It's the summer of 2010 all over again for NBA fans and bettors, as LeBron James is essentially holding the rest of the league hostage with what his "Decision" will be regarding free agency. Here's a look at Bovada's NBA odds for his choices.
King James And His Court
First off, this could all be a moot point as James could choose not to opt out of the two years and $40 million (or so) left on his Miami Heat contract. Teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have the same option, and around the same money left on their deals. If the Heat had won the 2014 NBA Finals, it seemed likely that James, Wade and Bosh would all stay on their current deals one more season, and try for a fourpeat. But that one-sided loss to San Antonio changed the dynamic.
Any team in the NBA would clear the cap space needed, or trade for James, if possible. Really money isn't the issue with him. He makes a ton off the court; in fact he reportedly just made $30 million when Beats Electronics was sold to Apple. James helped make those "Beats by Dre" headphones incredibly popular, and had stock options. What James cares about are rings.
Suddenly the Heat look very vulnerable. Wade is clearly on the downside of his career, and those knees look shot. It seems unlikely he opts out because he's no longer worth $20 million a year. Bosh looks timid. He might decide it's better to be a superstar -- hometown Dallas as a sidekick to an unselfish Dirk Nowitzki? -- than a third fiddle in Miami.
No decision is likely until late next week from James, as he's currently vacationing with family. Then he wants to talk with Heat president Pat Riley on what Riley's vision for the future of the team is. He also wants to speak with Wade and Bosh. Finally, there are reports he will check in with buddy Carmelo Anthony and see what the chances those two can play together are.
The Heat are 1/3 favorites on NBA odds as to where James will play his first game next season. Well-respected NBA writer Sean Deveney reported that it's "very likely" that James will stay put. James has finally rebuilt his image after the disastrous "Decision" and leaving Miami after a Finals loss wouldn't look great. Deveney writes that James' most likely decision this time is to opt out, and sign perhaps a three-year deal with another opt out after two. By then, Wade is probably done in the NBA, so it gives Miami two more good runs at championships. And if James, Wade and Bosh all opt out, and return on friendlier deals, the Heat could potentially lure Anthony.
Cleveland is a 9/2 second-favorite on NBA odds. This would be the one spot James could go where he wouldn't get any negative backlash. In fact, he'd be hailed a returning hero to a city that hasn't won a championship in decades. If the Cavaliers could somehow get Kevin Love for the first pick in this draft, and a few other pieces that aren't Kyrie Irving, a trio of James, Irving and Love appears way better on paper than James, Wade and Bosh. Plus Irving and Love are much younger. Would James want to play for Cavs owner Dan Gilbert after all the negative things Gilbert said four years ago?
Chicago is 8/1 on NBA odds. For some reason the Bulls haven't been able to land top free agents in recent years. The weather actually could have something to do with it, believe it or not. Hey, if you can live in L.A., Miami or Chicago in the winter, which would you pick? There's also the shadow of MJ, and the questions surrounding Derrick Rose's health. James had his chance to go to the Bulls in 2010, and that was before Rose had two major knee surgeries.
Houston is 8/1 to form its own Big 3 of James, Dwight Howard and James Harden. The Rockets would have to trade Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to clear the cap room, and there is no state income tax in Texas. Houston seems more focused on Anthony or Love.
The Clippers are 8/1. They could be the sneaky long shot. Los Angeles is there for the taking, and with James the Clippers would own that town for the next five years. James is buddies with Chris Paul and respects Clippers coach Doc Rivers. The Clips would have to trade a big piece -- DeAndre Jordan? -- to clear enough cap room to sign James. There have been some rumors of a Blake Griffin-for-James sign-and-trade deal but that's incredibly improbable.
Finally, the Lakers are 20/1. They are waiting to hire a coach to see whether Anthony or James might like to have a say in who that guy is. If Kobe weren't still around, I could see James and Carmelo going to the Lakers, but not with Bryant there hogging the ball, and the attention.
NBA free picks: James is settled in Miami, it's the hip place to play these days, the weather is beautiful, and there's no state income tax. Our NBA prop pick on where Lebron goes: He stays put.