The Math in Miami: How the Heat Can Retain the ‘Big 3’ of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh

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By James Patrick Quizon | June 30, 2014 3:31 PM EST

The Miami Heat have made the NBA Finals four straight times and have won two titles in that stretch but they in for the toughest battle yet in their franchise history: how to retain the “Big Three” consisting of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

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Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) reacts after getting injured in the fourth quarter while being helped to the bench against the San Antonio Spurs in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. The Spurs beat the Heat 110-95.

Before the free agency officially starts on July 1, each member of Miami’s “superfriends” opted out of their respective contracts— each worth over $20 million plus. The move fueled speculations that one or all may be leaving the Florida franchise.

However, the unified decision could also mean the opposite: that they want to re-structure their respective contracts to help each other and the Heat squad a better chance, financially and strategically, in the 2014-2015 NBA season and beyond.

Here’s a look at Miami’s (realistic) options on how they can retain LeBron and the LeBronettes:

Option #1: What Pay Cut? (The Ultimate Selfish Proposition)

James - $127.19M/5 years
Bosh - $127.19M/5 years
Wade - $127.19M/5 years

The thinking here is that none among the three will be willing to take a pay cut. Obviously, the worst-case scenario for team president Pat Riley and the best-case scenario for all the other 29 NBA teams (and their fan-bases).

All three veterans potentially can demand a salary raise, which reaches the NBA maximum salary level, up to roughly $22.4M.

This is the most selfish decision since giving three the max money will put them at $66.3M committed—with just three players! The NBA salary cap for 2014-2015 is projected to be around $63M so the trio themselves will be responsible for shooting over the cap!

Chance of Happening: 10% to none. Although Wade (32 years old) may want to cash in before he starts declining (actually happened already in the 2014 NBA Finals, Game 1) it would be a slap on the face of LeBron if he demands the max since the Heat will have no freedom whatsoever in reloading the squad. Bosh/LeBron may think of bolting if some other teams (Houston Rockets? Dallas Mavericks?) throw max money at them…

Option #2: LeBron Gets Max; Bosh and Wade Take Significant Pay Cut (The Realistic Proposition)

James - $127M/5 years
Bosh - $100M/5 years
Wade - $80M/5 years

In this salary scale, only LeBron gets the max and will be paid $22.4 in the first year of his new deal with Miami. Bosh’s first year is at $17.3M (sacrificed roughly $27M) while Wade’s is at $13.8M (sacrificed $47M).

This option gives Miami a slight financial flexibility: the trio now combines for just $53.4M, add the only signed player for 2014-15 (Norris Cole at $2.15M) then they will be below the salary cap for the next season-- enough to lure a very serviceable free agent (Kyle Lowry?) at around $8M before they fill in their roster with come-backing players or veterans for the minimum.
Chance of Happening: 70%. Talk out of Miami on Sunday is that the three will talk it out amongst themselves before making a decision. They have conspired before so there’s a chance that it’s happening again. LeBron not taking a pay cut will be deserved since he’s the alpha dog in this group. Bosh takes a minimal pay cut while Wade takes a major one—both deserved, if recent contribution and age/NBA mileage is considered.

Option #3: The LeBron Sacrifice, Pay Cut for Everyone (Probable but...)

By now, the NBA knows LeBron James on the court is the ultimate selfless player—he makes the right play every single time. Even if there’s a good shot he’ll always find the player with a better chance at the basket. What if, this kind of LeBron James is the one who deals with Riley and the Heat brass?

“You want a pay-cut? I’ll give you not $1M, $2M, or $3M… But $7M in the new season, just make sure you get us another very good player!”

The worst-case scenario for the 29 NBA teams:

James - 87.16M/5 years
Bosh - 87.16M /5 years
Wade - 87.16M/5 years

All salaries start at $15M each which means they’d have a huge cap space to chase a big-name free agent (Hello Carmelo Anthony) to form the new Miami “Big Four”. In this scenario, the Heat now have around $16M in caps pace— just about enough an offer to convince Melo or if that doesn’t work out, two second-tier FAs in the market— for example Kyle Lowry ($8M) and Pau Gasol ($8M).

If LeBron James makes that sacrifice, takes the pay cut and the trio takes option 3, the Eastern Conference will be a breeze for the Heat once again.

How will the Heat retain the big three? It’s all in the hands of LeBron James and how he can convince Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to make that selfless play.

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(Photo: REUTERS / Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports)
Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) reacts after getting injured in the fourth quarter while being helped to the bench against the San Antonio Spurs in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. The Spurs beat the Heat 110-95.
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