Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - We didn't realize a week ago that those immortal words by Pat Riley would have a more significant meaning.
Riley implored Heat fans, the media, Heat players and any breathing human to "get a grip," after Miami got embarrassed in the NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs.
Now, the "get a grip" mantra took a whole new life. LeBron James exercised his right to opt out of his contract with the Heat. The best player in the universe is now a free agent, free to take his talents to South Beach, Brighton Beach, or any other sand pit with an NBA franchise.
The reason everyone needs to "get a grip" is that this could just be a procedural move by James and his camp. It certainly means teams are free to pitch James on their franchises, but the reality is that this move potentially benefits the Heat the most.
Had LeBron opted in and stayed with his current contract, he'd be on the books for over $20 million this season. Certainly James knows he can get that on the open market, but if he wants to stay with Miami, which is still the favorite at this early stage in the process, opting out and restructuring his deal makes good sense.
James is not headless. He witnessed what the Spurs did to this incarnation of the Big Three. King James knows the Heat need help. If James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all stayed in their contractual status, Riley would have almost no money to spend on reinforcements. That trio would cost over $61 million next season. LeBron opting out and signing a friendlier deal makes the possibility for help a reality.
There's always the chance James opted out for a long-term deal at the same price. He just wanted longer financial security, but if that was the case, why not stay in the last two years of the deal and go from there? Granted, if James signs a five-year max deal now, it's three more years of huge money. It's possible he won't get a max deal at 31, which is how old he'd be after the two remaining years of the 2010 contract ended, had he decided to opt in.
Money is definitely an issue, but remember, James took a slight pay cut to go to South Beach with his buddies.
And speaking of his friends, there are some things that can be read into the fact that James didn't wait for those two to make their decisions. All three are in the same contractual situation, although, in terms of earning power, it's not close.
James would get max money on the open market. If max money was $50 million per season, he'd get that based on the revenue he generates. Bosh is probably still a max guy for a desperate team trying to improve its identity. Bosh has also been forthright and public in his desire to keep the band together in Miami.
Wade is a different story. As evidenced by his play in the Finals, Wade's game and body are breaking down like a 74 Ford Pinto. It's a fact that Wade doesn't deserve the contract he has now versus his production. Also, Wade played 53 regular-season games.
Knowing he'd probably have to take the biggest pay cut of them all, or, knowing that if this version of the Big Three went its separate ways Wade would get the lowest contract, does Wade opt out?
It's a fair question. Wade could potentially leave over $41 million over two years on the table by exercising the early termination clause. The Heat, if the Big Three stay together, could give him a lifetime thank-you kind of a contract in the neighborhood of James' and Bosh's, but Wade would never see that $41 million kind of money in a bidding war between the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers.
Wade really holds the key to the Heat in his hands. Opt out, restructure and they'll likely remain together. Opt in, take the money and the Big Three could very easily be a four-year fad.
Also, Udonis Haslem has a $4.6 million player option for next season. You just know if he exercises it, the Heat will be about $5 million short of doing exactly what they want.
So, is this unified group broken? Is LeBron out for No. 1, or, technically, No. 6? Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo reported the three will meet, as will James with Riley in the next few days. One can read whatever he or she likes from the fact that James opted out without even discussing it with Bosh or Wade.
James has been clear that championships motivate him, not money. That's a lovely stock sound bite answer, but let's not assume he'll play for peanuts either. Money is important and every team that comes courting will have comparable amounts to spend. Except the Heat, if James signs a full-monty max deal of five years.
(A sign-and-trade could always occur, but anymore it feels like the jilted, former team doesn't want to help facilitate a way for the player to make more money, despite actually getting something in return for him.)
The Heat remain the top choice because, if the Big Three return, they are the best team in the Eastern Conference. Location is important, not just the sweltering beauty of Miami, but the pathetic apathy of the conference. Heading west brings about the headache of the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets. (More on some of them later.)
The Heat are also a model franchise that James shouldn't seek shelter from as if it were ablaze. Riley is tremendous. Owner Micky Arison is committed and has paid the luxury tax before. Head coach Erik Spoelstra is very solid and has earned the trust of these mega-stars.
