LeBron James is leaning toward joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and signing with the Heat, according to multiple media reports today.
"Barring a late change of heart, sources say James has decided to join Wade and Bosh,'' ESPN's Chris Broussard reported early Thursday morning.
New York Newsday and Yahoo.com also reported that James is expected to join the Heat.
A competing team executive in regular contact with the Heat told The Miami Herald late Wednesday night that he also expects James will sign with Miami.
James will make his announcement at 9 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.
Cleveland, New York, Chicago, New Jersey and the Los Angeles Clippers also have made presentations to James, who will make his announcement from Greenwich, Conn.
If James joins the Heat, there would be room to give James, Wade and Bosh maximum contracts, starting at $16.6 million next season, if the Heat trades Michael Beasley. Under that scenario, the Heat could afford to keep point guard Mario Chalmers and restricted free agent Joel Anthony.
If the Heat does not find a taker for Beasley and his $4.9 million salary next season, the Heat could afford to give each of the three stars slightly under the maximum.
Yahoo.com reported that the James camp already has reached out to players who might be willing to fill out the Heat's roster.
As the wait continues for a decision from James, the Heat moved forward with plans to create as much salary-cap space as possible by engaging in sign-and-trade talks.
Once such deal making league circles involves a four-team deal, in which the Heat would send forward Michael Beasley to Charlotte. Houston and Toronto are also involved in that deal, with the Raptors being used to essentially allow Bosh to get a six-year, $125 maximum deal from the Heat.
There are also reports that Miami has offered former University of Florida swingman Mike Miller a five-year contract for about $30 million. The Heat had no comment about the potential moves being discussed.
Agents for Beasley and Miller did not immediately return messages left on their cell phones. But multiple league executives insist the Heat is shopping Beasley.
If James joins the Heat, the rest of the roster -- beyond Chalmers and possibly Beasley and Anthony -- would include veterans willing to play for the league minimum. That group could include players such as Heat free agents Carlos Arroyo and Jamaal Magloire, as well as other veterans such as Raja Bell, Devean George, Ryan Gomes and Ime Udoka.
The Heat also likely will carry two or three rookies, potentially including guard Pat Beverley (acquired on draft night in 2009) and its second-round picks in last month's draft: center Dexter Pittman, power forward Jarvis Varnado and small forward DeSean Butler.
Wade and Bosh remain hopeful James will join the Heat, though Bosh said he would not exert pressure on James.
"We have the flexibility to put players around us to make us look even better,'' Wade said Wednesday. îîWe're going to do everything possible to bring players down here we need to win a championship.''
"Hopefully now -- with his recruiting pitch -- [Riley] has a little bit more leverage,'' Bosh told The Miami Herald. "He has two All-Stars to pitch, with me and Dwyane. You can use that leverage to go to other guys and fill in the spots we need.''
Players could sign contracts starting at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. The Heat has offered Wade $125‚million over six seasons. Bosh could receive the same contract should the Heat work out a sign-and-trade agreement with Bosh's former team, the Toronto Raptors. Otherwise, he would make $96 million over five years, unless he agrees to take slightly less to accommodate James.
The Heat and Raptors continue to discuss a sign-and-trade. Such a deal could include draft picks and cash. Beasley also could be included, though the Raptors reportedly are not especially interested in him. Wade and Bosh said they would agree to take less money to create enough salary-cap space for Miami to sign James. The Heat entered free agency with a league-high $45‚million in salary-cap space. The team received positive news Thursday when the league set its 2010-11 salary cap at roughly $58‚million, about $2‚million more than teams anticipated.
If James signs elsewhere, the Heat would be left with between $13 million and $14 million to spend in free agency to address needs for a point guard, defensive-minded center and shooter.
"We intend to enter into player contracts with Dwyane and Chris once the moratorium period has ended,'' Heat president Pat Riley said. Bosh said he didn't reach his decision to come to Miami until Tuesday night after speaking with Wade. Chicago-based agent Henry Thomas represents both players. Wade and Bosh also visited with the Knicks, Nets and Bulls.
Bosh said Wade's persistence, Riley's recruiting pitch and the Heat's recent championship run in 2006 ultimately won him over.
"Those are the major reasons for me coming in,'' Bosh said. "Dwyane's won a championship before and he just has that savvy about him. Pat doesn't have to say much. He said it all in his presentation. I think we can all do this thing together right here.''
But Riley the recruiter is not expected to be Riley the coach. Wade and Bosh said Erik Spoelstra will return for his third season as coach, despite Riley leaving the door open for a return.
In Bosh, a highly skilled 6-11 forward-center, the Heat is getting its most productive big man since it acquired Shaquille
O'Neal in 2004. Bosh is coming off the most productive season in his seven-year career, all in Toronto. He averaged career highs of 24 points and 10.8 rebounds and shot 51.8 percent from the field this season.
Bosh has appeared in four All-Star games but has been frustrated with falling short of playoff success in Toronto.
Wade had been one of Bosh's biggest fans during the recruiting process, with the two dining frequently in recent weeks as they discussed their career decisions. The last time Wade had a big man as productive as Bosh, he won a title at O'Neal's side in the 2005-06 season.
Is the Heat the front-runner in the Eastern Conference? "Not right now,'' Wade said. "Right now, we've put ourselves in that conversation. We will be in that top-three conversation next year.''
Should Riley not get James -- which would surprise a lot of people in the league, at this point -- the Heat would then turn to secondary targets to fill out the roster. Miami had met in recent days with free agent center Brendan Haywood and swingman Mike Miller and wants to meet with point guard Raymond Felton. But those three targets -- and several other options including Josh Howard and Richard Jefferson -- likely would be out of Miami's price range if James signs.
The Heat could also use cap space to re-sign some of its own free agents among a group that includes forwards Udonis Haslem and Dorell Wright and swingman Quentin Richardson. If James joins the Heat and has no cap space remaining, the Heat could appeal to all three to re-sign with the team on minimum contracts. But Haslem expects to command $6 million or more annually in free agency.
Center Jermaine O'Neal, who played with Bosh in Toronto before he was traded to Miami, indicated he plans to sign with Boston this week.
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