You and your family, sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, are free to talk about where you think LeBron James may go as a free agent in 2014 should he decide to opt out of his contract. As the go-to NBA brain at the table, reading an NBA blog the day before the holiday, your uncle can take his eyes off the football long enough to pry you for information about whether James is going to the Lakers, Bulls, Cavaliers, Mavericks, or any other team with desperate hopes to land the reigning MVP’s services with potential cap space.
Writers and broadcasters and chat show gasbags and message board high rollers are also free to bleat away to their hearts’ content in anticipation of next July, when LeBron can either opt-in, opt-out and sign an extension with Miami, or leave the Heat for the next step in his journey.
You know who’s not allowed to talk about such things, on record? NBA front office types, coaches, employees, trainers, ball boys … and especially players. Players are the ones that talk the most, and they’re expected by the league to talk the least.
This didn’t stop Cleveland big man Anderson Varejao recently when he showed no hesitation in talking up James’ chances to return to the Cavaliers this summer. The Cavs will have the cap space and star sidekick in hand as long as Kyrie Irving keeps it up, so Anderson didn’t blink twice before going all in on the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Jason Lloyd’s question:
“It could happen,” Varejao said. “Bron is from Akron. Akron is not too far from here. Eventually in his career, he probably wants to play at home.”
And then unprovoked, the normally quiet Varejao said he didn’t like the way James left the Cavs via the one-hour television special.
“Going back to that, I think the way he left was wrong,” Varejao said. “But regardless … He helped me a lot, helped my game and helped me as a person. I have nothing against him. It could happen.”
Yeah, you’re technically not allowed to do that, Anderson. And after a decade in the NBA, you can’t blame naiveté or an unfamiliarity with the rules, and while I think it would be a pretty bogus move, the NBA might levy the Cavs with a small tampering fine as a result of Varejao’s innocent and innocuous (and, heaven forbid, honest) answer.
James will visit Cleveland on Wednesday night, with the tensions having died down since the 2010 Decision, and with a bunch of doofuses handing out green t-shirts prior to the game in hopes of somehow wooing James back to northern Ohio.
Because of this, Cavs coach Mike Brown was asked the same question and – pay attention, Anderson – he gave the perfect non-response response. From the Beacon Journal:
“He plays for the Miami Heat right now. He’s done a fantastic job with the Miami Heat, just like the rest of those guys,” Brown said. “They’ve been to the Finals three straight years. Erik Spoelstra’s done a heck of a job for that team. We got a long road ahead of us here. But the guys are working hard, and we’ve seen steady improvement here as a group. We’ve got to stay the course here and know that, for us, it’s about rolling up our sleeves and getting after it more than anything else.”
Perfect. In Perd Hapley-inspired summation:
“Do you think LeBron James could come to Cleveland next year?”
“LeBron James plays for the Miami Heat. Erik Spoelstra is the coach of the Heat. I am now going to talk about my team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Who are playing the Miami Heat.”
The Heat are rolling right now, with James is putting up astonishing numbers on the offensive end while he bides his time until the part of the year where he really has to exert himself. The East is a mess, and though rival Indiana owns the NBA’s best record right now, the champs are the champs until someone beats them four out of seven playoff tries.
Even if the Heat three-peat this June, quite a bit can go down between now and then. It’s unlikely that either Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh leave Miami this summer by choice (those two can opt out as well), but Wade’s aching knees are always a concern, and Bosh runs the risk of being overpaid as a max player while still giving up touches to James and Wade, and rebounds in Miami’s small ball defensive setup.
Luxury tax concerns could be a major issue for team owner Micky Arison. The idea that the Big Three would all opt out of their contracts to take in even more per-year and long-term money is everyone’s go-to guess at this point, but that represents quite a bit of payroll uh-oh for Arison’s Heat. As we discussed in the breakdown of Kobe Bryant’s superstar Ko-hort hopes on Tuesday, in spite of the Heat’s two and possible three championships, this has not been an easy run with a top-heavy roster full of three stars and endless cheap role players. As a result of this makeup and in spite of LeBron, Miami has been a game away from being knocked out of the playoffs in 2012 and 2013 (two times, in that run) to formidable opponents, and they lost the 2011 Finals.
This is why Arison could let Bosh flee to the Dallas Mavericks (near his home) and try to convince Wade to take less money but for a longer, “end his career in Miami”-deal. This wouldn’t guarantee a championship, but it would help throw as much money as possible LeBron’s way, and lighten the tax bill.
LeBron could balk at this and flee to a situation that he thinks he can sustain as a contender for longer, or he could take as much money as possible and try his best. As it was with Kobe, we don’t blame the guy for either decision.
Unlike 2010’s Decision. Which everyone still hates. Even though – like Anderson, like those t-shirt totin’ Cavs “fans” – they’ll quickly get over it if LeBron comes back.
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