LeBron's future coming up fast


SAN ANTONIO -- At least there is no more wait-and-see for LeBron James.

As miserable as it was for James to suffer a one-sided NBA Finals defeat to the San Antonio Spurs, it did provide him with some clarity. After putting off getting serious about his free-agent decision for nine months, he now realizes the status quo will not be satisfactory.

The Miami Heat, quite clearly, are no longer a championship team and are in need of some changes. James will want to hear about plans for those changes before he chooses a path.

James is in an extremely powerful position. He is a player in his prime with the right to be an unrestricted free agent and the off-court financial independence to be flexible in his salary. This will allow him to exert his power in the construction of a roster.

Focused on legacy and building a brand that will allow him to increase his earnings in retirement like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, James may be willing to sacrifice some money in the short term in order to yield dividends in the future. Doing so would apply pressure to teammates to do the same.

However, James does not lack perspective. The defeat to the Spurs does not undo the success the Heat have had over the past four seasons. One of the tenets Heat president Pat Riley has sold to James -- and one he'll likely remind James of before his opt-out decision before the June 29 deadline -- is the value of being on a team that gives you a broad window. The Heat have proven they can do that.

There certainly are outrageous scenarios in play. The option for James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to all opt out of their contracts and take pay cuts to make room for a star free agent such as Carmelo Anthony is one. The idea that James would opt out and leave for a younger team with greater upside, especially if he's willing to take a pay cut, is another.

Two lessons learned from 2010 is that the Heat should never be underestimated and that James always thinks big. But neither are as likely as James staying put and seeing how the Heat can retrofit their roster for the short term.

Before the choice, though, James will have some serious conversations with Heat management and his teammates. There are going to be at least three driving factors in his decision:

• Wade's health is once again in question after he showed signs of slowing down in the late rounds of the playoffs. Wade has needed procedures on his knees in each of the past two summers and it has carried over into the season, reducing his availability. If Wade needs to take any other action with his troublesome knees, James will want to know how much can be expected out of him in the future.

• To better prepare for the long grind of the season, James wants to reduce his minute load so he can attempt to save his body for the playoffs and, for the long haul, hopefully extend his personal championship window.

• James played 400 minutes more than any teammate this season and about 1,300 more minutes than running mate Wade. This is a trend he's interested in reversing immediately. This means the Heat will have to add at least one reliable, and ideally younger, player at his position.

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