LeBron Officially Opts Out Of His Contract, But Will He Actually Leave The Heat?
Heat F LeBron James will "exercise his early termination option and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1," but the move does not necesarrily mean James "has decided to leave the Heat," according to sources cited by Chris Broussard of ESPN.com. James had until June 30 to "decide whether to opt out of the final two years of his contract with the Heat" (ESPN.com, 6/24). In Miami, Barry Jackson writes the move "isn't surprising, because James likes to have flexibility." The Heat have "long been considered the favorite to retain him, but several teams ... will court him" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 6/24). In Ft. Lauderdale, Ira Winderman notes Heat G Dwyane Wade and F Chris Bosh hold "similar early-termination clauses" in their contracts, and they are "now expected to follow James' lead." Those moves "could make it easier" for Heat President Pat Riley to "rework a roster that has advanced to the past four NBA Finals" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 6/24). ESPN's Broussard said the message James is sending the Heat is he wants to see "what improvements we'll make." James has "great respect" for Riley, and opting out "does not mean he's leaving Miami by any stretch." The timing of the announcement helps the Heat "formulate a better plan to improve." ESPN's P.J. Carlesimo said the move gives the Heat time "to start putting things together." He added, "This still may be an enormous plus for Miami because he could end up going back there and helping them out and giving Pat Riley the flexibility he needs to make them a better team." ESPN's Tom Penn said the move "makes it much easier" on Riley to improve the roster ("SportsCenter," ESPN2, 6/24).
ON THE CLOCK: ESPN's Brian Windhorst said by opting out of the deal six days before he had to, James is "sending a signal that he is going to be available on July 1, and he wants there to be maximum availability for teams to make moves." That "includes the Heat." In this next "seven to 10 days, you are going to see scrambling of teams trying to clear salary cap space." The move is a call to teams to "make moves to get LeBron's attention." Windhorst: "It's an open invitation to impress him. ... I expect this to potentially kick off a frenzy of talks across the league (to sign James) ... using the Draft as a leveraging point. He's definitely played that into his thinking" ("SportsCenter," ESPN2, 6/24).