LeBron James' agent, Rich Paul, held meetings in Cleveland this week with at least four teams -- the Cavaliers, Mavericks, Rockets and Suns -- to discuss his client's future, according to ESPN.com. Further, Paul and James could meet again with three "finalists" next week, according to Yahoo.com, as the unrestricted free agent forward decides whether or not to re-sign with the Heat. The Los Angeles Times also reported on Thursday that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak traveled to Cleveland to meet with Paul.
The NBA's 2014 free agency period has opened with a whimper, as much of the league waits on James' decision. Miami has been widely viewed as the favorite to land James, but the process has been in limbo while James has been on vacation this week. In the three days since free agency opened on July 1, Heat president Pat Riley has reportedly contacted a number of free agents but has yet to land a public commitment. James suggested in June, after Miami fell to San Antonio in the Finals, that the Heat needed to significantly upgrade their roster, which simply couldn't match up to the Spurs' depth. Riley, in response, urged James and fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to return to South Beach and build on the Heat's four consecutive Finals appearances and two titles during the "Big 3" era.
Here's a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each of James' suitors. Note: all five teams listed below can offer James a max contract, although some of the teams need to make cap-clearing trades to do so.
Pros: Ideal market, family doesn't need to move, four straight Finals appearances during "Big 3" era, proven front-office led by Riley and coaching staff led by Erik Spoelstra, Riley drafted James favorite Shabazz Napier, playing in the weaker Eastern Conference, staying put protects James from "mercenary" accusations.
Pros: James' "hometown" team and his first NBA organization, promising young core featuring Kyrie Irving and 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, chance for redemption after "The Decision," playing in the weaker Eastern Conference.
Cons: Not exactly the favorite destination of NBA players, might not be able to compete for a title in 2015, first-time coach David Blatt is well-regarded but lacks NBA experience, GM David Griffin recently assumed post, owner Dan Gilbert publicly blasted James after the decision, roster needs some serious after four straight lottery trips, big man Anderson Varejao has dealt with multiple injuries in recent years.
Pros: Big, warm-weather market, organization won 2011 title, owner Mark Cuban is committed to spending to win, coach Rick Carlisle is regarded as one of the league's best, Dirk Nowitzki agreed to take a steep discount on his new contract, the Mavericks have no major deadweight deals on their books.
Cons: Dallas was weak defensively and barely made the playoffs in 2013, just traded away starting point guard Jose Calderon, a James/Nowitzki/Monta Ellis core might not be perfectly balanced, new starting center Tyson Chandler is coming off of an injury-plagued year, Mavericks have previously struck out multiples times on A-list free agents, playing in the tougher Western Conference.
Pros: Big, warm-weather market, ownership and forward-thinking front-office are committed to winning, All-Stars Dwight Howard and James Harden are in place to form a quality "Big 3," Chandler Parsons could be re-signed as a fourth quality piece.
Cons: Rockets would need to make multiple trades to create room for max offer to James, bounced in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, James has no clear ties to Howard or Harden, playing in the tougher Western Conference.
Pros: Warm weather market, excellent cap flexibility to pair James with another max-level star, James is known to be friends with up-and-coming guard Eric Bledsoe (a restricted free agent), organization was NBA's biggest surprise team in 2013-14 and has extra picks to help in the future, GM Ryan McDonough has excellent track record since taking job, lots of young talent already on hand.
Cons: An off-the-radar organization in recent years, coach Jeff Hornacek is well-regarded but lacks playoff experience, might not be able to compete for a title in 2015, lacking A-list big man, playing in the tougher Western Conference.