Will LeBron create another summer mess in 2014? - NBC Sports

Will LeBron create another summer mess in 2014?
NBA erred when it failed to prevent teams mortgaging present for future hopes
October 23, 2012, 4:10 pm

What if it were to tell you that even the next two seasons might not matter most, because of what might/could/possibly come next? Would you issue a 365- or 730-day pass for the hope of eventual untold riches?

This is where the world of the salary cap has delivered us, particularly in the NBA.

It's not to say that what the Lakers could accomplish this coming season should be marginalized, not with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol on the roster.

But if LeBron James truly is the Lakers' end game in 2014, then everyone beyond Nash and his extended contract basically have been reduced to end games of their own. Including Kobe, who does not seem the sort to walk away while the going is still good.

This, of course, is not the first time a team has plotted for the future with the present merely an inconvenience.

Some teams simply won't be fully complicit. Mark Cuban maintains consistent quality in Dallas.

Some teams seem unable to get it straight. The Knicks under James Dolan are routinely a dollar short, or, in his case, a bit too dollar-heavy.

With the Buss family targeting 2014 - and with Kobe openly talking about playing only two more seasons - it means even if the Lakers come up a player or two short this season, there can't be any long-term money extended next summer to complete the turnaround.

Not with LeBron's Heat opt-out looming in July 2014.

Of course, no one, certainly not LeBron, has said he's going anywhere. And with another title or two, why would he? Think back even to the likes of a Horace Grant who left after the first three of the Bulls' six titles. Think he'd like to reconsider that wanderlust?

The Lakers-LeBron issue takes us back to where the NBA stood a year ago.

Among the concepts floated during the lockout was some sort of franchise-player tag, NFL style. It was floated and summarily dismissed, because it went against the essence of NBA free agency, unfettered access to relocate after a suitable waiting period.

Yet if a franchise tag was enacted then, or was in place now, would teams be as quick to potentially mortgage the present for the future possibility of a player such as LeBron?

The league's point at the conclusion of the lockout, when ownership largely received the most favorable of the terms, was that the financial contractual differences for a player relocating would be so significant that he would be unlikely to move, particularly with sign-and-trade transactions receiving new limitations.

Yet Chris Paul is with the Clippers, Howard with the Lakers, and players seemingly still are getting where they want, how they want.

But if the Lakers, or other potential suitors, knew the Heat could "franchise" LeBron, would they be as quick to shove Kobe and Pau out the door? We've already seen what can happen to teams that bank on free agency and come up short, such as the Mavericks after their failed offseason bid for Deron Williams.

To his credit, Cuban wanted it all. To Dallas' detriment, it effectively, at least as Stevenson now claims, cost Dallas a season of championship contention.

In the wake of 2010 free agency, David Stern spoke of how the process drew focus to his league, created the type of offseason interest heretofore unseen in the NBA during the summer months.

Of course, what else would you expect when there was no stopping the CAA-managed manipulation of the system that ultimately placed LeBron, Wade and Bosh in South Florida?

In the wake of July 2010, the NBA attempted to do everything possible to prevent such a moment from happening again.

And it hasn't. Didn't this offseason. Won't next offseason.

But then the opt outs in some of those 2010 contracts kick in in 2014 ... when we just might see it again.

For the league's network partners, the formation of super teams has been a boon. Fans might not embrace the Heat's Big Three, but they watch, in overwhelming television numbers.

But for every Heat, there are 29 other teams who come up short.

And it could happen again in 2014.

Until then, teams have to decide whether to sell the future or sell the moment.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.


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