In 2010, LeBron James shocked the world by leaving his homestate team for the Miami Heat. There were rumors and suggestions, but few actually believed it would happen until he said he was taking his talents to South Beach. As James approaches his first free agency (shoud he opt out as expected this summer) since The Decision, ESPN reports an important reminder: nothing is off the table and anything is possible.
But as James and the Heat visit the Los Angeles Clippers on this Feb. 5, the lessons from the past are a reminder to be careful making assumptions at midseason. Especially when it comes to James.
"This time is going to be different," a source close to James said about James' view of free agency. "If LeBron decides to look at other options it won't just be teams with cap space. He has 30 options if he wants them."
Unlike the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cavs -- two teams that have been mentioned as suitors for James this summer -- the Clippers will not have open cap space. They will not have the cap space to sign James as a maximum-level free agent. It would require a sign-and-trade if James ever got serious about the option. In short, it would take the Heat's cooperation.
For this reason, the Clippers are not on the national radar as a potential location for James if he decides to look around. It is unconventional to consider it. But what the Heat did to land James four years ago was not conventional, either. They were able to make some remarkable last-minute trades -- a detail that largely goes overlooked in history -- then convinced three stars in their primes to take pay cuts so they could play together. That is also a feat that remains unmatched by any of their peers.
The takeaway from that operation: Don't assume anything and don't underestimate competition.
The starting point here is leverage. If James says "Thanks, but I'm out, I want to go to (X place)" and X place doesn't have cap space, will Miami help him out with a sign-and-trade as a thank you for winning them two titles, or to keep his agent, Rich Paul happy? It would have to make sense for them, which of course the Clippers would be able to put together a package to make that happen. There are other teams that would have assets that Miami could stomach. Miami's never going to get equal return or anything close to it. But they can manage it. They can swallow it, if it comes to that.
Is he going there? The answer to any of those teams is "not likely." The gap here and the focus of the piece by a reporter with a long, established history with James, is to understand that there are no "absolutely not" answers, outside of maybe Charlotte and Milawukee. It's that James won't be restrained by cap limitations because of the strength he holds as being LeBron James.
James is close with Chris Paul. He's close with Carmelo Anthony. He's close with Kyrie Irving. This decision is complex, dynamic, and can shift to an amazing degree between now and July 1st. I know the question is "if we don't know, why are we talking about it?" The answer is because there were signs last time that he could be joining Dwyane Wade in Miami and when you have a story this big, it's worth exploring the situation. The truth behind this story isn't that we know more about what he wants, it's that we don't know anything at all.