Why LeBron James Should Consider the Miami Heat
I’m not sure if you already know this, but the rumor is that LeBron James is thinking of leaving Cleveland, now that his contract with the Cavaliers is up.
Everyone from Jay-Z to Barack Obama is in on the act of recruiting him.
Speculation over where he’ll end up has run wild. In the past 24 hours, Vegas oddsmakers have increased Miami’s odds of landing James from 35-1 to 7.5-1. In a poll of six ESPN experts, two felt Miami was the most likely destination.
What was once thought to be the ridiculous bantering of the hopelessly delusional is now a potential reality. A combination of Wade, James and Bosh has to be intriguing, and it is possible.
Moving the contracts of Daequan Cook and Michael Beasley are the only things that stand in the way. And both should be quite easy to move. You’d have to think a team would be willing to take on Cook’s expiring $2.1 million contract for, say, up to $3.0 million in cash. As for Beasley, you’d have to think a team would be intrigued about the possibility of acquiring the troubled forward at no cost, and perhaps even surrender future draft considerations to the Heat in order to do so.
Still, the ultimate trio would seem unlikely. And, as surprising as this may sound, it may not even be in the Heat’s best interests.
With LeBron in the mix, entirely new scenarios open up.
If I were Riley, my recruiting pitch to LeBron would go something like this:
I would talk about the benefit of playing in an no-income-tax state like Florida, something that would be worth millions to James, whose off-court earnings dwarf his on-court salary. I would cover the weather, the beaches, the lifestyle, and all else the city has to offer. I would point to the rings on my finger. They are, after all, exactly what he wants. I would point to Micky Arison, the multi-billionaire owner willing to spend whatever it takes to make it happen.
But my focus would be on building a dynasty.
I would point to the players, by position, that I believe would get that done (working within the confines of a projected $56.1 million salary cap):
POINT GUARD: If you’re going to go big in certain places, you need to go small in others to compensate. Incumbent rotation player Mario Chalmers would get the starting nod heading into camp, but it wouldn’t be a lock. He would be challenged by first round draft pick Eric Bledsoe. But it’s also a nice dynamic – a potent, floor-spacing three-point shooter who can play off the ball coupled with a ball-hawking, freakish defender with seemingly unlimited potential upside. Cost: $2.1 million between them.
SHOOTING GUARD: The path to multiple championship rings starts with U.S. Olympic teammate and friend Dwyane Wade. Wade is the best shooting guard in the game, orchestrator of the 2006 title, and the heart and soul of the Miami Heat for the better part of a decade. His credentials speak for themselves. Nothing more need be said. Cost: $16.6 million.
SMALL FORWARD: LeBron James. Cost: $16.6 million.
POWER FORWARD: With the game’s two best players at attacking the rim sharing the floor together, there’s one critical component the Heat would need to be supremely successful – the space to allow them to do so. A stretch-4 would be a perfect fit. The best stretch-4 in the league is a name you’ve probably never heard of: Ryan Anderson.
Andersen could be the most under-appreciated asset in the entire N.B.A. He’s young, drafted No. 21 overall by the New Jersey Nets in 2008, but supremely skilled. He was included as an afterthought in the trade that sent him and Vince Carter to the Orlando Magic less than a year later. He played fewer than 15 minutes per game last season in Orlando. But those minutes were eye-opening.
People don’t seem to understand what a devastating offensive player Anderson is because he doesn’t have the ball in his hands much. He’s basically a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki in that he generates lots of points with a remarkably low cost in empty trips, thereby leaving lots of other possessions for his teammates to score, too. He’s an aggressive power forward with a quick trigger and a deadly 3-pointer off the catch.
He’s a bit like the high OBP guy in baseball that way. Anderson averaged more than a point every two minutes, which is great, but the amazing part is he did it with a true shooting percentage of 57.4%. He also throws in in elite offensive rebounding as a bonus.
