LeBron James’ seven most likely landing spots, which starts with Miami

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LeBron James is opting out of his contract in part to threaten Pat Riley and the Miami Heat — “you need to upgrade this roster or else.”

But that’s the thing about a threat, you can’t make it unless you are willing to follow through. You have to mean the “or else” part.

Does LeBron really mean it?

Maybe. Starting July 1 he is a free agent and you can bet 30 teams will make some kind of move to see if there is interest, but only a few have a real chance. Here are his top seven potential landing spots.

1) Miami Heat. They are still easily the leaders here. By a mile. He won two titles here and he has a level of trust with Pat Riley he never had in Cleveland. As mentioned above, LeBron was threatening Pat Riley to upgrade but there is another key thing LeBron knows — Pat Riley couldn’t upgrade unless he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all opted out and made a financial sacrifice. If all three opted in this season, along with Mario Chalmers, the Heat were already right at the salary cap number and Riley’s hands would have been tied.

LeBron opted out early and how much he consulted with Wade and Bosh is not known (it is very likely he told them his plan, but regardless they reportedly will meet soon). But the message to the other two members of the big three is unmistakeable — this is LeBron’s team. They don’t win without him, and if they choose getting paid  as their top priority, he can and will leave.

Expect them all to opt out and re-sign in Miami. For example, if LeBron and Bosh take $17-$18 million a year and Pat Riley can convince the aging Wade that he will get more money long term if he signs for four years, $48 million (he gets $7 million more guaranteed) then Riley would be roughly $9 million under the cap (counting place holders) and he could chase a couple quality free agents plus have his mid-level exception to spend. The Heat could bring in talent that would help.

Is Wade really going to do that? He is the wild card.

[MORE: There’s a simple explanation for LeBron opting out]

However the big three choose to work out the money, this remains by far the most likely scenario.

2) Chicago Bulls. If LeBron is going to leave, he is in full legacy-building mode now — he needs rings. This is the best place to get them. The Bulls have chased the idea of Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love as their power forward, LeBron is a big upgrade over either of those. This takes a lot of pressure off Derrick Rose to create all the offense, the Bulls’ defensive system would become shut down and they would be a threat to any team that came out of the West. LeBron would take a public relations hit (he will take one no matter where he goes other than Miami) and be accused of being in Jordan’s shadow, but he could build a legacy there.

3) Los Angeles Clippers. LeBron can pretty much force his way anywhere, if he so chooses. This would be him forcing an outcome on Pat Riley — LeBron would love to play with Chris Paul and for Doc Rivers, but the Clippers do not have the cap space to sign him. This would have to be a sign-and-trade and LeBron is going to have to take a pay cut ($17 million a year, maybe a little more). If I’m Riley, I push hard for Blake Griffin in that trade coming back. Would the Clippers do that? They say no. Griffin is the fan favorite and the heart of the marketing program in Los Angeles. He gets announced last in pregame, not CP3. Griffin is not yet in his prime. But this is LeBron we’re talking about, if he will take the pay cut the Clippers should pull the trigger.

4) Houston Rockets. This is the same idea as Chicago — they are trying to add a star and if you put LeBron James with James Harden and Dwight Howard you are the best team in the West on paper. There are a million hurdles with this one — the Rockets have to dump Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons has to be allowed to walk, but if you can create space you have a big three. Now, this big three isn’t as smooth — it’s hard for LeBron to drive the lane with Howard in it, plus Howard pouts when he doesn’t get his touches — and we can question if Kevin McHale is the coach who can make all the pieces fit, but this is an option. Also, LeBron has no ties to this market at all and it’s not one of the handful of large markets he would like.

5) Cleveland Cavaliers. We have moved from the “unlikely” to “crazy long shot” portion of the program. While a lot of fans think LeBron returning to Cleveland is the only non-Miami option, I think it would be a disaster. First, it is a half-hearted apology to return at this point (to borrow Matt Stroup of Rotoworld’s phrase). Next, this team is not ready to take on the best out of the West — Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 pick and LeBron with Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson get swept by the Spurs or the Thunder or the Clippers. If you’re dreaming of Kevin Love and LeBron in Cleveland with Kyrie, I suggest you stop eating the “special” brownies.

6) Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have the cap space and they have the best brand in basketball in a major market. They have whatever’s left of Kobe Bryant. But they are in the Western Conference which means just to get back to the Finals the Lakers have to get past the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Grizzlies, Rockets, Warriors and Blazers. They could in theory get Carmelo Anthony and LeBron, but again that big three has to fight its way out of a brutal West. Plus, does LeBron really want to come play in Kobe’s shadow (this is still Kobe’s team)? Long shot at best.

[MORE: LeBron’s wife causes Internet stir with Instagram post]

7) Atlanta Hawks/Phoenix Suns. LeBron is not going to go to these teams in these markets, but they would be fascinating. I love the Atlanta idea, they could have in the ballpark of $17 million if they trade Lou Williams and that would give the Hawks a starting five of Jeff Teague (better than any Miami point guard), Kyle Korver to space the floor, LeBron at the three, Paul Millsap at the four and Al Horford at the five. That’s a good team. The Suns could sign Lebron to a near max and if you put him with Eric Bledsoe and shooters on a fast-paced teak it would be fun to watch. Probably not good enough to get out of the West, but fun. The other interesting team in the West would be the Dallas Mavericks, but again like these teams not sure they have enough.

(What about the New York Knicks? Good luck. Phil Jackson can dream but he can’t make this happen. The Knicks don’t have the cap room to sign him and Pat Riley isn’t taking on some combination of Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler back in a sign-and-trade. The Knicks don’t have tradable assets — Iman Shumpert doesn’t count. Even if this trade happened, while LeBron and Anthony together is enough to get out of the East, it’s right back to the Miami situation of needing to find a way to build a team good enough to challenge the best of the West. It makes no sense for him to go to New York. But Phil will try.)

