The Miami Heat’s immediate focus remains overcoming a 2-1 NBA Finals deficit to the San Antonio Spurs, but discussions have begun within the organization about trying to grow their so-called Big Three into a Big Four, according to sources close to the situation.
Sources told ESPN.com that Heat officials and the team’s leading players have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony this summer in free agency.
The mere concept would require the star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to all opt out of their current contracts by the end of the month and likely take further salary reductions in new deals that start next season to give Miami the ability to offer Anthony a representative first-year salary. The Heat also are prevented from making any formal contact with Anthony until July 1 and can do so then only if he opts out of the final year of his current contract. Anthony has until June 23 to notify the Knicks of his intentions, according to sources.
But the success of the Heat’s 2010 free-agent bonanza has established them as the NBA’s undisputed destination franchise, with owner Micky Arison empowering big-thinking team president Pat Riley to attempt to pull off another coup in the market despite new collective bargaining agreement rules aimed at preventing it.
Sources say internal conversations within the Heat organization about pursuing this course have run concurrently with Miami’s bid to win a third consecutive championship, with sources adding that James in particular is likely to try to recoup potential salary sacrificed through fresh off-court business opportunities if the Heat’s new dream scenario does come to fruition.
James’ off-court business is booming, thanks to a string of investments paying off massively and the prospect of new opportunities in endorsements and entertainment projects promising to expand his wealth significantly in coming years.
In a recent example, while James was leading the Heat to a victory over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, sources say the 29-year-old was finalizing what is believed to be the biggest equity cash payout for a professional athlete in history as part of Apple’s recent $3 billion purchase of Beats Electronics. Sources briefed on the situation say James realized a profit of more than $30 million in cash and stock in the Beats sale after he had struck a deal to get a small stake in the company at its inception in 2008 in exchange for promoting its high-end headphones.
With cooperation from their stars and role players Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen, who also possess player options for next season, the Heat could open up in excess of $50 million in cap space this summer and have the most financial flexibility in the league. The only Heat player locked into place for next season is Norris Cole at a salary of $2 million, although Riley will have to contend with a handful of cap holds for pending free agents as well as their upcoming first-round pick (No. 26 overall) in the draft later this month.
Getting James, Wade, Bosh, Haslem and Andersen to take pay cuts significant enough to open a significant slot for Anthony undoubtedly will be complex. It would require reductions that could stretch into the tens of millions over the next few seasons. Sources say the Heat’s plan is to sell the players they wish to keep on the long-term benefits of making such a sacrifice.
The Heat are in essence trying to emulate some of the longstanding policies employed by their current Finals opponent, as the Spurs have been able to keep Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for more than a decade — while routinely strengthening the supporting cast around them — because their three best players have been repeatedly willing to take pay cuts.
The Spurs’ ability to keep the championship window open by selling their mainstays on such sacrifices has allowed Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to make it back to the game’s biggest stage 15 years after San Antonio’s first Finals appearance in 1999.
James will turn 30 in December, and Bosh, Wade and Anthony all are in their 30s and mindful of their advancing age.
James feels he needs to reduce his workload during the regular season, especially with Wade at a point in his career where knee problems are limiting him to fewer games. Wade missed 28 games during the regular season as part of a maintenance program aimed at keeping him as fresh as possible for the playoffs.
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Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein