Basketball / Sports

Priority for James is a roster upgrade

MIAMI -- All Heat chatter:

-- The Heat remains the favorite (but not certain) to retain free agent LeBron James, but he wants issues with the roster addressed, according to an associate.

When James speaks with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh this week, he will gauge their willingness to accept new deals that give Miami more spending money. Both appear open to doing that, provided the pay cuts aren't too steep.

The good news for Miami: None of James' other most attractive suitors have the salary cap space to give him a maximum contract, and creating that space would either be difficult or cost them assets that would make their rosters potentially no more appealing than Miami's.

But even though Bosh said he would be receptive to taking a pay cut and a Wade associate said Wade is open to the idea, it probably would not create enough space to add one of this summer's priciest free agents if James doesn't do the same.

A Wade associate said Wade would be receptive to considering a four-year, $60 million deal to replace the $42 million he's owed over the next two seasons.

But let's say Wade and Bosh each take cuts to $15 million next season and that Udonis Haslem can be convinced to opt out of the $4.6 million he's owed next season for a three-year deal starting at $2 million or $2.5 million. And let's say the Heat dumps its other cap commitments except Norris Cole -- meaning Miami trades its first-round pick and cuts Justin Hamilton. (Cole is due $2.15 million.)

Under that scenario, with Wade and Bosh each earning $15 million and James making $20 million (which would be his maximum for next season), the Heat would have only $5.5 million to $6 million under the projected $63.6 million cap, factoring in required holds topping $500,000 for roster spots unfilled up to 12.

The Heat also would have a $2.7 million "room" exception that cannot be combined with cap space, and Miami also could sign players to the minimum, topping out at $1.4 million. So what could $6 million in cap space buy?

It probably wouldn't be enough to lure Carmelo Anthony, Kyle Lowry (who wants $10 million), Luol Deng (his agent said there's "not a chance" he would sign for that), or Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye, who expect well above that. Pau Gasol, who earned $19 million last season, would like to play for a winner, but the Heat will have competition from some of the 15-plus teams with significant cap space, including Dallas.

But if James also took a cut of several million dollars, Miami could make a competitive offer for any of those except possibly Anthony, whom the Heat will call. Though the idea of another James pay cut isn't appealing to some of his associates, it's possible he might do it for a few select players.

-- If James doesn't take a cut, but Wade and Bosh do, the $6 million or so in space would make the Heat a contender for point guards Darren Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Patty Mills or Steve Blake (each could warrant a share of that money), Brooklyn's Paul Pierce (an associate said he wants to play for a winner and included Miami as a possibility), Charlotte power forward Josh McRoberts, Lakers power forward Jordan Hill (Miami pursued him before) and Clippers forward Danny Granger.

The Heat then could use its $2.7 million room exception and minimum contracts on the likes of Ray Allen (ESPN says he's leaning against retirement), Chris Andersen, Marvin Williams, Jordan Hamilton, Chris Kaman, Andray Blatche, Kris Humphries, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler or Emeka Okafor.

-- James, who planned to opt out even if the Heat had won the NBA championship, likes Clippers coach Doc Rivers and is close with Clippers point guard Chris Paul. But creating enough space to sign him would require the Clippers to find teams able to take DeAndre Jordan ($11.4 million), Jamal Crawford ($5.4 million), Jared Dudley ($4.2 million), Matt Barnes ($3.3 million) and Reggie Bullock ($1.2 million) without sending contracts back and persuading James to agree to a salary as much as $8 million under the $20 million maximum.

Instead, the Clippers could propose a sign-and-trade with Blake Griffin if James wants to sign there, but Yahoo! Sports reported the Heat is adamant against sign-and-trades for James.

Houston will make a run, but to offer James $19 million, the Rockets need to find a taker for Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin -- who are each due $14.9 million balloon payments and have $8.4 million cap numbers -- and make other minor moves.

Chicago would need to amnesty Carlos Boozer and likely trade Taj Gibson to make James a decent offer.

Though the idea of returning to Cleveland down the road holds some appeal to him, James would want the Cavaliers to add another significant piece for him to even consider that this summer, an associate said. And doing that would require parting with Anderson Varejao and perhaps other pieces.

-- James can sign for as much as five years, $115 million with Miami but no more than four years, $85.5 million elsewhere.

(c)2014 The Miami Herald

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