12 days. That is how much time LeBron has before he must decide if he will opt in for one more year with the Heat. If he was to opt in, LeBron would have one year left for over $22 million, but money is not the issue. Or it is, but not how you might think. Recently, there has been speculation that the Heat are interested in signing Carmelo, but that would require the Heat’s Big 3 to each take paycuts. Usually, players of LeBron’s caliber, at the age of 29, would never take a paycut, even in the name of winning. Maybe in the twilight of his career, LeBron would take a paycut, a la Tim Duncan, but now. MJ would never take a paycut. Kobe didn’t exactly take a paycut at age 35. Their ego won’t allow it. It’s especially difficult to imagine LeBron taking a paycut when he said just a few months ago, that he is severely underpaid. If the Big 3 all opt in, then the majority of the Heat’s nucleus will be relatively similar next year. But the supporting pieces could be drastically different. Shane Battier retired right after Game 5. Rashard Lewis is a free agent. Mario Chalmers is a free agent. Ray Allen is a free agent and might retire. Mike Beasley and Greg Oden are free agents. But Miami might not be able to make significant improvements rounding out its roster if the Big 3 all opt in, and are owed over $60 million together. So, what if LeBron opts out. Yes, LeBron, Wade, and Bosh could each opt out, take substantial paycuts like the Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili did, and then try to lure Carmelo or Kyle Lowry to South Beach. Miami could also do a sign and trade with LeBron. Or, he could simply opt out and leave Miami. Here are a few possibilities, some more realistic than others.
LeBron opts in, gives the Big 3 one year at redemption, and Pat Riley a year to improve its roster.
The least appealing but most likely scenario, where LeBron returns to the Heat with Wade and Bosh. This time, however, Miami retools the supporting pieces with younger players and fresher legs. After all, despite Miami’s embarrassing Finals showing, the Heat still reached the Finals with relative ease. The Heat might be the easiest route to a title in the weak Eastern Conference.
LeBron opts out and goes to Cleveland.
The trendy, sentimental scenario that people ever love (the hometown hero returns to finish out his career and bring home the team’s first ever championship) or hate (the same pathetic Cleveland fans who burned LeBron jerseys eagerly purchase season tickets the second he signs with Cleveland). LeBron prides himself on being a businessman though, and he probably won’t return to Cleveland unless he believes that is his best option for winning titles in the future. To make room for and appeal to LeBron, the Cavs would most likely have to pull off a deal sending the top pick and some pieces for Kevin Love, or another major contributor. A nucleus of Kyrie, Love, and Anthony Bennett (just kidding) would have to make LeBron think.
LeBron opts out and signs with the Lakers.
This is very unlikely, and would not be a wise decision for LeBron. The Lakers have a history of attracting superstars in free agency, but LeBron would have to deal with two more years with Kobe’s massive deal hindering L.A. from signing a another superstar.
LeBron opts out and signs with the Rockets.
Creating another superteam, LeBron could join Harden and Howard in Houston. A lineup of Beverly, Harden, Parsons, LeBron, and Howard would automatically win 60+ games and be the title favorites. They would have to cut ties with Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, and probably some other salaries to make room for LeBron. A move to the West would make a title run significantly harder, but LeBron would be playing the most talented team of his career.
LeBron opts out and signs with the Bulls.
Chicago would have to amnesty Boozer and ship away Taj Gibson to make room for LeBron. He’d try to bring Chicago its first post-Jordan NBA title. A team built around LeBron, Noah, Rose, and Jimmy Butler would be definitely be a title contender, but wouldn’t be that much better than this year’s Heat. Rose is the huge wild card. If he was anything close to his previous form, the Bulls would be title favorites. But if he played like he did in his limited action this past season, then Chicago would be just another 50+ win team trying to win the title.
LeBron opts out and signs with the Knicks.
Lebron opts in and is traded to the Clippers for Blake Griffin.
There would be other players and picks included in the deal instead of a straight up trade, in all likelihood, if it were to happen. LeBron is close friends with Chris Paul, the best point guard in the league, who also only has one Conference Finals appearance in his career. Paul is the same age as LeBron and would be the best teammate LeBron has ever had. Blake Griffin is coming off a career year and is the third best player in the league right now at just 25 years old, but for the Clippers, they would go from contenders to favorites overnight. For a new owner, that is impossible to pass up.
LeBron opts in and is traded to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook.
I know, I know: this is just silly. Or is it? I’m really not so sure. It would be purely unfair if any team in the league had LeBron and Durant, but if Miami was about to lose LeBron for nothing, wouldn’t they rather have one of the league’s ten best players, who’s also only 25 years old to build around? I guess Silver could pull a Stern and veto the trade because of some sort of competitive unbalance, but if he didn’t, the Thunder would have the most exciting team in the past 15 years without a doubt. LeBron and Durant really could win not one, not two, not three…