SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest question of the day. Today, we examine …
What should LeBron James do this offseason?
Ben Golliver: Opt in. I realize this is the least sexy answer but I do think it is the right one. The key takeaway from this season for the Heat should not be that they were smoked by the Spurs, but that they were able to so easily dominate an Eastern Conference with no major threats on the rise. Even with halfway availability from Dwyane Wade, Miami was able to coast into the No. 2 seed and jog through a 12-3 record on its way to the Finals. One major injury to San Antonio or a fully healthy Serge Ibaka, and we could be talking about a Miami-over-Oklahoma City result and Heat three-peat right now.
Going anywhere in the Western Conference -- save for some as-yet-unreported insane superstar team-up -- would make life more difficult for James, and there aren't any obvious spots in the East with the requisite cap flexibility and talent on hand to put him in a better position to win now. I think he should punt this decision one more year, hope that Pat Riley can reload the roster around him, and cross his fingers that the Spurs aren't quite so mighty in 2015.
Lee Jenkins: First, he should give Pat Riley a chance. Riley has earned faith and proven that he often has a plan where none seems obvious. But if Riley cannot significantly upgrade the roster in Miami -- and he sure appears locked in, unless he can convince Carmelo Anthony to take a massive pay cut -- LeBron has to look around. He is 29, smack in his prime, and he has no inclination to waste years in which he's not contending for titles. The good news for Miami is that James doesn't seem to have many attractive alternatives. Houston and Chicago are two. The Lakers would need space for a second max free agent. The Cavs would have to sell him on their draft pick. Uncertainty is everywhere.
Rob Mahoney: Opt out and re-sign. Although It might not seem it so soon after the Heat were run off the floor in the NBA Finals, James will be hard-pressed to find a better basketball home than Miami. The franchise itself is detail-oriented and impeccably run. Erik Spoelstra is a terrific, creative coach who understands how to make use of James' talents in a variety of ways. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, for all of their limitations, are still championship-level pieces capable of registering an even larger impact with a more rotation help. This is a good spot for James, positioned to lead the conference of least resistance. It would help, though, if James, Wade and Bosh would all be willing to opt out of their current deals and re-sign to slightly smaller ones. We've already seen the caliber of player Miami can attract with the veteran minimum or mini mid-level exception. Imagine what this franchise could accomplish with actual cap space. It didn't take long for rumors of the Heat's interest in Carmelo Anthony to surface, but he's not the only option on the table. Kyle Lowry could be an interesting target as a supercharged version of Mario Chalmers. Perhaps the Heat could upgrade their athleticism on the wing with a player like Trevor Ariza, or import some defensive flexibility via Shawn Marion. Miami's superstar core is flexible enough to create all kinds of team-building options, but first comes the tricky business of creating cap room to work with. That's on James and co. to figure out, provided the three stars want to stick together while leaving room to upgrade the Heat roster.
Richard Deitsch: Rest up and opt in. It weighs on your body, and taxes your mind even more. James should get away from everything for a little bit to clear his head and to get some perspective on his situation. After a respite, he should focus on what's needed in Miami to win heading forward in the near term. This is his best option. Rob Mahoney spelled out the Heat's offseason options brilliantly in this piece. The Heat in the short-term remain James's best chance to win. They play in a weakened East ,they have a 1A player in Chris Bosh who is only 30, and strong, smart management. I also don't think Dwayne Wade is done, even if he's no longer the best off-guard in the league. If the Heat's top players opt out to sign more franchise friendly contracts, Miami can bring in either a rim protector or a young, athletic wing player to give the Big Three some fresh legs. People want to play with the best players in the league and Miami has two great selling points in James and the location. To me, James should stay in Miami for a couple of years, and then make the move to a better roster at age 32 or 33.
Matt Dollinger: Opt out and move on. You can't blame LeBron James for picking up and leaving Miami -- the last time he bolted in free agency it led to two NBA titles and four straight Finals appearances. LeBron James is the greatest player of our time, but his legacy will ultimately be decided by one thing and one thing only: championships. Can he win a third in Miami? With Dwyane Wade getting up there in years and Miami's supporting cast disappearing in the Finals, the Heat will likely need to reinvent themselves to win another title. That won't be easy with limited assets and little cap flexibility. If LeBron James is wise like he was in the summer of 2010, he'll look at the NBA landscape and pick the team that gives him the best chance of winning a third ring. If he's even wiser, he'll sign for a fraction of what he's worth. LeBron James doesn't need to make millions off his salary -- did you see Michael Jordan just became a billionaire? If I'm LeBron, I'm taking my talents out of South Beach and going to a team that gives him a chance to win not one title, not two, not three....
Chris Johnson: Opt in. The five-game beat down the Spurs laid on Miami in the Finals presents a compelling case that LeBron will need a lot more help to win another championship. A corollary of that premise, of course, is that San Antonio was so good the Heat wouldn’t have won this series no matter who LeBron’s teammates were. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. The Heat figure to be the class of the Eastern Conference next season and should have little trouble returning to the Finals. Which means James should have another shot at wining a title before entering free agency in 2015. If the Heat come up short again because James doesn’t have enough firepower around him, then he can decide to go elsewhere. For now, though, it makes sense for him to stay where he is. James can make this decision next summer.
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