Money, competitive edge and comfort. Miami offers it all, but if James were to scoot, where could he land?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are a team you'll read about a lot until James inks a deal. It would be such a wonderful story to rejoin the team he spurned four years ago, but for months, if not a year, I've written that this doesn't make sense.
The Cavaliers' young talent, with the exception of Kyrie Irving, is either non-existent (Anthony Bennett/Cody Zeller), overrated (Dion Waiters), or already reached a ceiling (Tristan Thompson). Cleveland has the No. 1 pick on Thursday, is rumored to be in the hunt for Kevin Love, but what's LeBron's motivation other than going home?
And yes, James' wife, Savannah, sent a picture of Akron, Ohio on social media with the words: "Home sweet home!! The countdown is real! #330." 330 is Akron's area code where the couple and their family spend summer, back at their family's house.
So, obviously, James is going back to the Cavs. Savannah sent a picture of Akron. Has to be the case.
The Phoenix Suns have cap space, young talent and draft picks galore this week. They were the surprise team of the NBA last season, have a fantastic young coach, a great training staff and a wonderful system. Hard to take them seriously at this point, though, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly why. The young talent is good, but not dynamic, and owner Robert Sarver isn't loved.
The Denver Nuggets will call. LeBron's respectful, he might listen. Teams with cash like the Philadelphia 76ers or Atlanta Hawks shouldn't waste their cellular minutes.
The Los Angeles Lakers will kick the tires since they have enough for a max player. Kobe Bryant is nearing the end and he could show James how to handle being the face of the Lakers, but this team would be in bad financial shape until Bryant retires two years from now. That's a long time to wait for a rebuild.
The New York Knicks don't have a way to get this done in my book. Had James waited until after this season to opt out, maybe. The Knicks will have buckets and buckets of cap room one summer from now, but on this steamy June afternoon, the Knicks have no wiggle room. Even if Carmelo Anthony bolts, the Knicks are still over the cap.
The Houston Rockets are an intriguing name in this contest. Every summer, they jettison dead weight from their books in an effort to sign the splashiest name available. If the Rockets can find takers on Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, who will combine to make about $16.6 million next season, they could be in on LeBron. The thinking is to pair him with James Harden and Dwight Howard and roll out a ball. Again, too many stars has traditionally not worked, although Texas is a haven for the rich with its tax laws. The Rockets will fight their way into the mix.
The remaining two teams in the pursuit are the most interesting in my opinion, and present the most real threat to the Heat.
When reports surfaced last summer that the Chicago Bulls weren't going to offer Luol Deng an extension, my brain immediately flipped on to "they're going after LeBron."
The Bulls have Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. They have a brilliant coach in Tom Thibodeau. Chicago is a big city, but the drawback is probably playing in Michael Jordan's still-lingering shadow.
By now, you've read that the Bulls would have to amnesty Carlos Boozer's final year, and shed a little more salary to sign a top-flight stud. They don't want to trade Taj Gibson to do it. But the funny thing is, the stories you've read about these scenarios are generally about Anthony, not James.
Anthony certainly fits a need for the Bulls. They have trouble scoring the ball and especially in the fourth quarter. However, it's been my experience that any need Anthony fits, James does as well, plus the team gets the benefit of defense.
The other team laying in the weeds is the Los Angeles Clippers. Who wouldn't want to play for Doc Rivers and alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin?
Put that way, it's obvious. Nothing in life is that obvious.
James was the most outspoken critic of Donald Sterling and if he continues to hold things up with his litigation, that's a strike.
Would the Clips have to give up Griffin in order to free up the cash for him because they aren't near under the cap? A sign-and-trade, James for Griffin, certainly would intrigue the Heat, or does LA ship Griffin somewhere totally different to free up money? Wouldn't that negate the majesty of going to Los Angeles, to play as part of that triumvirate?
The Clippers could shed DeAndre Jordan, a top defensive big man and elite rebounder. They could also jettison Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and Jamal Crawford to make a LeBron deal happen. This is the far likelier scenario. It's also very, very possible. Both sides would love to make this happen if Bron- Bron doesn't return to South Beach.
This is a lot to digest, especially if James just re-ups with the Heat. But, as Riley may not be willing to acknowledge publicly, LeBron will have plenty of suitors.
James' opting out might be ceremonial and it might be for the good of the Heat. It also could spell doom.