With the first part of their free agency plan is in place -- bringing Dwyane Wade back with Chris Bosh in tow -- the Miami Heat are ready to proceed with part two: adding LeBron James to the mix in a coup that would send shockwaves through the NBA.
Bosh announced Wednesday he's headed to Miami to pair with Wade, a scenario reported by CBSSports.com early Wednesday as the most likely one and pushed to definitive by ESPN's Chris Broussard hours later. Meanwhile, Heat executives are proceeding with the full-court press to add James to the mix and form a Dream Team in South Beach, according to an official familiar with the plans.
"The next step is to go get the big fish," the person said.
Wade and Bosh announced their decision to play together in a live interview on ESPN at 12:30 p.m. ET. But a person with knowledge of their plans said Wade, in particular, is aggravated that the news leaked out sooner -- and that the superstar believes it came from someone in LeBron's camp. Wade and Bosh wanted to have their moment before James makes his own announcement -- the nature of which remains unknown -- in a live, one-hour special Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on the network that shares the NBA broadcast rights.
The Raptors finally were informed around mid-day Wednesday of Bosh's intentions by his Chicago-based agent, Henry Thomas, who also represents Wade. Thomas did not respond to requests for comment from CBSSports.com. But the Raptors, aware that Bosh has been a goner for a while, have entered sign-and-trade talks with the Heat in order to facilitate their All-Star power forward's departure without losing him and getting nothing in return.
Communication between Bosh's representative and the Raptors -- and, according to sources, other teams in pursuit of his two marquee clients -- has been spotty at best in recent days, leaving Bosh's own team and others pursuing Bosh and Wade in the dark as to their intentions until moments before they announced it on TV. But early Wednesday, an executive within the NBA with close ties to the top three free agents told CBSSports.com that the most likely scenario was Bosh joining Wade in Miami and James staying in Cleveland. Bosh essentially killed a potential alliance with James by balking at the Cavaliers' attempts to acquire him in a sign-and-trade.
Of LeBron and Wade, the executive said Wednesday, "Both aren't moving." But sources say that hasn't stopped Heat president Pat Riley from pursuing James in a move that would shift the NBA's balance of power for years.
The piece of the puzzle that's missing is whether Bosh goes to Miami via a sign-and-trade arrangement or a straight free-agent signing. The difference for him is only about $30 million. If Bosh is signed by the Raptors and traded to Miami, he would receive a six-year deal worth approximately $125 million -- the same as Wade would receive by signing a free-agent deal with his existing team. But Bosh needs the cooperation of the Raptors to maximize his contract.
Wade said in the TV announcement that he's "not opposed" to taking less money to give the Heat the space to put the right pieces around him. But assuming a max deal for Wade, which would start at $16.57 million in 2010-11, the Heat would have $29.4 million in cap space left -- not enough to sign two more max free agents at the same price. They'd have to trade former No. 2 pick Michael Beasley -- either in a sign-and-trade for Bosh or a separate trade to a team with the cap space to absorb his $4.9 million contract without being required to send salary back to the Heat.
A logical sign-and-trade scenario for Bosh would include some combination of Beasley, point guard Mario Chalmers, and a 2011 first-round pick that was previously acquired by Miami from Toronto. The Raptors would have the option of taking back as little salary as possible and instead receiving a trade exception that could be used to acquire a top-tier replacement for Bosh at a later date -- likely at the February trade deadline, when numerous teams are expected to be eager to dump contracts ahead of the new collective bargaining agreement and potential work stoppage after next season. A person familiar with the Raptors' strategy told CBSSports.com Wednesday that Beasley is not a likely target in those trade talks.