LeBron James exercised the early termination option of his contract on Tuesday and is set to become a free agent on July 1.
Essentially, James has three options: sign for more money with the Heat, sign for less money with the Heat or sign with another team. He’s expected to choose the scenario that would give him a better chance to win more championships.
Put another way, what James decides could ultimately be determined by the decisions of his teammates.
The big questions now: What will Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh do? Like James, Wade and Bosh have player option clauses in their contracts.
James, Wade and Bosh are expected to finalize their plans for the future soon. If Wade and Bosh both opt out of their contracts, then that would be a positive sign that the Heat is gearing up to restock its roster this off-season with enough talent to make another run at the NBA Finals.
If either Wade or Bosh chooses to play under his current contract, refitting the Heat’s roster would be more difficult. The deadline for Wade and Bosh to exercise their player options is Monday, but could come as early as Wednesday.
"We’re prepared," Riley said last week during a 55-minute news conference on the Heat’s future. "We’ve got the main book all written up, and it’s dependent on whatever the scenario we’re presented with on July 1 and we’ve got a lot of room for flexibility. There is a tremendous amount of flexibility depending on what happens.
"Do I feel any pressure? No. I will do the best job I can do. We will all do the best job we can do."
James was set to earn $20.5 million next season, and he is the second high-profile player to opt out of a contract in recent days. Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks opted out of his contract Monday. There has been speculation that Anthony would consider joining James, Wade and Bosh in Miami, but that scenario would require huge pay cuts by each player.
Another, and perhaps more likely, scenario is that Wade and Bosh can each opt out and then collaborate with James, and the Heat restructures their contracts. If they opt in, Bosh would earn $20.6 million next season, and Wade would earn $20.05 million. If each player took less money, Riley would have more flexibility to upgrade elsewhere.
"We will have good conversations with them about what we think we have to do to improve because we value their input, but on July 1 we’ll know what we have to do," Riley said.
In a worst-case scenario, all three players could opt out and then leave the Heat. It’s highly unlikely, though. Wade is an institution in Miami and helped bring James and Bosh to the Heat in the first place. Bosh has said multiple times that he loves Miami, wants to retire in Miami and would take less money to stay put.
Another doomsday scenario for Miami would be James alone signing with another team. The Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers are just a few of the teams expected to make runs at James, but any team would love to have him.
James’ player agent, Rich Paul, informed the Heat on Tuesday morning that James would be opting out of his contract. ESPN first broke the story. Riley and the Heat released a statement a few hours later confirming the report while also noting that they "fully expected LeBron to opt out and exercise his free agent rights."
"This does not come as a surprise," Riley said in his statement. "As I said at the press conference last week, players have a right to free agency and when they have these opportunities, the right to explore their options.
"The last four seasons have been historic, and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Erik Spoelstra have led the Miami Heat to one of the most unprecedented runs in the history of the NBA. We look forward to sitting down with LeBron and his representatives and talking about our future together. At the moment, we are preparing for the opportunities in the draft and free agency as we continue with our goal of winning NBA championships."