As free agent watch 2014 heads toward day three, there is an eerie silence surrounding the Miami HEAT franchise. After four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two Larry O’Brien trophies on the mantle, there is legitimate uncertainty on the long-term future of Miami’s Big Three of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
James may have been mentioned last in the previous paragraph but make no mistake he is the main attraction down in Miami. The four-time MVP, who has never been the highest paid player on his own team, is reportedly looking to change this surprising tidbit and secure a max level two-year deal this summer.
According to an ESPN report, Bosh and Wade are committed to returning to the HEAT but James is less certain about the possibility. As free agency rages on, teams have been unable to contact James in order to setup meetings to sell the superstar of their own visions of grandeur.
James wants to win at a high level. He is playing for legacy. Due to the explosion of social media, James is arguably the most criticized megastar in the history of sports. Despite the calm demeanor in front of the cameras when facing the media during times of adversity, James knows the only way to silence the harshest critics is to win even more titles.
And for this reason, Miami may no longer be the best option for James.
When Bosh, James and Wade came together in 2010, each of the All-Star performers left a bit of money on the table in order to unite. The remaining portions of the roster of the past four years have been filled with other role guys opting to take less than market value (Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem), a late first-round pick that paid off (Norris Cole), veteran players on minimum deals looking to win a ring (Rashard Lewis and Chris Andersen) and high-risk, high-reward prospects (Greg Oden and Michael Beasley).
But with the way the current free agent market is trending, the HEAT are going to find it harder and harder to have three guys at the top of the payroll accounting for 75 percent of their salary cap.
Look at the early agreements in free agency this summer compared to the same time last season.
In 2013, the Atlanta Hawks managed to re-sign starting point guard Jeff Teague to a four-year, $32 million deal. This summer Avery Bradley was able to secure the same deal with the Boston Celtics. While Bradley is a solid defensive guard, Teague is a borderline All-Star level guy.
Take the case of high scoring guard Nick Young who earned $1.2 million this past season with the Lakers. Young’s teammate Jodie Meeks recently agreed to terms on a three-year, $19 million from the Detroit Pistons. Keep in mind, Young was the Lakers’ leading scorer this past season. Young, a free agent again this season, is seemingly in store for a lucrative payday at the current market rate.
See the trend?
The market has opened up and the 2014 free agency class will likely walk away with higher average salaries per year compared to their 2013 counterparts.
Assuming the Big Three return to Miami, the trend of second- and third-tier guys getting bigger contracts cannot be good news for the HEAT. The franchise has already been battling limited financial flexibility since the James, Wade and Bosh arrived, but the team has managed to haul in guys at lower dollar values because of the depressed market.
James is chasing history and wants to compete for a title every year. The forward also wants to be compensated royally in the process. Bosh and Wade opted out of their respective deals, but will also expect (and command) top dollar from the franchise.
With three high dollar guys at the top of the payroll, filling out a championship roster becomes even tougher. When you factor in the current market is paying more for the services of the same group of guys the HEAT would typically target, you can clearly see how the job of team president Pat Riley has become even harder.
For now, we wait until the King makes his choice. But even if he remains in Miami long-term, the King’s Court may not be royal enough to compete for championships.
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