Could LeBron James return to the Heat? The odds are against it, and the thought is somewhat (though no entirely) difficult to fathom.
But the notion cannot altogether be ruled out, amid this today from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, as relayed by Pro Basketball Talk:
“I’ll drop one other tidbit of information, because people have been ignoring what I’ve been saying,“ Smith said. “I’ve hinted around it for months as you well know. But I’m going to say this again.
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“LeBron James promised the city of Cleveland, ‘I’m coming back to bring you that elusive title that has escaped this city since 1964.’ He never said anything about staying once he does accomplish that.
“I’m in Miami last week. I’m in Miami a few months ago. Skip Bayless, I’m hearing about a return to Miami if this man wins. He ain’t going nowhere if he loses. But, if he wins, his options are open. L.A., but especially Miami, a return to South Beach.
“Look man, there’s a lot going on. And there’s a lot riding on him winning. Losing changes everything, because it keeps there in Cleveland. But more importantly, it keeps him stuck, because he knows he can’t leave until he fulfills his promise. And if you can’t because you’re not a champion, that’s far worse than just choosing to stay because you want to. It’s going to get very interesting. Keep your eyes on it.”
A few thoughts:
▪ I consider Smith very credible with NBA information, so this should not be dismissed out of hand. He was the first mainstream media member to broach the possibility of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade teaming up in 2010.
▪ James’ friendship with Wade cannot be understated, as explored in this outstanding ESPN.com piece last week. And James said earlier this season that he would love to play alongside Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony late in his career.
▪ One person in sports whose information I’ve found to be consistently credible, who speaks with James’ associates, told me in early March that those associates had raised the possibility (not probability, but possibility) of James returning to the Heat and that James was unhappy with some things going with the Cavs.
I, nor anyone outside his inner circle, can speak to what James is thinking at this moment. Plus, he’s winning now, and winning can be the eternal Band-Aid.
▪ The Heat was unhappy about how James left, but it’s impossible for me to envision that Riley or Micky Arison (who both badly want to win) would spurn him if he wants to come back. I gave some of those details of sources of discomfort between James and the Heat in this piece before LeBron’s first game back in Miami (with Cleveland) on Christmas Day 2014.
Since then, more has come to light, including a report that the Heat wasn’t pleased when members of James’ entourage were distracted and disengaged during that meeting that Riley was summoned to in Las Vegas.
▪ Pro Basketball Talk reminded what James wrote in his letter to Sports Illustrated when he left the Heat.
“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.
“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”
▪ Do I expect LeBron to come back? The odds are against it. It’s difficult for me to envision a player who wants to be liked once again enraging fans in his home state — where he wants to be welcomed back after retiring — even if he wins them a championship.
But Smith is too credible on this — and the bond with Wade too strong — to bet a substantial amount of your savings against it, either.
▪ This is the ultimate fantasy conversation, but in case you wondered, James’ max salary for next season would be about $30 million. If if the Heat dumped Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts for no money back, Miami would have $27.3 million committed to Chris Bosh (who will remain on Miami’s cap this summer regardless of any health situation), Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson next season, plus $1 million to retain restricted free agent Tyler Johnson’s rights (the cap hit would remain that even if TJ signs for more), plus $4 million as cap hits for open roster spots up to 12 (replaced when actual players are signed).
With a $92 million cap, that would leave $60 million to $62 million to split among James, Wade and Whiteside, or James, Wade and another player cheaper than Whiteside. There would need to be major sacrificing done to accommodate James/Wade/Whiteside.
Again, all fantasy talk for now. But Stephen A. succeeded in making it a talking point today.