Heat won’t wait on LeBron

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So says Barry Jackson, of the Miami Herald

“They’re going to get a feel for who they have the best shot at and will craft their strategy accordingly,” a source close to the Heat said. “They will pursue more than one guy. James is their top choice, but if they get a yes from Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire, I’d be shocked if they told either to hold on so they can wait on LeBron” — unless Miami has strong reason to believe James is coming. “If they get one of those three, they would feel confident they can keep Wade. Their biggest anxiety is losing Wade.”

Here is what would have to happen for the Heat to land LeBron:

1. The Cavs lose in the Eastern Conference Finals or earlier. I have a hard time seeing LeBron leave Cleveland if the Cavs make an appearance in the Finals, unless they’re swept and look terrible. The two conferences are pretty close in strength, at least at the top, so the possibility of that happening is slim. These aren’t the ’07 Cavs. If they get past the Celtics and/or Magic in the playoffs, they’ll be battle-tested and ready to compete.

2. LeBron decides to leave Cleveland.
This will be a tough decision, as LeBron has spent several years in the city and is basically the franchise. He’s comfortable there and knows what to expect. The Cavs can also offer the most money, though I doubt this will be the deciding factor for the mega-wealthy LeBron.

3. LeBron picks the Heat over the Nets and Knicks before Dwyane Wade signs elsewhere. These look like the other two franchises that have a real shot at signing James if he were to leave Cleveland. Obviously, if LeBron were to head to Miami, it would largely depend on Wade’s presence. Wade has already said that he and LeBron are going to discuss the possibility of teaming up after the season is over, so they’ll definitely be in contact. I wouldn’t expect another Baron Davis/Elton Brand debacle.

4. LeBron picks the Heat before Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire sign with the Heat. This one’s a little dicey. If the Cavs go deep into the playoffs, LeBron’s availability will be up in the air. (See #1.) Presumably, the Raptors and Suns will be done playing, and the speculation will start for Bosh and Amare. (Hell, it’s already started for Bosh!) At that point, one or both of the players could express, through the press or via Twitter, a desire to play for Miami, so the groundwork could be laid for that player to strike a deal come July 1. They can’t officially start negotiating until that date, but does anyone really think that Wade isn’t going to touch base with Bosh and/or Amare if the Cavs are playing in the Eastern Conference Finals?

In short, a lot has to happen for King James to head to South Beach.

This is clearly a make or break season for the Cavs. Even with the salaries of Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas coming off the books, Cleveland will be able to re-sign LeBron, and that’s about it. The team was positioned well prior to the economic downturn, but by bringing back Anderson Varejao, and the expected drop in the cap to $50 million, the Cavs simply won’t have the cap space to add another big-name free agent. (That’s why they brought back Varejao; they need to get to the Finals — now.) If the Cavs lose in the Eastern Conference Finals again and LeBron and is facing another few years of Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao and Delonte West as the next best players on his team, will he really pass up an opportunity to play in sunny Miami with Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley and whatever talented, in-search-of-a-ring vet the Heat could sign for the mid-level exception?

Or he could join Wade/Bosh/Amare in New York (if the Knicks can shed Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries) and play for Mike D’Antoni…or he could go to New Jersey/Brooklyn and play with Brook Lopez and Devin Harris.

One thing’s for sure — it’s going to be an interesting few months in the NBA.

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