When ESPN.com beat writer Brian Windhorst proposed the possibility that the Los Angeles Lakers could potentially sign LeBron James when he has the option to become a free agent in 2014, it made waves through the media.
LeBron has an opt-out clause at the end of the 2014 season, and many feel he will choose to become a free agent when his current contract expires.
Windhorst’s article discussed the possibility that the Lakers are positioning themselves to sign a big-time free agent like James in 2014 when Kobe Bryant is expected to retire.
While the notion seems absurd considering James just won his first championship with the Miami Heat last season, the Lakers have shown their aggressiveness and ability to bring top-notch talent into town.
And with James, the speculation and the rumors never cease to exist, even if he still is more than a year-and-half away from free agency.
So, that raises the question, will LeBron James finish his career in Miami and have his legacy be as the King of?
Reasons to Stay in Miami
Right off the bat, let me just say, I unequivocally reject the notion that LeBron James will sign with the Lakers if he chooses to become a free agent in 2014.
I don’t think LeBron wants to change teams twice in the peak of his career, nor do I think he wants to hurt his legacy by being Kobe Bryant’s replacement. Primarily, I don’t think James wants to be viewed as the follower, who has to upend his life to join talent on another team. He wants to be the guy who has talent come to him because of his greatness.
But, the purpose of this article isn’t to argue whether or not he’ll take his talents to Hollywood; it’s to discuss whether or not he’ll keep his talents in South Beach for the remainder of his career.
So, why stay in Miami?
The obvious reasons are there. He won his first ever ring with the Heat, he is treated very well by Mickey Arison, Pat Riley and the Heat family, and he plays with one of his best friends in Dwyane Wade.
The fact is Cleveland was never able to secure the proper talent around James in seven years, while the Heat accomplished that in one summer. What LeBron searched for in Cleveland for seven years, he got in a matter of two seasons in Miami.
With LeBron finally attaining that elusive first title in Miami, it undoubtedly resonates in his mind. He will always remember the Heat for the place he achieved his ultimate goal, where he finally got the monkey off his back.
That materialized due to the genius front office maneuvers of Arison and Riley, who were able to sign James, Wade and Chris Bosh at a discounted price in one free-agent haul.
The point is that Miami’s front office is fully dedicated to winning, and they have a proven track record that would lead one to believe they will continue to do that as long as they are at the helm. It’s no fluke that the Heat have two championships as is.
Even if the Heat’s current era of players starts to taper off or decline while LeBron is still under contract, there is no question that Riley will make the necessary moves to keep quality talent around his superstar.
Lastly, James plays with one of his best friends. James and Wade formed a great bond before they were teammates and their bond has obviously grown stronger since living in the same and going through the journey of winning a title together.
When you look at simple off-the-court facts, you could say LeBron would want to stay in Miami because he’s a young, professional athlete that plays the game of basketball with his best friend in South Beach.
Why leave the sunny haven of Miami and all it has to offer when it’s worked out very well so far?
Why LeBron Would Leave
When James signed with the Heat in the notorious summer of 2010, I began to ponder the James's future from the very beginning of his tenure in Miami, simply because of the fact an opt-out clause was included in his contract.
I’ve always felt pretty passionate about this subject because I never felt LeBron was a true Miami Heat player at heart. As a person that’s watched the Heat for the past 15 years, I just always felt guys like Dwyane Wade and Alonzo Mourning were the franchise’s prized sons, who are just destined to retire in Miami.
With LeBron, however, there is still that under-the-surface feeling that makes it peculiar seeing him in a Heat uniform. As much as we’re accustomed to seeing James throw it down as a member of the Heat, you still get that feeling that he will always have Cavaliers' blood in his veins.
Overall, you just don’t get the secure feeling he has the utmost desire to finish his career in Miami. Whether that’s because of his previous comments that it would be a “good story” if he returned to Cleveland one day, or because he didn’t exactly categorically deny he would leave Miami for L.A. in two seasons, you just don’t see his career with the Heat as guaranteed as other franchise greats.
"It would be fun to play in front of these fans again. I had a lot fun times in my seven years here. You can't predict the future, and hopefully I continue to stay healthy. I'm here as a Miami Heat player, and I'm happy where I am now, but I don't rule that out in no sense."
Those aren't exactly reassuring words from a guy that has only played for the Heat for two seasons.
With Wade’s constant injury problems combined with his age, LeBron may be more inclined to leave if he doesn’t feel Wade’s got enough left in the tank to be a reliable championship sidekick.
If the Heat fail to win another title over the next two seasons, James may feel pressured into bolting Miami for somewhere like L.A. to ensure he wins multiple rings and solidifies his legacy.
However, I don’t feel any of those instances will occur. I think he will re-sign with the Heat in 2014, opting out of his current contract in order to get a maximum contract, ultimately remaining in Miami for the long term.
What Will Likely Happen
While I don’t think LeBron is departing in 2014, I do think he will eventually leave Miami.
I think LeBron will ultimately return to Cleveland in the final few years of his career and finish as a Cavalier.
LeBron hinted at it once before and it wasn’t merely to just throw the city of Cleveland a bone. He absolutely wants to repair his image with the Cavaliers' fan base, and he wanted to see how his hometown would entertain the idea by putting those statements out there in the media.
There is no way James didn’t calculate that move, knowing everything he says publicly gets blown up on a national scale.
James has already gained a lot of respect back after his unparalleled 2012 season, but his relationship with Cleveland is still very much damaged.
This is obviously just purely an opinion because many things can change from now until then, but the fact is that the signs are there for his return.
At the very least, signs exist that he’s not an absolute lock to finish his career in Miami. If he was fully committed to the Heat, I think he would have given some assurances other than “Heat fans have nothing to worry about right now.”
It’s certainly early to say, but I have a feeling I will be saying I told you so when LeBron finishes his career elsewhere.