NBA

Could Carmelo join the Heat? …Could Wade leave?

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LeBron. Bosh. Carmelo? …Wade?

A report yesterday from ESPN indicated the Miami Heat have a plan in place to convince their Big 3 of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James to take another pay cut this offseason, in an effort to entice New York Knicks star and unrestricted free agent Carmelo Anthony to join them in Miami.

The crux of the argument is that James is willing to accept less money in free agency thanks to a lush deal worth upwards of $30 million from Apple buying Beats Electronics, of which James is a stockholder. Bosh similarly says he feels focused on staying in Miami.

Outside from the Eastern Conference implications — the Knicks would be devastated, and the Nets would lag behind with the rest of the NBA — Anthony joining forces with James alone would create a devastating offensive combo, perhaps unlike any we’ve ever seen in NBA history. The two small-forwards-turned-smallball-power-forwards would make it work somehow, if only by overwhelming talent. Anthony would likely be a primary scorer and could even help bolster Miami’s below-average rebounding, while James would continue his evolution into a power-point do-everything master of all trades.

In theory, it’s possible, or as possible as any situation where people take massive pay cuts to play with their friends. According to ShamSports, the Heat only have four contracts on their books for next year: Udonis Haslem (who will certainly opt in to the final year of his contract, worth $4.6 million), Chris Andersen (who is expected to opt in to the last year of his contract, worth about $1.5 million), the last year of Norris Cole’s rookie scale deal, and their first-round draft pick, which has a cap hold worth about $958,000. (The final contract will likely be worth closer to $1.15 million.)

The salary cap is currently projected at about $63.2 million this offseason, so if Wade, James, and Bosh all opt out, the Heat would have roughly $54.1 million to spend on its final eight players. For the Heat to re-sign their Big 3 plus Anthony, the Heat would have to renounce all of their rights & exceptions, and the four would have to accept an average salary of about $13 million. Even if that happens, the Heat could only fill the rest of their roster with minimum-salary players.

I’d take $13 million, but I’m not LeBron James. It would be quite the cut for each player; Miami’s Big 3 each made roughly $19 million this season, and Anthony made over $21 million.

There is one other option that hasn’t been discussed much: Wade splits out of the Big 3. Wade recently told Michael Wallace of ESPN.com that he’s not willing to take another pay cut after the one he took in 2010 to allow the Heat to sign James and Bosh. “I will never feel like I have to take less after this, or have to do this,” Wade told Wallace. “It’s not my job. It’s the job of others around to figure out how to make it work. If I want to be a part of that, then I’ll be a part of that. But if I don’t, I won’t. It’s simple as that. I don’t feel that pressure at all.”

If Wade isn’t on board with accepting less, he could opt into the final year of his contract and screw up the plan, or opt out entirely and test the open market. Taking Wade off the books would then mean that James, Bosh, and Anthony could each accept contracts around $17 million. Factor in that James could even take a bigger pay cut due to his Beats deal and the lack of state income tax in Florida, and that could put Anthony in maximum salary territory.

Wade is the oldest member of the Big 3, but he’s also the longest tenured Heat player, and has had a home in Miami for over a decade. He was drafted by the franchise 5th overall, in that ridiculous 2003 draft that also produced James, Bosh, and Anthony. It’s hard to imagine Wade uprooting his life after such a long time with the Heat, but if both sides can’t come to a mutual agreement, Pat Riley may have to choose between Anthony and his star. Though Wade has more ties to the Miami area, there’s no competition between the two on the court.

Anthony just finished arguably the best individual season of his career in New York, averaging 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, and a career-high 40.2 three-point percentage. He’s younger and more durable than the 32-year-old Wade, who missed nearly 30 games this season with various knee problems.

Enticing Anthony with the proper basketball fit and financial commitment may mean parting with the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, points, and assists.

Is that a scenario Miami’s willing to face? We’ll find out this offseason.

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