As LeBron James remains uncommitted and the Miami Heat work to solidify contract terms with Chris Bosh, there's a renewed hope throughout the NBA the franchise's Big Three could be jarred loose into seriously considering the free-agent market, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
And yet for all the machinations and fluidity of this complex dance, James holds the power to bring everything back together for the franchise.
"Bosh is back in a second if LeBron commits," one league source involved in the dialogue told Yahoo Sports.
Miami president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra have been crossing the country and meeting with free agents, but have remained unable to offer competitive market deals to top available players, sources said.
There had been suggestions the renegotiated contracts of James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade could leave the space for a $9 million-$10 million annual salary slot, but the figure that Miami has floated to prospective players is a first-year salary in the range of $5.5 million and hazy suggestions about sign-and-trades that would ultimately be difficult to execute, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
"A lot of hocus pocus," one high-profile agent told Yahoo Sports.
Barring Bosh and Wade caving on dramatic pay decreases, Miami's best offers still promise to be significantly below the market values of such free agents as Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng and Pau Gasol.
Riley and Spoelstra met with Deng on Saturday afternoon in Chicago, and pitched him on a free-agent deal with the Heat, sources said. Riley sold Deng on the Heat's ability to cultivate a player's personal brand through the winning of championships and how so many players stay connected to the organization for a lifetime, sources said. Spoelstra laid out a plan to use Deng's versatility to complement the Heat's Big Three, explaining how he'd use Deng in multiple offensive scenarios to make him the most efficient of his career.
Deng turned down a $10 million-a-year extension with Chicago before his trade to Cleveland in January, and so far he's been resolved to accept nothing less than that figure, sources said.
Riley and Spoelstra met with also Gasol and Ariza in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Miami has exuded confidence in meetings that it will retain James, Bosh and Wade, but teams continue to make moves hoping James and Bosh look seriously at the free-agent market.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are shopping Jarrett Jack's contract with a future draft pick to move closer to freeing a full maximum contract slot to offer James, league sources said. If the Cavaliers lose out on James, they're still considering a max-level offer sheet on Utah restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, sources said. The Cavaliers want to engage the Jazz on a sign-and-trade for Hayward, but Utah has shown no inclination to do anything with Cleveland but unblinkingly match an offer sheet and keep Hayward, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The Phoenix Suns remain an intriguing dark horse for James because general manager Ryan McDonough could offer him something no one else outside Miami can now: a second max-salary slot to pick a co-star. The Suns can quickly shed $10 million more in contracts to pursue James and a second star – perhaps Bosh, if James wanted – and they'd still be able to keep the talented core of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and center Miles Plumlee.
James' agent Rich Paul represents Bledsoe and understands James' commitment to the Suns would almost guarantee he could get Bledsoe a max-contract extension with the Suns.
For now, Bosh has remained committed to finding a way to make things work in Miami, sources told Yahoo Sports, and continues to work with Heat management to find creative financial ways to upgrade the roster. As free agents start to leave the board and sign elsewhere, it could be come increasingly difficult for Riley to make a dramatic change to the roster. For now, the Heat president is on the clock and working desperately to find a way to keep it all together.