The speculation has begun, well before the season will even begin. Will LeBron James leave the Heat and become a free agent next offseason?
That's what will be discussed from time to time of you turn on your radio, TV, or surf the Internet. And it is a valid discussion to some degree. Let's preface this entire article with this:
If the Miami Heat win the 2014 NBA Championship, LeBron James is not leaving.
There is no way James leaves behind three straight championships to play for another team. The only slight possibility would be to Cleveland, but even then, it seems unlikely after creating a dynasty in Miami. The PR hit James would take for walking away from that on top of "The Decision" would be far too great.
But, let's say that very small chance the Heat don't win becomes reality. What happens next? Would LeBron leave? To L.A.? Cleveland? Somewhere new? Regardless of the endless possibilities, let's discuss what the Heat would need to do to keep James in Miami.
1. Restructure all the Big 3's contracts
Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James can all opt out of their contracts after this season. If they decide they need some more help to fill out the roster, Wade and Bosh should consider opting out and taking less than their max deals. If they didn't opt-out, Bosh, Wade and James are all slated to max $20 million each the following year. That needs to be fixed.
Bosh and Wade need to realize their value to this team is not as great as what LeBron offers. If the Heat can convince Wade and Bosh to lessen the salary load and maybe take a deal inside the 12-14 million range, and continue a max deal for James, it would allow MIami to use that money for the rest of their roster, which will need help in the years to follow as Wade ages and others retire. It won't be easy, but needs to be done.
2. Replace the older role players with valuable assets
Shane Battier and Ray Allen are likely to retire after this season, and now that Mike Miller is gone there will be huge hole on the rotation that needs to be filled after this season. James Jones isn't suited enough for consistent minutes. Pat Riley will need to find valuable pieces to surround the roster again. Udonis Haslem is 33 now and will be 34 next off season, nearing the end of his productive years. Chris Andersen is 35 going on 36. On and on, the Heat's roster is aging beneath their feet, and by the time next off-season roles around, the team will need to make adjustments.
Riley has to find players that are productive and willing to win like Allen and Battier did off the bench. Can he? And will LeBron stick around to find out if Riley can? Those are legit questions that will need to be answered.
3. Score big somewhere with a signing
Maybe it could be Greg Oden? One simple signing can go a long way. If Oden can be somewhere close to what we once thought was possible, it could change the landscape of the Heat's future. If Riley can score big somewhere, maybe on a player bought out near the postseason, Miami will benefit. Either way, a little bit of luck can help push the ball forward and show James that Riley still knows what he is doing.
4. Fans need to celebrate LeBron like they do Wade
Can you imagine for a minute that you are the best player in the world, and yet you receive the second most cheers from your home crowd? Can you imagine being the leader in every statistical category for your team and yet they still call it Wade County? I love Dwyane Wade, but it's time to starting treating LeBron like the leader he is. Wade is a leader as well, but if we want to make sure James feels loved, welcomed, and has a desire to stay then he needs to be celebrated for the MVP that he is.
LeBron can't be casted as the guy with one less ring than Wade, he must be celebrated as the leader of our last two championships. This needs to happen within the organization and also from the fans. When this does, James will be locked in a ready to continue control of this organization regardless of Wade's health.
These are the ways to keep LeBron in Miami. For all my hope, the Heat win their third straight championship and don't need to mess around with all of these things. Chances are likely that he stays in Miami, but these are the steps to entice him that nowhere is else is better than sunny south Florida.
What do you think?
What needs to happen to ensure that LeBron stays in Miami?