It’s possible: LeBron James and Michael Jordan could theoretically join forces.
With the NBA Finals winding down and the Heat staring at what appears to be a series loss to the Spurs, questions about James’ future in South Beach are more relevant than ever.
He’s most likely to stay with Miami; however, the Clippers, Cavaliers and Lakers have all been bandied about as potential James suitors.
But would ‘The King” be willing to make a more surprising choice and team up with basketball royalty in Charlotte?
Jordan has been clear about the Hornets’ intentions this off-season, indicating the team will be a player in free agency, but luring James — yet alone landing him — would require a lot from a franchise that has just two playoff appearances in the last 10 years.
First, there is the matter of finances. James is, first and foremost, a basketball player, but he is also a business man — a rather smart one, in fact, as evidenced by the $30 million he made from Apple’s purchase of Beats Electronics.
But he did take one for the team when he joined the Heat in 2010. James’ decision to take less money to play for Miami effected the amount he can make the rest of his career. It also put the Heat in a position to pay James more than any other franchise if they were to ink him to a long-term max deal.
For that to happen, though, James would need to opt out of the final year of his contract, which he can do later this month. James could then re-sign with Miami on a five year, max-level contract. The fifth year guarantees James money he cannot get from another team. For that reason, most expect James to return to the Heat.
With the NBA salary cap expected to increase to $63 million next season, Charlotte is believed to have somewhere in the neighborhood of $19.5 million to spend (contingent upon forward Josh McRoberts opting out of the final year of his contract). James made $19,067,500 this year — so the Hornets could, theoretically, put together a competitive offer for his services.
But without the ability to guarantee a fifth year, Charlotte must be able to sell James on something besides a fancy new logo.
The Hornets can make a solid case they are in better standing than the Heat if James is removed from the equation.
Dwyane Wade, in spite of missing 28 regular season games, does not look fresh right now. His body is breaking down and it has been painfully evident during the Finals he is no longer the Robin to James’ Batman. Indeed, Wade, who is three years older than James, looks more like Alfred with each passing minute.
Wade is not the only Heat player losing some tread on his tires, though. The average age of the Miami roster is 30.4 years old.
Conversely, the Hornets are teeming with young talent. Charlotte’s roster averages 27 years of age and the team’s three biggest stars — Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, and Gerald Henderson — are all under 30. That trio also led the franchise to a 43-39 regular season record and its first postseason appearance since 2010.
Make no mistake, the addition of James would give the Hornets a championship caliber core. Miami, on the other hand, looks as though its time may be passing, even if it brings back Chris Bosh, Wade and James.
If Charlotte were able to sell LeBron on that notion, he may be inclined to accept less money to play there. The potential opportunity to grab another two or three rings may mean more to him than an extra $28 to $30 million.
There is another matter that may require addressing as well, and one of a more personal nature. Jordan and James are, at least from the outside looking in, not particularly cozy.
His Airness stated in a 2013 NBATV interview that he would take Kobe Bryant over James, quipping “five beats one every time I look at it” (the interview was conducted prior to the Heat’s second championship run with James).
Jordan also famously pointed out some holes in LeBron’s game in a February 2014 ESPN The Magazine piece by Wright Thompson.
“So if I have to guard him,” Jordan told Thompson, “I’m going to push him left so nine times out of 10, he’s gonna have to shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he’s going to the hole and I can’t stop him. So I ain’t letting him go right.”
LeBron never responded to those comments, not with words anyway. It appeared he did so with an icy glare, though, in the Heat’s Game 3 win over Charlotte in the opening round of the playoffs. As James elevated for an uncontested dunk he seemingly locked in on Jordan, who was seated at the end of the opposing team’s bench.
Jordan would, no doubt, be willing to throttle the rhetoric if he felt the Hornets had a legitimate opportunity to bring James into the fold.
Perfect or not, LeBron may be the only free agent capable of winning Jordan another championship. And Jordan is, above all else, obsessed with winning.