Everything else is just chatter.
There have moves to lay the foundations in Cleveland and Miami — trades to clear cap space, and mid-level exception signings — but those are just part of the storm swirling around the periphery, not the thing at the center. Then there are the rumors of what his agent wants or his wife wants, dream trade scenarios, superstars holding out fantasies of joining forces, and none of that really matters.
What matters is what’s in LeBron James’ head and he has been silent. Here’s what we do know — Pat Riley and LeBron James are meeting in Vegas today and it’s a small group.
That means no Dwyane Wade, no owner Micky Arison. Just the guys with the real power across the table from each other (and their right hand men). What does that mean? Nobody really knows. What you think it means really says more about what you want to come out of this meeting than it does the actual meeting itself.
Here are my thoughts as we wait for a meeting that may provide some clarity and be the first domino in free agency.
• What matters here is what LeBron wants — more than any other superstar (save maybe Kobe) LeBron runs his own show now. He listens to others, but this is a more mature LeBron than the one that left Cleveland four years ago. LeBron steers his own ship and this will be his call and his call alone.
• LeBron knows that Kyrie Irving is better than anyone on the Heat right now, but he also knows that the rest of that Cavs roster is young and untested (and Minnesota isn’t looking for picks or rookies in a Kevin Love deal). If he’s on Cleveland they are contenders, one of the best teams in the East, but is he closer to a title next season than he would be in Miami? Could they beat the best in the West? Is that move lateral on the court in the short term?
• Are Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger a big upgrade? No. It’s about the best Riley could do acting like a capped out team, but it’s not that impressive.
• In 2016 what is expected to be a much-increased new national television deal is going to kick in and flood the system with cash — the salary cap will jump, and as max salaries are a percentage of the cap they will jump also. Meaning a max contract in two years is worth a lot more than one today.
• A lot of people around LeBron want him to return to Cleveland. Remember when LeBron was in Cleveland before he and his posse had the complete run of the place, they had real power. Miami doesn’t work that way, it’s Pat Riley’s show (and the city is sloppy with celebrities). Some people would love that power and attention again. Question is does LeBron?
• Outside of the obvious Miami fans complaints (how many notice before the season starts next year?), if you want to know what the backlash to LeBron going to Cleveland looks like, it looks like what J.A. Adande wrote at ESPN. That he surrendered his leverage as league spokesman. It’s not just the Dan Gilbert letter, it’s Gilbert was a hard liner in the last CBA negotiations that LeBron railed against.
• For all those reasons — and what most around the league said — I used to think a return to the Cavs this summer was a long shot at best. It’s not anymore, it’s a very real possibility. LeBron himself may not be speaking but he apparently did reach out to veterans to see if they want to come to Cleveland. He is considering it. Seriously considering.
• Carmelo Anthony is waiting — if LeBron chooses Miami Chris Bosh is expected to return to South Beach too, but if LeBron goes to Miami and Bosh goes to Houston anyway Anthony might squeeze into Miami. Also, I might win the Powerball Lottery. Close to the same odds, but ‘Melo is holding on to his ticket.
• My guess (and that of others around the league) is LeBron re-signs for two max years in Miami, and we do this all again in 2016. And the Cavs very well could win then, although it’s hard to see that far into the future in an ever-shifting NBA landscape.