After conducting meetings with three NBA teams interested in pursuing free-agent star LeBron James, his agent suggested to owners and executives present that a failure of Miami president Pat Riley to rapidly recruit a strong supporting cast could bring finalists back to meet with James himself next week, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Rich Paul, the agent for James, invited three teams – Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix – to the offices of his Klutch Sports headquarters to listen to pitches.
The meetings took place on Wednesday and Thursday, sources told Yahoo Sports.
Phoenix met on Wednesday and Cavaliers officials met on Thursday with Paul. Houston Rockets officials spoke with Paul by phone, but were not granted a meeting and have moved on with their pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, sources told Yahoo Sports.
Some executives believe there's an opportunity because of a disconnect between James and his teammates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Another executive attending the meeting flatly said, "I think it's a smokescreen."
Across the country in Los Angeles on Thursday, Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra came to meet with free agents about joining the Heat, sources told Yahoo Sports. They met with Los Angeles Lakers free-agent forward Pau Gasol on Thursday, sources said. Miami is still unsure how much it has to offer free agents because Bosh and Wade have yet to fully agree to lowered salaries upon opting out of their contracts.
James has maintained a desire to take a full max contract with a starting salary of $20.7 million, sources said. Wade and Bosh are still reluctant to take severe cuts in their contracts, sources told Yahoo Sports, creating a financial disconnect among the three.
"There's clearly a breakdown in communication between LeBron and [Wade and Bosh]," one executive who participated in the meetings over the past two days told Yahoo Sports. "[James is] giving Riley time to go get players for them but if that doesn't happen in the next few days … LeBron seems ready to explore the market."
For James, the hard part remains: Where would he go? That still makes teams dubious of this exercise as anything but a leverage power play out of James and a marketing exercise out of Paul's fledgling agency. The Suns are offering a chance to sign James and his friend Anthony together, but James would have to move rapidly to recruit the New York Knicks' star. Paul represents the Suns' talented point guard Eric Bledsoe, a restricted free agent. All of it remains, for now, a long shot.
Anthony is spending the weekend choosing between the Chicago Bulls, Rockets and a five-year, $129 million maximum extension with the New York Knicks.
The Cavaliers sold Paul in the meeting on a core of Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Paul's client, Tristan Thompson, three first-round picks in 2015 and significant salary-cap space. For James, Cleveland would be a homecoming, the reversal of his infamous decision four years ago.
For now, James remains overseas on vacation with his family and Riley and Spoelstra remains in hot pursuit of a supporting cast through free agency and trades. As much as ever, the clock is ticking for the Miami Heat.
ESPN.com first reported Paul's meetings with the teams.