It likely never was the nightmare scenario some considered, considering how the breakup went down four years ago, but Wednesday's second day of NBA free agency offered another sign that the relationship between LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers might by irreparably broken.
At least for the moment.
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With James yet to put himself in front of free-agent suitors, and with the Miami Heat more than at peace with the likelihood of James' new contract starting at the 2014-15 NBA maximum of $20 million-plus, came word of the Cavs considering pouring their salary-cap space into an offer sheet for Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward.
Such a gambit by Cleveland, which was reported by ESPN and other media outlets, would effectively tie up the Cavaliers' cap space until at least July 13, with July 10 the first day free-agent contracts can be offered, and with teams receiving offer sheets having up to three days to match.
A source familiar with Cleveland's offseason machinations, which have included an NBA-maximum contract extension to guard Kyrie Irving and the selection of Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick in last week's NBA Draft, Wednesday told the Sun Sentinel that it was his impression the Cavaliers have decided to move past a short-term reunion with James, who left Cleveland in July 2010 to sign with the Heat.
The same source, however, said it is possible that even if Cleveland obtains Hayward, it could eventually be through a sign-and-trade transaction that could have the Cavaliers' cap space back in place.
The fact that Cleveland would be willing to consider tying up valuable cap space for an extended period is an indication of the league-wide sense that James is returning to the Heat, if even for a short-term contract that yet could have him back on the market next summer.
In addition to James having yet to come to a resolution amid Heat President Pat Riley scouring free agency for roster upgrades, the Heat's two other All-Stars, guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh, continue to crunch salary numbers that would both meet their needs and Riley's roster-replenishment requirements.
James, Wade and Bosh all opted out of the remaining two seasons on their contracts prior to their Monday deadline, with each otherwise to have received in excess of $40 million over the next two seasons.
For his part, Riley appears to be in browsing mode at the moment, with no reports of concrete Heat offers. While Washington Wizards free-agent center Marcin Gortat stood as a potential Heat target, the Heat never made an offer prior to Gortat re-upping Tuesday with the Wizards on the first day of free agency, a league source told the Sun Sentinel.
While Riley has made overtures to numerous free-agent options, the Heat's standard operating procedure has been to put together their entire approach before extending offers. The Heat are in position to maneuver to more than $10 million in salary-cap space if needed, or have the option of working with a variety of salary-cap exceptions, including ones at $5.3 million, $2.2 million and $2 million.
Amid Riley's search for greater depth, neither James nor Wade nor Bosh have met with potential suitors, although James' agent, Rich Paul, has been fielding calls about his client. On Monday, agent Henry Thomas, who represents Wade and Bosh, told the Sun Sentinel that a report of contract agreements between his two clients and the Heat were inaccurate.
Based on salary-cap rules, there could be the need for a specific order in how the Heat handle offseason moves, in order to maximize their spending possibilities. The Heat also could use all or a portion of their cap space to make uneven trades, bringing in more salary than is sent out.
The Heat began their summer-camp workouts Wednesday in Orlando, with a unit that features 2014 first-round pick Shabazz Napier, the point guard out of Connecticut, and former second-round acquisitions James Ennis and Justin Hamilton, with their summer-league play to begin Saturday in Orlando against a similar team of rookies and young players from the Boston Celtics.
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