LeBron James has decided to take over the NBA’s summer, and general managers everywhere couldn’t be more thrilled.
Just like in 2010, their teams suddenly have hope.
James, the best basketball player in the world, is handling his business quite differently these days. When he informed the Miami Heat on Tuesday he’s opting out of his contract (news that was confirmed by his Cleveland-based agent, Rich Paul), James didn’t act like the world should genuflect at his decision. He merely went about his day like any other unrestricted-free-agent-in-waiting.
This is a more mature LeBron than the 2010 version, a LeBron who owns two championships and five Finals appearances, a LeBron who will turn 30 before the turn of the calendar year. The next chapter of his career is highly likely to be the last in his prime.
And you can be sure everyone is lining up to help him write it.
But who really has the best chance? Who really can make a major play for James? Again, everyone will certainly explore the idea — but as things stand today, only a handful can put on a realistic full-court press.
Let’s take a look at the early leaders:
1. Miami Heat
With four Finals appearances in four years, the Heat know what the heck they are doing. They understand what it takes to build a winner. But if everything were perfect, LeBron would’ve just opted in and taken care of his contract next summer.
Truth is, things are far from perfect. Dwyane Wade is aging rapidly, and Chris Bosh has become a jump shooter on a team that could use some toughness underneath. Worse for the Heat, there’s no real way to improve the roster unless somebody really, really good is willing to join in for a pittance. Guys want to win but not necessarily at a major cost.
The Heat still have to be considered the frontrunners, but they are also in a bit of trouble here.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
The team LeBron left in 2010 has been better than .500 for about a week in those four years. Yet the Cavaliers actually have a lot going for them.
For one, there’s an All-Star point guard in Kyrie Irving — the type of point guard with which James has never before played. For another, the Cavs have a generally young roster with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft on the way. So if James asks himself where he’ll want to be in five years, this may be the place.
Also, let’s not forget how James said his family will play a big role in his decision. If true, that’s another thing in the Cavs’ favor. As FOX Sports Ohio reported last week, James’ wife Savannah does not have Miami very high on her list of places to live, sources said. San Diego and her hometown of Akron are said to be considerably higher.
Along with all that, returning to the Cavs would be the ultimate story of redemption for James. If he goes back to Miami, he’s merely the best player in the NBA. If he goes to Cleveland, he’s a global icon who suddenly becomes even more adored.
3. Houston Rockets
With Dwight Howard and James Harden, the Rockets have their own tempting version of a Big Three (assuming James were to join them). And GM Daryl Morey can almost certainly clear the cap space.
Just a few weeks ago, the Rockets seemed determined to make a major run at New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony (who is also opting out of his contract). But LeBron, of course, is the bigger prize. Still, unlike the Heat and the Cavs, the Rockets will need help. They don’t have the cap space at the moment to make this a reality.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Doc Rivers and LA. This pitch sells itself. And make no mistake, the Clippers will certainly get in touch with LeBron — who would play the role of the ultimate wing alongside the productivity of Paul and power of Griffin.
The Clippers are already taking LA from the Lakers. This would finish the job, and you can’t help but envision titles galore in this scenario.
The issue here is the same as the one in Houston: The Clippers would need a sucker to take on some bad contracts (or bad players) to clear room for the King. In all honesty, finding suckers in today’s NBA ain’t easy.
5. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are actually riding the Carmelo bandwagon at the moment, mostly because their recruiting efforts of James in 2010 failed miserably. Team star Derrick Rose, for one, didn’t really want LeBron.
Perhaps that has changed, and if so, the Bulls can make quick work of the roster, using their amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer and trading Taj Gibson to free space under the salary cap.
But Anthony is more likely to be engaged, as James doesn’t necessarily want to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Michael Jordan, and the Bulls legacy Jordan built.
Speaking of Jordan, he owns the Charlotte Hornets. Don’t rule them out. Jordan is, after all, one man who always has James’ ear. Like every GM or owner everywhere, all Jordan needs now is LeBron’s heart.