Though the Heat has no great expectation of luring LeBron James back to Miami, James at least plans to talk to the Heat this summer. That’s according to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who has been on target with James reporting in the past.
Smith was the first to report that the Heat had a good chance of landing James in the summer of 2010.
Smith tweeted on Friday that James plans “to have conversations… this summer” with Cleveland, Golden State, Philadelphia, Boston, Houston, the Lakers and the Heat.
“These are the seven teams in the mix for LeBron James,” Smith said.
Asked after the game if he played his final game with the Cavaliers, James said: “I have no idea at this point. The one thing I’ve always done is considered my family – especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. They were a teenage boy, pre-teen, a little girl that wasn’t around.
“Sitting down and considering everything but my family is a huge part of whatever I decide to do in my career and they will continue to be that. I don’t have an answer for you right now as far as that…. When I decide what I’m going to do with my future, my family will have a say so. It ultimately will come down to me.”
Will this summer be the toughest as far as deciding the right path? “No,” he said. “I feel like ’10 was the toughest” – when he joined the Heat.
He said when he joined the Heat in 2010, it was rewarding “to be able to play with talented players, cerebral players that can see things to happen before they happen on the floor. When you feel like you’re really good at your craft, it’s always good to be around other great minds as well. That’s never changed.”
What has playing for Cleveland meant for him? “I came back because I felt I had some unfinished business. To be a part of a championship team two years ago... is something I will always remember. It ended the drought for Cleveland, 50-plus years. We will all remember that in sports history.”
James said starting from scratch with a new roster “is definitely not the most comfortable thing to start a team from scratch.... Being a part of a start fresh... is something you definitely don't want to be a part of. It has its pros but definitely has its cons....
"The most important is health. When you are starting fresh, it's too hard. With this season, that's what you kind of saw. The difference between this season and my first season in Miami was we didn’t have many injuries at all. Myself, D-Wade, Bosh, UD, Mike Miller had a few injuries. Chalmers was available. We were pretty solid as far as not being injury prone.”
Asked if winning a championship in Cleveland completes his unfinished business for Cleveland, he said: “That’s a trick question and I’m not falling for that. I have so much to give to the game."
He said winning a title for Cleveland "made me even more hungry to win championships [in general]. I still want to be in championship mode and I showed this year why I will continue to be in championship mode.”
In the unlikely event James chose to return to the Heat, Miami and James would need to convince Cleveland to execute a sign-and-trade, or James would need to opt in the final year of his contract (for $35 million) and persuade Cleveland to trade him.
James stands to make about $35 million next season whether he opts out or not.
The Heat, in such a scenario, would need to send comparable salary to Cleveland, with Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson and draft picks one permutation that would work within parameters of the salary cap – though that deal would obviously not approach equal value for the Cavaliers.
If the Cavaliers refused to execute a sign-and-trade and James wanted to return to South Florida, the Heat somehow would need to clear out about $55 million in cap space, while taking nothing back except cash and draft choices, in order to create the salary cap room to give James a max contract.
But if James wanted to return to the Heat, the franchise would welcome him back.
Heat president Pat Riley said in April that he hasn’t spoken with James since James left Miami and signed with Cleveland in July 2014. But in a new book by Ian Thomsen called “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk that Saved the NBA,” Riley said he understood James’ decision to return to Cleveland.
“While there may have been some carnage always left behind when he made these kinds of moves, in Cleveland and also in Miami, he did the right thing," Riley said. "I just finally came to accept the realization that he and his family said, ‘You’ll never, ever be accepted back in your hometown if you don’t go back to try to win a title. Otherwise someday you’ll go back there and have the scarlet letter on your back. You’ll be the greatest player in the history of mankind, but back there, nobody’s really going to accept you.’’
James left Miami in the summer of 2014 after winning two NBA championships and making the NBA Finals four consecutive years playing alongside Wade and Bosh.
James has made the Finals in his four years back with Cleveland, but won a title only the second year.
“I had two to three days of tremendous anger. I was absolutely livid, which I expressed to myself and my closest friends,” Riley said.
But then Riley came to understand James’ perspective.
“My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down,” Riley told Thomsen. “That team in ten years could have won five or six championships. But I get it. I get the whole chronicle of [LeBron’s] life.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported that “those privy to James’ thinking say that at this stage, pleading from family members appears to be the only force that could persuade him to extend his second stint with the Cavs and resist the opportunity to switch teams, as he did in 2010 and again in 2014. The leaguewide belief, of course, is that chasing championships is James’s priority, which necessitates relocating to a team far better equipped to do so than the Cavaliers.”
Of those seven teams identified by Stephen A. Smith as franchises that will get an audience with James this summer, the Heat and Lakers would widely be considered at the bottom as far as odds to win a championship.
▪ James confimed that he injured his right hand when he hit a blackboard in frustration after Game 1. He had a cast on the hand after Friday’s game.
“Self-inflicted, postgame after Game 1,” James said well past midnight Friday night. “I let the emotions get the best of me and pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand.”
▪ Charles Barkley, Chris Webber and Grant Hill were very critical of James on NBA TV’s postgame show.
"He packed it in," Barkley said. Barkley said he intends to "slap the hell" out of any media member who ever again says LeBron is as good as Jordan.
THIS AND THAT
Heat video coordinator Eric Glass will coach Miami’s summer league team that will play games in Sacramento and Las Vegas in July. Glass, 34, is also part of the Heat’s player development staff.
Assistant coach Chris Quinn coached the Heat’s summer league team last year.
▪ We reported Wednesday that Hassan Whiteside is working hard on his game this offseason and is highly motivated to improve his skills, as well as his quickness, in the wake of this past season.
Whiteside confirmed as much on Friday, with a Snapchat and Instagram post delivered at 2:20 a.m. Friday from the Heat locker room at AmericanAirlines Arena.
"Hey, you know what's crazy? You know what's crazy?" he said into the camera. "If people think just because you don't show it on social media, it ain't happening. And grind is always happening. That's the problem -- too many people think stuff is given to you. Nuh uh."