Pat Riley's dynasty hinges on LeBron James' 2014 decision
LeBron James has two rings and wants to three-peat. But after that, he could opt out and go elsewhere.
By CHRIS TOMASSON FS Florida
MIAMI — Pat Riley wants to have a dynasty in Miami. To do that, he surely will need LeBron James’ help.
James is receptive to the idea of sticking around the Heat for a long time, but there’s an asterisk next to it. That will keep everybody guessing as July 1, 2014 approaches, the day he would become a free agent if he opts out of his contract.
“That’s the goal,’’ the Miami star said Tuesday about wanting to be part of Heat president Riley’s vision of winning many titles. “That’s the ultimate finish. And we all hope that can happen, obviously, to be able to have success with the two guys (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) and with Riles and (coach Erik Spoelstra). This is what we came here for. So that would be the ultimate, but you can never put a . . .”
Just when it seemed James was close to saying he almost surely would stick around Miami for the long haul, he shifted gears. He let it be known that what he has next year is indeed an option.
“I don’t know,’’ James said of his long-term future with the Heat. “Life changes. Things happen. You have to be prepared for that. But this is what we all want to be here for, and that’s to be able to compete for a championship each and every year. And, if we can do that, then it would be awesome.’’
James just led the Heat to a second straight title, and next season they’ll try to become just the fourth franchise to have a three-peat. But there figures to be plenty of talk during the season about whether the four-time Most Valuable Player will return for 2014-15.
“It can’t get any worse than the season before I became a free agent in 2010,’’ said James, unconcerned about the speculation becoming a distraction.
James will earn $19.07 million next season. He has option seasons on his deal for $20.59 million in 2014-15 and $22.11 million in 2015-16. Even if James wants next summer to return to Miami, it’s likely he would opt out to sign a more lucrative deal with the Heat.
“I don’t know,’’ James said when asked if it would take something unexpected for him to leave Miami after next season. “I’m not really thinking about that right now. Like I said, the ultimate for us is to be able to compete for a championship each and every year. . . . Our focus is how we’re going to get better this year.’’
James vows to do his part. He figures it might not be long before he’s back working out.
James had said after the Heat ousted San Antonio last Thursday in Game 7 of the NBA Finals he needed to rest his body. But Spoelstra said Monday that James “doesn’t have that in his DNA’’ to rest and he expected James to be “back doing something in the gym within 10 days.’’
James didn’t disagree.
“That’s possible,’’ James said. “I love the game so much. I start to miss it. I’m missing it already, actually. I feel great. My body feels great. I don’t know it feels like it does right now. You miss the game less than a week after it’s over.’’
James touched Tuesday upon only one thing he definitely will work on during the summer. James knows he must be a better free-throw shooter.
James shot 75.3 percent during the season and is a career 74.7 percent marksman. He did at least shoot 77.7 percent during the playoffs en route to a second straight Finals MVP award.
“I don’t need a shooting coach,’’ James said. “For me, I think it’s just continue the repetition and then continue to work on it. During my workouts in the summertime, when I’m dead tired, there's an opportunity where I should go to the free-throw line and challenge myself to calm my breath down and be able to go up there and make five in a row or make 10 in a row. . . . I think it's mental more than anything.''
James should have plenty of time to work on that. Unlike last season, when he won an Olympic gold medal in London, he won’t have any commitments with Team USA.
James will have a basketball camp in Las Vegas in early July and make his annual trip with Nike to China in late July. Then he will be married in San Diego in September to Savannah Brinson.
“I’m involved enough to where everything is going to go right,’’ James said of the nuptials. “The most important person is Savannah, and if she’s happy, then I’m happy. That’s all that matters. I don’t really care about anything else. I don’t really care about nobody else there on that day besides her.’’
As far as who’s on the Heat roster come this fall, James also is taking a relaxed approach. He's fine if Miami brings in another key player, but he's not going to pester management about it.
“I’m not going up to those guys or approaching this summer saying, 'I need help,' ’’ James said. “I'm coming back and saying, 'Well, if we come back with this same roster, we’re going to compete for a championship.' . . . I’m obsessed with success. I want success and I want that feeling again. I want to be able to win another championship because it’s the best feeling it the world.’’
James said he does hope the Heat bring back “at least a couple’’ of players. He cited guards Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen and center Chris Andersen as “a huge part of our team and our success.’’
Chalmers has a $4 million team option that the Heat figure to pick up by Sunday, but he said Tuesday he hasn't heard anything yet. Allen must decide by Sunday whether to pick up his $3.23 million contract option. However, using the non-Bird exception, he could opt out of his deal and re-sign with the Heat a contract for as many as four years that starts at $3.708 million.
Andersen becomes a free agent Monday, and he indicated Tuesday he wants to re-sign with the Heat. Using the non-Bird exception, Andersen could be offered a deal next season worth $1.62 million. Or Miami could dip into its taxpayer mid-level exception of $3.183 million.
On Tuesday, two details were taken care of as guard James Jones picked up his $1.5 million option for next season and forward Rashard Lewis invoked his $1.4 million option. Both had previously told FOX Sports Florida they would stay with the Heat.
But the big news for the next year plus on the Heat will be whether James will re-sign. Chalmers insisted that won’t be a distraction hanging over the team.
“We’re not worried about that,’’ Chalmers said. “When that time comes, whatever happens, happens.’’
If the Heat truly want to have the dynasty that Riley envisions, James coming back will be what needs to happen.