Should he opt out of his deal with the defending NBA champion Miami Heat this summer, LeBron James would once again become the most sought-after free agent in the basketball universe. And though it’s hard to fathom him going through something like “The Decision” again, if LeBron elects to test the free agent waters, ESPN speculates that the LA Clippers could be one of the leading contenders for LBJ’s services:
“This time is going to be different,” a source close to James said about James’ view of free agency. “If LeBron decides to look at other options it won’t just be teams with cap space. He has 30 options if he wants them.”
Unlike the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cavs — two teams that have been mentioned as suitors for James this summer — the Clippers will not have open cap space. They will not have the cap space to sign James as a maximum-level free agent. It would require a sign-and-trade if James ever got serious about the option. In short, it would take the Heat’s cooperation.
For this reason, the Clippers are not on the national radar as a potential location for James if he decides to look around. It is unconventional to consider it. But what the Heat did to land James four years ago was not conventional, either. They were able to make some remarkable last-minute trades — a detail that largely goes overlooked in history — then convinced three stars in their primes to take pay cuts so they could play together. That is also a feat that remains unmatched by any of their peers.
“LeBron is not thinking about free agency right now, he’s totally focused on the season,” said one James associate. “In the summer he knows he can get to any team he wants to.”
If the results of this season ended up with James looking at the Clippers and the Heat were eventually forced to cooperate, league executives believe Miami would ask for Blake Griffin. But neither the Heat nor the Clippers at this juncture, slightly more than halfway through a season that finds both teams believing they’re capable of winning the title, are prepared to discuss such a hypothetical scenario as they try to keep the focus off the future.
Under any scenario, the Clippers would have to make another maneuver to make a sign-and-trade work, primarily to shed some salary to get under the luxury tax. But it is not that complicated. The bottom line is this: If the Clippers were interested and James got interested, there’s a deal that could be done whether it involves Griffin or another package of players.