Cleveland Or Not, LeBron James Should Say Goodbye To Miami Heat

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LeBron James

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Everything we’ve heard up to this point has indicated LeBron James will remain with the Miami Heat beyond this season and is expected to exercise his player option this summer.

Then again, he’s been mentioned in connection with a handful of other NBA teams, particularly his hometown club, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Whether LeBron returns to Cleveland — I don’t know — but the more I watch him and the Heat in the playoffs, the more I get the inkling he’s not staying in South Beach beyond this season.

James’ only demand is to play for a contender, and up to now, there was no better fit than staying put in Miami, winners of back-to-back NBA championships and seven games shy of earning a third. But while the Heat cruised through in the opening-round series against the Charlotte Bobcats and quickly disposed of the Brooklyn Nets in the second round, the team is not playing like a championship-caliber team in the Eastern Conference finals.

Don’t get me wrong — the Heat have a very strong shot at defeating the Indiana Pacers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them reel off three consecutive wins en route to the NBA Finals. But the team is only going as far as LeBron takes them.

He alone can will them to a title, and he may have to.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Dwyane Wade is not the same player he was when Miami won the title back in 2006. He wasn’t that same player even two years ago when the Heat won their first championship with LeBron. His knees are that of a past-his-prime NBA superstar, that once or twice in a playoff series can show flashes of his former self, but is unable to sustain that level of play for much longer.

There’s Chris Bosh, who this year surfaced as LeBron’s new Robin. But is a LeBron-Bosh tandem enough for Miami to continue its run of championships? Bosh is power forward shooting 3-pointers, and to be honest, he’s better off being the third-best player on a team than the second best. He’s hit or miss, and too much of that gets masked by LeBron coming to the team’s rescue.

Aside from Wade and Bosh, what other talent is there on the roster? The soon-to-be 39-year-old Ray Allen is a free agent this summer. As is Birdman, the team’s “energy” player and the 35-year-old Shane Battier. The team can exercise team options on Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, and that sums up the returning players.

If LeBron wants to play for a contender, is Miami truly the best option? Wade’s knees will be another year older, Bosh will continue to Bosh, and the team will lose its aging role players.

LeBron is a smart man, and he should — and will — do what’s best for him. And if he wants to continue to compete for titles, he needs to say thank you and goodbye to South Beach.

Sure, Pat Riley could go out and make a splash in free agency and the trade market, and use the contracts coming off the books to find more role players for LeBron. But aren’t there teams with better talent in place that can do the same?

I don’t know if Twitter is prepared for it, but don’t the Cavaliers make sense? If you’re trying to make Kyrie Irving happy, try bringing a talent like LeBron back. The team can add another weapon with the No. 1 pick — perhaps Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid — already creating a roster that rivals that of the Heat.

But Cleveland isn’t the only option that makes more sense than Miami.

Wouldn’t the Chicago Bulls be a terrific fit? Joakim Noah is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Taj Gibson is a budding star. Jimmy Butler is a great perimeter player. Oh, and the team has been a contender year in and year out with its All-Star point guard, Derrick Rose, who appears to be on track to return for next season.

The Los Angeles Lakers have also been mentioned as a possible landing spot. The roster, as is, doesn’t offer much more than Miami’s. Kobe Bryant has been injury riddled the past two years, and Steve Nash is also past his prime. But Los Angeles has the cash to spend — on a new head coach and on superstars — and is a realistic destination for free-agent-to-be Kevin Love. LeBron can be the face of the Lakers in the post-Kobe era.

Similarly, the New York Knicks may try to pursue LeBron. However, the team has even less to offer him, except for the fact that new team architect Phil Jackson has won everywhere he’s been. Jackson could lure LeBron to New York and create a championship contender of the Knicks like he did with the Bulls and Lakers. But that’s a risk LeBron may not be willing to take.

Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.