will have a mini-midlevel exception at its disposal — similar to what Allen signed under — and could either use that on Andersen, use it on another player or not use it all and save money.
There are plenty of unknowns, but one thing has proved to be true in each of the offseasons since James has been in Miami. Quality veteran players have been willing to take less money to play with the unselfish superstar who wins championships and makes everyone around him better. With the NBA’s brave new world just on the horizon, that actually might benefit the Heat more than anything. Would Wade be willing to take even less money to keep this thing going? Would Bosh? How much more is James willing to sacrifice?
A source close to James said he’s not even going to begin thinking about the 2014-15 season until next season ends, but don’t expect that to keep everyone from talking about. It’s a year away and already James’ next big decision has been a hot topic for two years running. Of course, James has tuned out all the noise at this point. He’s got a wedding to plan in between summer naps on the beach.