Seven days into free agency, Miami Heat President Pat Riley made his first roster moves to show LeBron James why he should stick around.
This much is clear: Riley is confident James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will return, according to people who have had phone conversations with Riley in the last week. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the conversations.
Of course, Riley's confidence doesn't guarantee anything. But right now, he isn't scrambling.
Reaching deals with forwards Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger is step one in making the necessary roster additions to improve the Heat. At the very least, Riley has tangible evidence to show James when they meet in the next couple of days to discuss the future. He is letting him know the Heat will spend what is required, including top dollar on Bosh, to win another title after two in four years together.
In the big picture, the Granger and McRoberts agreements give Riley room to present James with a couple of different spending options, including the ability to give Bosh a big contract, too.
But the Houston Rockets would love nothing more than to break up the Big Three, and always-aggressive general manager Daryl Morey went to work by offering Bosh a maximum-level contract, a person familiar with the negotiations told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.
In offering the deal that would likely be between $80 million and $90 million combined over four years, the Rockets enticed Bosh with the same chance to join Dwight Howard and James Harden that they hoped would lure Carmelo Anthony.
Such is the nature in free agency, where there's always Plans B, C and D for when Plan A goes awry. The Rockets' attention now is on Bosh after earlier pursuits of James, Anthony and point guard Kyle Lowry (who is returning to the Toronto Raptors).
Their pitch, like so many others, was multilayered. But beyond all the talk of a winning tradition, stability and success of ownership and the like is the fact that the lack of a state tax coupled with the relatively cheap cost of living could, by the Rockets' own calculations, make it worth the equivalent of about $120 million in some other cities. (Florida also lacks a state income tax.)
But James remains the linchpin. Only the four-time NBA MVP knows where his head is at these days. And only James knows whether he really is thinking about heading home again or if the city of Cleveland that was so angry with him when he left the Cavaliers in 2010 is about to have its heart broken again.
Cleveland has followed these bizarre events at every turn, from the private plane of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert being tracked on an unexplained trip to Florida to the team's website drawing scrutiny because Gilbert's spite-filled 2010 letter to James was deleted from its archives after four years.
The notion of James, an Akron native, possibly returning is not the stuff of fiction. His Cleveland-based agent, Rich Paul, talked to the Cavs along with four other teams (the Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers) last week. Depending on how James' meeting with Riley goes, the next step was expected to be in-person meetings among between James, Paul and representatives from teams deemed finalists.
But James now has more to think about in Miami. The Heat got longer, more athletic and younger with the two deals, which can't be signed until the free agent moratorium ends Thursday. July 10. McRoberts and Granger are fine complementary pieces.
McRoberts is 27 and coming off one of his best seasons at 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game for the Charlotte Bobcats. He gives the Heat another big man who can pass, rebound and play inside or outside. Last season, Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said McRoberts was one of the three major reasons for the team's turnaround.
Splitting time between the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers last season, Granger had his moments but wasn't close to All-Star form. But the Heat don't need him to be an All-Star. They need him to be an upgrade off the bench.
In a worst-case scenario, Riley would have use of a trade exception to acquire another player, re-sign the Heat's own free agents, such as Chris Andersen, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and Rashard Lewis, sign rookie Shabazz Napier and fill the rest of the roster with minimum-salary players.
And in a best-case scenario, Riley can get far enough under the salary cap and avoid using exceptions to sign McRoberts and Granger and have other exceptions to sign players and go over the salary cap. That could require Bosh and Wade, and maybe even James, to take a little less.
Monday was a start for Riley. Will it be good enough?