Report: Jim Buss resigns as Lakers trustee

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Jim Buss’ fall from power within the Lakers continues.

After Jeanie Buss fired Jim from his front-office position, Jim and Johnny Buss tried to wrestle control from Jeanie.

That gambit has failed.

Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times:

The three siblings have agreed for Jeanie to serve as controlling owner and on the team’s board of directors as long as the family owns the Lakers. On Monday morning, they asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to issue an order to that effect.

According to a person familiar with the situation, Jim Buss resigned as co-trustee Thursday as part of a requirement by Jeanie Buss to resolve the dispute. Her younger sister and staunch ally, Janie, replaced the brother, joining Jeanie and Johnny Buss as co-trustees.

The person said there was no financial settlement with Jim Buss.

So Jim Buss no longer runs basketball operations, is no longer a trustee and received no payout. This is what happens you make bold promises and don’t keep them.

But Jim remains an owner of the franchise. This is what happens when you’re born to a wealthy father.

This will end the latest round of drama, but Jim’s ownership gives him some — though far less — say. The Buss/Laker business is too personal to assume this new legal arrangement ends the drama for good.

Rockets’ Ryan Anderson out two weeks with ankle injury

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The third-place Rockets could probably lose the rest of their games and still land the No. 3 seed in their Western Conference. The most important thing for Houston is being healthy and clicking for the playoffs, which would likely begin against the Thunder.

A threat to the Rockets surging into the postseason: Ryan Anderson‘s ankle.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Rockets forward Ryan Anderson is expected to miss two weeks with a sprained right ankle, but the Rockets were relieved after tests that the injury was not more serious, allowing him to return before the end of the regular season.

“All the MRIs and tests came back negative and great,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Now, it’s just a matter of time. They’re saying two weeks. So be it. The important thing is he can play two or three games before we get in the playoffs and it looks like he’ll be on that timetable. We won’t push it.”

Without Anderson, Houston has gone ultra small, starting three guards (James Harden, Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon) and sliding Trevor Ariza from small forward to power forward. That has worked just fine, including a win over Oklahoma City.

But the 6-foot-10 Anderson provides another dimension while allowing the Rockets to maintain their elite spacing. It’d be a big loss if he’s not full speed by the playoffs.

Report: Kings shutting down Malachi Richardson for rest of season

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The Kings got their big win.

Now, they’re taking their loss — Malachi Richardson for the rest of the season.

James Ham of CSN California:

CSN California has confirmed that the team is shutting down rookie Malachi Richardson for the remainder of the season.

Richardson, 21, suffered a partial tear of the right hamstring on February 15 and was listed as out 4-6 weeks. While the wing has not incurred a setback, he will need the entire six weeks to heal, which places him ready to return to action with just a handful of games remaining in the schedule.

Richardson rode a breakout NCAA tournament into being the No. 22 pick last summer. He’s a physically impressive shooting guard with nice raw tools and questionable shooting. Just 198 NBA minutes have not drastically altered his scouting report coming out of Syracuse.

But his situation in Sacramento has changed. The Kings added Buddy Hield in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and they’ve talked about signing 2014 No. 27 pick Bogdan Bogdanovic this summer. That’s a lot of competition at shooting guard, and Richardson will miss this late-season developmental opportunity.

Report: Heat not rushing to waive Chris Bosh to keep open trade possibilities

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The Heat were always going to waive Chris Bosh after March 1, assuming a doctor jointly selected by the league and union rules his blood clots are “of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.” And Miami, for good reason, seems pretty confident the doctor would make that determination.

Waiting until after March 1 ensured Bosh isn’t eligible for the 2016 playoffs, meaning his salary would be excluded from the Heat’s cap this summer. It would return to Miami’s cap if he plays 25 games (regular season plus postseason) elsewhere, so this guaranteed he wouldn’t have enough time this season.

But we’re well into March, and Bosh hasn’t been waived yet.

What gives?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Chris Bosh was scheduled to speak with a high-ranking Heat official this week, as the sides try to move past the rancor created by the Heat’s justified unwillingness to allow him to play after a third blood clotting episode and failed physical last September.

The Heat has no intention of using him in a game but has delayed his inevitable release and removing him from its salary cap (a process that was allowed to begin Feb. 9) for two reasons, according to multiple sources:

• Miami doesn’t need the roster spot just yet, and none of the recent available free agents held great appeal to the Heat.

• More importantly, Miami want to keep alive the not-very-likely possibility of being able to trade Bosh (after the season) to a team that might want to trade something Miami wants or a team that believes he could play or (as was the case before last month’s trade deadline) a team that needed to get to the cap floor. There were preliminary trade inquiries earlier this season.

A team that trades for Bosh couldn’t exclude his salary from its cap, because Bosh’s illness was first known while he played for Miami. He has three years and $75,868,170 remaining on his contract. It’s nearly impossible to see any team dealing for him.

A better guess at the delay: The Heat are exploring using the panels created by the next Collective Bargaining Agreement to handle issues like these. It’s unclear whether he’d be eligible for one, considering he signed and had his medical issue discovered under the current CBA, but the panel could remove his salary from Miami’s cap forever — even if Bosh defies the diagnosis and plays 25 games in a future season.

There are numerous hurdles to going that route, starting with the Heat not being able to begin that process until the next CBA takes effect July 1. That’s also the day free agency begins, so Miami probably doesn’t want have Bosh still occupying cap space as free agents agree to terms.

But the Heat have already come this far with him on the books. It’s worth examining why they’re waiting, and nobody has done that better than Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend his article on the topic.