LeBron James and his agent, Rich Paul, plan on meeting with Miami Heat president Pat Riley in person early this week, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.
James is a free agent, and the revelation that he will be sitting down with Riley soon is surely comforting to Heat fans who have every reason to wonder if he may be heading elsewhere soon.
Paul recently had discussions and meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers about the prospect of James joining their respective teams. The specific date, time and location of the meeting are still being discussed.
Riley's challenge, ironically, is somewhat similar to the one given to former Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant in 2010. Without any commitment from James, Grant was under monumental pressure to improve a roster that simply didn't have enough support for the best player in the game. At present, Riley has only Norris Cole under contract and informal indications from fellow free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of what they may — that's the key word — be willing to accept to return.
That's a tricky game to play with players who want to know what their future holds, though, and even more complicated in this current free agency landscape than it was four years ago. The Heat's known targets for upgrading their roster were a group of players unwilling to sacrifice their big paydays, such as Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (who agreed to a deal for four years and $48 million), Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (five years, $60 million) and still-available small forward Luol Deng (who expects between $10 million and $12 million annually). Those types of players are taking full advantage of this league-wide landscape in which so many teams have ample salary cap space to appease their financial needs.
With all due respect to free agents such as Anthony Morrow and Marvin Williams, it's hard to imagine that their willingness to head for Miami would play any substantive role in this point in James' decision. Pau Gasol is the one impactful player left who could be a game-changer, as the four-time All-Star and two-time champion could be willing to take a pay cut if it meant being part of another title team.
Riley, meanwhile, had the advantage of having Dwyane Wade leading the recruiting effort while making a pitch to players in James and Bosh who, unlike Wade, had not won championships. But things are different this time around, with James' reasons for leaving Cleveland having been vindicated by the two titles he earned and Bosh at fork in the road in his career as well.
No one sacrificed more on the court in these past four seasons than Bosh, who was so willing to take a lesser role so long as it was for the good of the group. Still, he's a 30-year-old who is attracting serious interest from the Houston Rockets and who would be well within his right to seek a maximum salary contract elsewhere on a title contender rather than take less to get this flawed Heat band back together.
The next few days will be crucial in this process. James' Nike-sponsored camp in Las Vegas begins Tuesday and runs through Saturday, and James had previously planned on flying to Brazil for the World Cup Finals that takes place on July 13. He is likely to meet with not only Riley by that point, but also potentially other teams that had had earlier discussions with Paul.