ESPN reported that Heat officials and leading players have begun to explore options to build a team with four of the top five picks from the 2003 NBA Draft. ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein reported a bombshell that could dominate pre-game talk in advance of Thursday's pivotal Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The two veteran NBA reporters said that "Heat officials and the team's leading players" have started to explore options to add another player from the 2003 NBA Draft class, Carmelo Anthony.
Such a free agency coup would involve LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all opting out of their contracts and taking further pay cuts to allow Anthony to sign with the team. James in particular could make up the lost salary in further endorsement deals and business ventures. The only player locked into place for next season on Miami is Norris Cole at a $2 million salary.
Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen have player options, though, and it's unlikely that Haslem will be able to get anything close to the $4.6 million he's owed for next season should he opt in. Still, Pat Riley could solve that problem by simply looking back to something he did in the summer of 2010. Fellow Miami native James Jones was owed $4.65 million for the 2010-11 season, but negotiated a buyout with the Heat before free agency began, opening up additional cap space for the team. Three weeks after the buyout, Jones re-signed with the Heat.
According to the ESPN piece, cooperation from Haslem and Andersen could give the Heat in excess of $50 million in cap space and give the team the most financial flexibility in the league -- the position Miami entered the 2010 free agency period in. The Heat will have a handful of cap holds for pending free agents as well as a first-round draft pick, though (In 2010, Miami traded its first-round pick for a second-round pick that turned into Dexter Pittman. Second-round picks do not require guaranteed contracts).
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith previously reported that James and Anthony have talked about playing together before their careers end. Moreover, Phil Jackson's main pitch to Anthony to stay in New York will center on the idea that the Knicks will have cap space in 2015, when they can go after James should the four-time MVP opt in for one more year.
On the surface, this move appears to put Anthony in the position that it best suited for him -- the Olympic team role. A move to Miami would necessitate the perennial All-Star admitting that he can't contend for a championship as the No. 1 option -- something he may not be willing to admit. In Miami's offensive system, Anthony would stand as the dynamic forward who can catch-and-shoot and mix in some drives to the basket. Erik Spoelstra has cycled through Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem this season in the Heat's power forward role. Such a free agency move would put that question to rest permanently and even further strengthen Miami's offense.
Of course, questions remain about his defense -- particularly against bigger power forwards -- his perceived selfishness and on and on. But through the 2010 signing of the Big Three and subsequent moves to get Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Andersen, Pat Riley has shown that he's never satisfied. Why would he stop now?