Playing the LeBron James waiting game
Published on -7/11/2014, 10:13 AM
By Ira Winderman
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It turned into the NBA's ultimate watch party.
In Las Vegas, campers at the LeBron James Skills Academy watched James huddle at one point with Dwyane Wade as conjecture continued about James' free-agency decision.
In Bath Township, Ohio, all eyes were on James' estate just outside of Akron and not far from Cleveland, with extra police added to manage the gathering crowd, even with James thousands of miles away.
In Orlando, members of the Miami Heat coaching staff and front office tried to make it business as usual, as a group of rookies and young prospects from the team fell in a summer-league game to a similar roster from the Indiana Pacers at the Amway Center.
In Miami, there was trepidation about whether the Heat's Big Three era might be coming to an end.
And amid all that? Nothing.
At least not past nightfall back east, as James' deliberations apparently continued, with his most-recent team and his only other NBA team considered the overwhelming frontrunners for his services.
A day after Heat President Pat Riley met face-to-face with the All-Star forward who has led his team to the past four NBA Finals, winning championships in 2012 and '13, the weightiest decision in sports was reduced to a waiting game.
In the wake of that Wednesday meeting with Riley, a source close to the deliberations told the Sun Sentinel that James would not be meeting with any other team officials before making his decision on his 2014-15 landing spot.
Thursday had James back at his annual camp for leading prep and collegiate prospects. As has been the case since his media session at AmericanAirlines Arena shortly after the Heat fell 4-1 in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs last month, James offered no comment for public consumption beyond pleasantries.
Wade, who has been in Las Vegas and made previous appearances at the camp, returned for an afternoon session Thursday. He, too, did not take the conversation beyond pleasantries.
Whether Wade remains a current teammate or ex-teammate remained an unknown as afternoon turned to evening in Las Vegas, with the NBA essentially working on James' schedule, one that has him next scheduled to leave for Brazil for Sunday's World Cup final.
Although the NBA free-agency negotiating period opened July 1, Thursday was the first day teams could sign players or make trades, with the salary cap for the 2014-15 season set late Wednesday night.
For those who couldn't get to Las Vegas for a glimpse of James, or to James' home, they instead flooded to his website, which crashed several times Thursday, offering messages such as, "The session limit for the database is 600 and has been reached."
Like James, Wade also is a free agent, as is the third member of the Heat's Big Three, forward Chris, Bosh, who continues on his extended vacation, currently making a marketing appearance in Ghana. Bosh has been linked to a maximum-contract offer with the Houston Rockets should James decide to leave the Heat.
James, Wade and Bosh came together as teammates in free agency in July 2010, each signing six-year contracts that allowed for opt-outs this offseason, opt-outs each invoked, bypassing the $42 million left on each of their Heat contracts.
While the Heat were the lone suitor to meet face-to-face with James, his agent, Cleveland-based Rich Paul, previously had taken meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers.
While the Heat are completing play in the Orlando Pro Summer League, which concludes Friday, the five teams that met with Paul are competing in the Las Vegas summer league that opens this weekend, with many officials from those teams already in Las Vegas.
Like the rest of the league, the Heat also put their business on hold Thursday, yet to complete the agreed-upon free-agent signings of Charlotte Hornets forward Josh McRoberts and Los Angeles Clippers forward Danny Granger, players added with the goal of making them complementary pieces alongside James.
Among the few transactions completed Thursday was a three-way trade between the Cavaliers, Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics that formally opened the salary-cap space needed by Cleveland to sign James at a maximum, $20 million-plus salary for the upcoming season.
The Cavaliers on Thursday also announced the contract extension of point guard Kyrie Irving, a lynchpin of their bid to attract James.