When it comes to LeBron James, nothing is off the table, no player untouchable, especially on the Miami Heat roster. We must rid ourselves of all assumptions. We can’t assume LeBron doesn’t want to play with Hassan Whiteside. We also can’t assume Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman isn’t willing to take on Whiteside's massive contract spanning this year and next if he opts into his player option. Not too long ago general managers all over the league would have welcomed Whiteside, contract and all. He is still a very good defender. He may never duplicate his 2015-16 season and 2.4 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), but he still has value, especially when Cleveland could end up losing LeBron and get nothing in return, again.
James could simply opt for free agency and leave Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert shaking his head, empty hands in the air. But LeBron makes the most money signing with Cleveland, so a sign-and-trade deal is in his best interest and the Cavaliers' best interest as well. While we don’t know and can’t assume what LeBron or the Cavaliers or Pat Riley are willing to do, we do know what Riley would have to do to make room for LeBron's potentially record-setting contract of $205 million over five years. Riley has to move some players he'd rather not and take on contracts he'd rather not.
The Heat's current roster doesn't give LeBron many reasons to re-relocate to Miami, but Josh Richardson, 24, Justise Winslow, 21, and Bam Adebayo, 20, are the best reasons right now. LeBron likely isn't interested in waiting for them to develop, though. They also won't be on the the roster if there's going to be room for LeBron's contract in Miami. Riley is going to have to draw LeBron's eyes to Miami by trading for Kawhi Leonard.
ESPN's NBA Insiders think Richardson, Adebayo, Winslow and Goran Dragic would net Miami Leonard and Patty Mills from San Antonio. San Antonio would have to send cash in the amount of at least $75,000 for each player they receive without sending a player or draft pick in return, but the money works, cutting $1,353,382 from Miami's books and leaving the Heat $17,167,521 over the salary cap, which isn't a huge problem. The real problem is Miami is giving up a lot and has no guarantee Kawhi will stay in Miami after this season. But bringing in LeBron would be the closest thing to a guarantee they could get. Kawhi has said he wants to play closer to home on the west coast, and specifically, Los Angeles, which might be what convinces LeBron to either sign a one-year deal with Cleveland and wait or a long-term deal with Los Angeles and wait. But we're trying to get LeBron to Miami, and he won't be coming alone.
There’s one player LeBron wants to bring with him whose gravity leaves James open despite being grounded and stationary. He knows his Miami teammates would benefit from that gravity, too. That gravity belongs to Kyle Korver, the man whose very presence on the floor improves his team more so than any other player in basketball – LeBron included.
If LeBron James is the Sun, Kyle Korver is Earth’s gravity, subtly manipulating the orbit of the Sun’s opponents, the defenders of the Outer Rim, to allow the sun to shine through limited traffic, basking Earth in superstar rays of light that literally brighten the days of everyone and everything on Earth – except gravity. And while gravity never catches nor reflects the Sun’s spotlight, gravity prefers to remain in the shadows, unnoticed, grounded, taking silent pleasure in his work regardless of whom the Sun allows to shine brightest that day, because he knows without him, they would all fall off the Earth to be lost in space, where the Sun can’t even save them. But gravity would never do such a thing because he’s a team player...and because the Sun scares the hell out of him.
There are a few ways Korver can come along with LeBron to Miami. The easiest way would be for James to take a pay cut in the amount of Korver’s $7.56 million contract, basically paying Korver out of his own pocket next season, which might be worth it to LeBron given Korver’s Gravity rating. I only know what I read and see on TV, and Korver seems to be LeBron’s favorite teammate in Cleveland, but James isn’t gifting one of these homes to Korver.
LeBron could also take a paycut in the amount necessary to make the money work for Cleveland and Miami in a sign-and-trade deal. So if Miami needs to dump $5 million in salary to make a deal work, LeBron takes a $5 million pay cut. Simple, except all of these trade details would have to be negotiated before LeBron negotiates his contract.
So how hard is the hard way? LeBron’s and Korver’s contracts next season total $42,910,000, which necessitates the trade of Whiteside’s salary. So now Riley is asking Cleveland to take Whiteside and Tyler Johnson, who has a 15-percent trade kicker clause in his contract, boosting his salary next season to $22,132,175.50 if he's traded. That's asking a lot of Cleveland, but again, Cleveland could end up losing LeBron to free agency. So if Cleveland has to take Tyler Johnson, they can demand Miami take a similarly over-paid point guard in George Hill off their hands.
Now Cleveland and Miami just need to make the money work in a sign-and-trade deal for LeBron, Korver and Hill. LeBron, Korver and Hill make a combined $61,910,000. Considering Tyler Johnson's trade kicker, he, James Johnson and Whiteside would make $62,218,138.50 in Cleveland next season. This keeps Cleveland under the luxury tax cap and would set the Cavaliers up nicely for a run at free agents in 2020, with all three contracts potentially expiring after the 2019 season (James Johnson has a player option for 2020). In order for both teams to avoid adding to their payrolls already exceeding the salary cap, Miami would have to send $308,138.50 to Cleveland as a part of the deal, which the Heat might as well include with the first-round pick they'll need to send Cleveland to close the deal.
The Heat will have to part with at least one of their first-rounders if not both of them to bring LeBron and Kawhi together, so this is just a means to give Cleveland some long-term value that's lacking in the players they're getting in return from Miami. With the Heat in need of a backup for LeBron, Cleveland could send over Larry Nance Jr. and cash for the Heat's first-round pick in either 2019 or 2020.
Is there a fair deal involving LeBron James? Of course. Is this it? Probably not, but it gives you an idea of how difficult it will be for LeBron to make the maximum amount of money and leave Cleveland for Miami. I imagine it’s hard for Gilbert to say no to a man who single-handedly, quite literally, delivered his franchise’s first ever championship and more than doubled the value of that franchise. And he did all this after Gilbert publicly berated him as selfish for doing nothing more than exercising a right he earned to become a free agent and choose where he wanted to live and work. Golden State needed four stars to triple the Warriors’ value.
If Gilbert is in it for the money, the time to sell is before LeBron leaves. I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron’s plan is to leave Cleveland, wait for the Cavaliers’ value to fall in his absence before buying the franchise and becoming the first owner/player in professional sports. Then he can reap the rewards Gilbert enjoyed made off his name being attached to the franchise, and King James could finish his reign at home. For now, all we can do is speculate while we wait for The Decision: Part III.