Pat Riley, as the world was ending in the recent raw wake of the Heat’s 4-1 NBA Finals loss to San Antonio, advised fans and media to “get a grip” on reality — to appreciate what the team built in 2010 had accomplished in four seasons, and that nobody wins every year.
Now, in the heart of free agency, as the world apparently is ending again, a similar fan panic and media frothing surrounds the possibility LeBron James might leave Miami. We could use more wise-uncle advice from Riley about now, another pithy admonishment. He isn’t talking, so I’ll speak for him:
“Take a chill pill.”
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Deep breath, exhale slowly, repeat.
LeBron isn’t going anywhere. He is keeping his talents in South Beach. Heat officials, internally, privately, are far more confident of that right now than they were four years earlier when James was first weighing Miami among his options.
But if you peruse Twitter or other social media, you sense from Heat fans a palpable angst that the team’s best player might be leaving. If you tuned into ESPN late in the week, you heard the analysts hungrily chewing over “Miami after LeBron” scenarios.
Noise, all of it.
Misinformation, some of it.
We hear that LeBron will demand maximum salary of around $20.7 million next season. That’s true. But not for a nanosecond should it be suggested that’s a problem in the Big 3 staying intact. James deserves to be the highest-paid player on his team for (astonishingly) the first time in his 12-year NBA career, and everybody associated with the Heat agrees.
We read that LeBron is not working “in concert” with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who supposedly don’t know his intentions. That isn’t true. The three had a long lunch meeting at Soho Beach House two weeks ago. Two days later, they all attended the wedding of LeBron’s trainer in Coconut Grove. Riley was there, too. Do you honestly think there is a plausible chance that Wade, Bosh and Riley, by now, don’t have assurances James will re-sign with Miami?
We hear that James getting maximum money will force onerous sacrifices by Wade and Bosh that they might not be willing to make. It isn’t true. Wade will sign a four-year deal averaging close to $15 million a year and Bosh will sign a five-year deal averaging a bit more, and their overall guaranteed money will be greater than the sum they gave up by recently opting out of their previous contracts.
There will be money left under the salary cap to add two to four new players, not star-power names to impress you, perhaps, but smart guys who fit, who’ll make the Heat better.
That fanciful media flare about a “Big 4” to include Carmelo Anthony — the most attractive free agent after James — never had a fiscal shot. The Heat never was going to have the loose money to sign point guard Kyle Lowry, either; he re-signed with Toronto. Although Riley does have interest in Pau Gasol and Luol Deng.
One guy they certainly are after is Wizards free agent small forward Trevor Ariza, who shoots three-pointers, defends well and fits in. Can the lure of playing with LeBron get him at a bargain rate of maybe $5 million per year? Less than he’d make staying in Washington? We’ll see. He is among a short list of seriously targeted players the Heat is poised to possibly sign in the coming days.
Miami is convinced its system can develop the next Mike Miller or Shane Battier or Birdman Andersen. (The club is also convinced that reports about Wade’s accelerated demise are grossly inaccurate.)
Meanwhile, all of the noise and misleading speculation about LeBron’s intentions distorts it, but free agency thus far is going just as the Heat hoped it would.
Having all of the Big 3 opt out of their contracts rather than opt in was precisely what Riley, owner Micky Arison and numbers-crunching executive Andy Elisburg expected and wanted.
The draft-night trade for UConn point guard Shabazz Napier was a bull’s-eye for the club. LeBron outspokenly had expressed his admiration for Napier’s game.
James and his family love it in Miami. There is no state income tax. He knows and trusts his surrounding Heat family, the one that helped make him a double champion. It would take a hugely better everything — team, city, ownership, front office — to lure him away. That isn’t out there.
James also is mindful that leaving would rip open old wounds and brand him as a disloyal mercenary all over again, after he’s spent four years mending his reputation.
Heat officials would be absolutely stunned if James doesn’t join Wade and Bosh in re-upping.
So should Miami fans be.
The media would be equally surprised if so many in it weren’t blind-drunk on the idea that LeBron maybe leaving is a far meatier chew-bone than LeBron quietly staying.
So what we can expect is a couple of more days of scatter-shot speculation and loud noise.
And then we can expect this:
The Heat will sign three of the NBA’s top four available free agents.
Their names will be LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.