Anderson is under contract to the Magic. But the Heat has plenty of assets, including Michael Beasley and all manner of draft picks with which to get a trade done. If they do, they’ll be getting a massively underrated talent. Cost: $1.4 million.
CENTER: The center position involves yet another trade scenario, this time for 7’1″ Tyson Chandler. Chandler has a $12.6 million expiring contract which the cash-strapped and tax-burdened Charlotte Bobcats will be looking to shed, if he doesn’t do it for them by exercising his ETO and becoming an unrestricted free agent outright. That seems unlikely.
What’s happened to Chandler is rather inexplicable. The agile and energetic defensive stalwart, who New Orleans obtained in a trade with the Chicago Bulls before the 2006-07 season, was one of the key players in the Hornets’ run to the semifinals of the Western Conference playoffs in 2007-08, repeatedly teaming with point guard Chris Paul on spectacular alley-oop dunks. He’s never been much of a low post threat, but he utilizes his supreme athleticism and soft hands to swat away opposition shot attempts, snatch rebounds out of the air, and finish anything he gets his hands on with a ferocious dunk.
The Hornets were widely projected as a dark-horse title contender the following season, but Chandler endured a variety of injuries and struggles to cope with raised expectations. With a burdensome payroll, New Orleans eventually put him on the trade block, where he stayed for nearly six months before finding a taker in the Charlotte Bobcats, in a trade for Emeka Okafor that was reviled by mainstream analysts.
His lone season with the Bobcats completely justified the naysayers. Chandler played in just 51 games in 2009-10 and started only 27. Toward the second half of the season, astonishing as it may seem, he was actually coming off the bench behind both Nazr Mohammed and Theo Ratliff. His offense went dormant without Paul feeding him alley-oops. His total rebounding and blocking percentages were also some of his career worsts.
Chandler’s stock has never been lower. He is rumored to be available in trade for little else than cap relief. The Heat can provide it. It’d be veritable theft. Chandler is an All-Star caliber center when healthy, one who would thrive alongside Wade, James and a perimeter-oriented power forward, as he had during the best years of his career. Cost: $12.6 million.
BENCH: Raja Bell has communicated a strong desire to sign on. He’d be an ideal backup shooting guard as a 3&D contributor. Miami native James Jones will certainly be waived by the June 30 deadline in order to capitalize on his partial guarantee. He’s not worth the 3-years and $14.9 million remaining on his contract, but he would be a wonderful addition as a floor-spacing option at small forward. Former Florida Gator Matt Bonner would provide another premium outside shooter at power forward if he could be wrestled away from San Antonio. And, absent a more compelling alternative, Joel Anthony could be a useful defensive-minded backup center. Cost: None (Minimum player salary exception utilized).
So there you have it. My LeBron scenario is as follows:
Mario Chalmers / Eric Bledsoe
Dwyane Wade / Raja Bell
LeBron James / James Jones
Ryan Anderson / Matt Bonner
Tyson Chandler / Joel Anthony
Now think about the result.
This offense would be absolutely spectacular. It has the two best penetrators on this planet. It has one of the most devastating pick-and-roll finishers on this planet. It has an athletic 7-foot center to swallow offensive rebounds. And with the incredible amount of collapsing defenses are sure to do, it has a premier floor-spacing three-point shooters. Imagine how perfect the floor spacing would be.
But forget the offensive potential for a moment. Instead, focus on the defense. Eric Bledsoe is a suffocating, ball-hawking defense keeps opposing point guards from getting into their half court sets as well as from getting into the lane and breaking down the defense. LeBron James made the N.B.A.’s First First Team All Defense this past season. Dwyane Wade made the second team. Tyson Chandler is a better defender than all of them.
This team only requires $54.0 million of cap space to put together, leaving $2.1 million of projected cap room to spare.
Is it good enough to create a dynasty? Is it realistic?
Is it a strong enough pitch for LeBron James?