Let the LeBron-to-the-Lakers speculation begin!
This would have LeBron James bolting from the Miami Heat at the earliest contractually allowable date -- after not one, not two, not three, but four seasons in Miami. Two of those four seasons have now been played, with the Heat winning one title so far.
Yes, Miami, the LeBron Era may be halfway over. Brian Windhorst reports in a must-read mega-scoop at ESPN.com that the Los Angeles Lakers want LeBron James in the 2014 free agent market, coinciding with the end of Kobe Bryant's contract. Bryant has on multiple occasions said that he would like to retire after the 2013-14 NBA season, at which time he'll be 35.
"Several teams' executives have told ESPN.com they believe the Lakers are positioning themselves to make a run at LeBron James in 2014, when the Miami Heat star can choose to become a free agent," Windhorst's report says. "As it stands, L.A. will have enough cap space to add a superstar like James."
When reporter Brian Windhorst talks about LeBron James, people should listen. Windhorst enjoys unparalleled access to James and his inner circle -- LeBron and "Windy" went to the same high school, and Windhorst's mother was one of LeBron's high school teachers. Windhorst has been covering James non-stop for the last 14 years, since LeBron was a standout high school freshman in Akron, Ohio. ESPN hired Windhorst in 2010 specifically for his expertise and access to all things LeBron.
In fairness to the now-actual King James, none of this reporting is fueled by anything LeBron has said or done about wanting to play for the Lakers. And the Lakers cannot comment publicly on any pursuit of James, as that would constitute tampering with another team's signed player.
The report merely notes that there is a growing, off-the-record belief among NBA executives that the Lakers are structuring their payroll options to go after LeBron in 2014. At that point, every single current Laker's contract is off the books -- except Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard should the Lakers re-sign him. The Lakers are clearly clearing space in anticipation of a superstar max contract should Kobe choose to retire.
"It's not a mistake that all those deals end the same year Kobe's does," one anonymous NBA GM told Windhorst. "They have probably been planning for their next phase for a while."
James' contract with Miami technically ends in 2016, but LeBron has an opt-out option in 2014. There have been rumors this past NBA season that James does not particularly get along with Pat Riley, though titles do tend to facilitate goodwill in these situations.
Nonethless, James is eligible for free agency in 2014, and he does enjoy being flirted with. If another NBA market lures LeBron in his next Decision, it could so be SoCal.