With sources confirming to FOX Sports 1 that LeBron James has opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat, the onus in Miami shifts from LeBron to Dwyane Wade.
In choosing to exercise the early termination clause of his contract so far in advance of his June 30 deadline to do so, LeBron has given the Heat time to make the moves it must to keep him – and the time for Pat Riley & Co. to put the pressure on Wade to cede what is rightfully his for the sake of the team. Again.
Four years ago, Wade welcomed into the fold an even more talented alpha male than himself. He took less money to do that – a pay cut below the max deal he’d surely earned so that Chris Bosh and LeBron could join him. That decision, and the subsequent selflessness he showed in turning leadership of his team over to LeBron, was key in netting the Heat two championships and four straight Finals appearances.
The question now is: Does Wade, at the twilight of his career and no longer in a position to command such dollars, really want to make even more sacrifices?
Wade is owed more than $42 million over the next two years of his deal, but that’s just the start of the complications behind his decision. Yes, he could take, say, $50 million over four years to make room for LeBron, Bosh and the pieces and parts it would take to keep the King in South Beach.
But what of pride? What of the fact he’s entitled to that $42 million? What of the reports that there would be a push for the Big Three to take even less – in the neighborhood of $14 million a year each – so that they could try to bring in Carmelo Anthony for a so-called Big Four?
That would be as selfless a move as you can make, one that would border on crossing from team guy to second-class star, because Wade wouldn’t just be sacrificing money and face. He’d be turning over his role as second-alpha dog of his Miami Heat to Melo.
There are many moving parts in this drama, but LeBron has clearly defined the most critical of them by opting out and making himself an unrestricted free agent. Wade now knows making a sacrifice would buy him four more years with LeBron. And he probably suspects – as many of us do – that not making that sacrifice could end LeBron’s time in a Heat uniform.
LeBron James did not opt out of his contract to stay with a Heat team that’s unlikely to get much better because one of its Big Three chose the money.
So the pressure is on, and a look across the league would only build it.
Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a young team. Yes, their owner came across as a disrespectful buffoon when LeBron left after The Decision, and such a reunion would be a difficult one. But home is home, and LeBron, a player obsessed with legacy and finely in tune with chasing his own, knows as well as anyone what it would do for his legend to go back and bring the trophy to that long-suffering sports town.
There’s also the fact Kyrie Irving is young and great and a much better long-term partner than either Wade or Bosh, that the No. 1 pick in the draft this Thursday is a true piece to build around, and that Kevin Love is still out there to be gotten. I’ve written here in the past months and even a year ago that a return to Cleveland this summer was not as farfetched as some might have you believe. Surely Wade, and the Heat, know it as well.
There’s also the Knicks with Phil Jackson, the long shot of the Lakers with Melo (though I can’t see LeBron playing with Kobe Bryant, ever), and the machinations of teams like Chicago, Houston, Golden State, the L.A. Clippers, Phoenix – of any other organization with even a sliver of a shot that would do whatever it took to land the services of the best player on earth.
Unlikelihoods? Perhaps. But if the most probable outcome is LeBron going back to Miami, then it will require yet another sacrifice from Wade.
That is where the drama rests. Does a prideful player who’s already taken less money, who’s been blamed (rightly) for the Heat’s struggles in The Finals and whose market value going forward will only decrease really want to take a massive pay cut?
Does that same player really want the weight of blame that might come if he does not take less and LeBron James leaves?
LeBron James has a second Decision to make. But so does Dwyane Wade, and for the Miami Heat his will be almost as important.
Bill Reiter is a national columnist for FOXSports.com, a national radio host at Fox Sports Radio and regularly appears on FOX Sports 1. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.