By Larry Fine
(Reuters) – On the four-year anniversary of a nationally televised special called “The Decision” where LeBron James announced he would sign with the Miami Heat, the NBA world was in a holding pattern for the free agent’s next decision.
James is expected to meet with Heat president Pat Riley about re-signing with Miami, while widespread reports say the league’s four-time most valuable player feels a tantalizing tug to return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When James declared in 2010 that he was going to “take my talents to South Beach” and leave behind the Cavaliers after seven seasons to form a Big Three with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, an instant contender was born.
After four successive trips to the NBA Finals and a pair of National Basketball Association titles, James is once again a free agent, thus putting the balance of power in the world’s top professional basketball league at play again.
The complicated puzzle of NBA free agency could set off a domino effect across the league once teams are able to sign players starting on Thursday.
Reports that free agent Bosh was offered a massive four-year $88 million deal to join the Houston Rockets and their tandem of Dwight Howard and James Harden further stoked the imagination.
High-scoring forward Carmelo Anthony was told he could get a maximum deal from the Los Angeles Lakers worth some $95 million for four years, though the New York Knicks, where he has played since early 2011, under NBA rules could give him $129 million for five seasons.
The Chicago Bulls, a threat to contend in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, are also in the hunt for Anthony, but have less money to offer given their salary cap situation.
Bosh, believed to prefer to remain in Miami if James re-signs, is being asked to take a pay cut by the Heat in order to keep the Big Three together.
Should Bosh leave for Houston, however, the door could be open for the Heat to find enough money in the budget to lure Anthony to Miami, where he would get a longed-for chance to partner up with James.
The Heat may well remain an NBA force after this suspenseful free agency period, but if James leaves for Cleveland that could lead to Bosh joining Houston and put an emphatic end to Miami’s magnificent run.
Meanwhile, fans in Cleveland who felt jilted after their bitter divorce from James four years ago were dreaming of a heartwarming homecoming for the Akron, Ohio, native.
With a promising core of young players that includes premier point guard Kyrie Irving and last month’s first overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, James can contemplate leading the Cavs on a quest to end the state’s 50-year professional sports title drought.
Not since 1964 when the Cleveland Browns and famed running back Jim Brown won the National Football League crown, has a team from Cleveland claimed a major North American sports title.
The Cleveland Indians last won Major League Baseball’s World Series in 1948 and the Cavaliers have never won an NBA title in 44 years of existence, reaching the Finals once when James and the Cavs were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)