The heat is on LeBron James as well


Mar 8

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Carmelo Anthony is not going anywhere as a free agent this summer. That’s because next summer LeBron James is going to join him in New York.

Yes, the heck with leading stories four months in advance of free agency. I’m going with 16 months. After all, it’s then easier for everyone to forget if you get it wrong.

Sources who may or may not know have not said that about James, who is at the United Center Sunday for the nationally televised ABC-TV game against the Bulls.

"You win in New York and your reputation and legacy is enhanced like it can be nowhere else," writes Smith.

“You win in New York and your reputation and legacy is enhanced like it can be nowhere else,” writes Smith.

But it actually could well be a heck of a play by both Anthony and James following one more season. After all, the Heat waited out two seasons and stepped back from a title team for a chance to acquire James. And what better place for James to enhance his image, if that is even possible, by winning in New York, not only perhaps the world’s biggest media market, but where no one else—and not even Pat Riley—has been able to.

You can imagine that parade. Talk about your canyon of heroes. Do they even have ticker tape anymore?

You win in New York and your reputation and legacy is enhanced like it can be nowhere else. After all, the Knicks won two titles more than 40 years ago and just about every starter got into the Hall of Fame. It’s not like they all deserved to.

James in numerous comments this season seems to have made it clear he’s going for that mythical designation of greatest ever that Michael Jordan now holds. James’ Heat likely remains the favorite for a third consecutive championship this season the way they’ve mostly come on since All-Star break. James is still 29. Jordan won his sixth title at age 35. If James can get to seven titles, one more than Jordan, he legitimately can make the case. Those close to James now say every move he makes, assuming he makes any, will be about how best he can win more championships.

James can opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer. He obviously doesn’t have to. The crucial issue for Miami is the deteriorating physical condition of Dwyane Wade’s knees, which have required substantial rest this season. Wade’s obviously not a long term answer to be James’ running mate. Chris Bosh, as I speculated last week, could opt out and go perhaps to Dallas. Though even if Bosh were to leave it still wouldn’t, at least for now, give Miami enough salary cap space to recruit someone like Anthony as a free agent on a maximum deal. But no one underestimates Riley as perhaps the league’s most innovative executive. What you hear around the NBA is executives saying they don’t know what, but, “Riley will do something.” What, exactly? No one knows, but they say if anyone can figure it out it will be Riley. If Bosh doesn’t opt out or gets an extension, the Heat have few personnel options beyond trading Bosh or having Wade opt out and accept some sort of lesser deal, which seems unlikely.

No matter what occurs the Heat should be in contention again next season with those three as the core. That’s where the LeBron imbroglio comes up. The 2015 class is the big free agent summer teams are preparing for. Why not play it out one more season as probably still the favorite—any team that has James likely is these days—and then consider the options.

Say Anthony signs his long term extension with the Knicks this summer, which many believe will occur. After next summer, the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler will expire. That would give the Knicks salary cap space for a maximum deal for someone like James and enough money for another free agent with further additions like finally, a draft pick and another exception. Given that money and luxury tax seems to remain of little concern in New York, the Knicks could begin to load up around LeBron and Anthony. Who really would have a better pair?

The question for James is where he can go to play with another star given Wade’s decline.

It’s not likely to be Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles given Bryant’s age and health. There’s been rumors if the Clippers don’t win a title this season or make the Finals they’d trade Blake Griffin for James. The theory goes Miami at least gets a young star to build with rather than risk losing James. The Clippers have dismissed moving Griffin, now even in MVP conversation. But more than that, who would trade LeBron James with a chance to still win a title? That would be a tough move for Miami to make. Would they react rather than risk losing him? That sort of fear doesn’t sound like Pat Riley.

Obviously, James isn’t going to Minnesota to join Kevin Love or Boston to join Rajon Rondo. Dallas with Dirk? Don’t think so.

Kevin Durant is the big name, but he isn’t a free agent until 2016. LaMarcus Aldridge? San Antonio? Doesn’t sound like a LeBron kind of town.

Anthony is as good as any, an elite scorer to match Durant, and especially as a second option guy. It’s really what Anthony always has been, though no one ever has been good enough to put someone better with him. Not that there are many with Anthony’s kind of talent.

Imagine how big James would become winning in New York with all that media attention and making a run on Jordan’s legacy in New York? Jordan scored 55 in New York and it was practically a national holiday. How about doing it every week? It didn’t make as much sense in 2010 as James didn’t have a title and the Knicks couldn’t give him the talent the Heat could. Now they can.

And it’s a different, more mature James, who is one of the league’s better citizens. Even Saturday night when he could have been enjoying Chicago, he was one a plane to Cleveland for the jersey retirement ceremony of former teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a classy gesture. There is no doubt these days who is the face of the NBA. It’s LeBron James.

At this point in his career with all James has accomplished and all he’s done for Miami, this isn’t running out on another city. This would be a legitimate pursuit of greatness and history. No problem with that.

Wilt moved, Kareem moved, Oscar moved. Hey, even Jordan finished elsewhere. And, oh yeah, is that Phil Jackson who is now considering an executive position with the Knicks? We know from Phil’s departure from Chicago he doesn’t do rebuilding. And he has this thing about putting stars and championships together.

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