If you read this earlier than 7 tonight, please scroll to the bottom for Dolphins notes:
Could LeBron James return to the Heat? The odds are against it, and the thought is somewhat (though no entirely) difficult to fathom.
But the notion cannot altogether be ruled out, amid this today from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, as relayed by Pro Basketball Talk:
“I’ll drop one other tidbit of information, because people have been ignoring what I’ve been saying," Smith said. "I’ve hinted around it for months as you well know. But I’m going to say this again.
“LeBron James promised the city of Cleveland, 'I’m coming back to bring you that elusive title that has escaped this city since 1964.' He never said anything about staying once he does accomplish that.
“I’m in Miami last week. I’m in Miami a few months ago. Skip Bayless, I’m hearing about a return to Miami if this man wins. He ain’t going nowhere if he loses. But, if he wins, his options are open. LA, but especially Miami, a return to South Beach.
“Look man, there’s a lot going on. And there’s a lot riding on him winning. Losing changes everything, because it keeps there in Cleveland. But more importantly, it keeps him stuck, because he knows he can’t leave until he fulfills his promise. And if you can’t because you’re not a champion, that’s far worse than just choosing to stay because you want to. It’s going to get very interesting. Keep your eyes on it.”
A few thoughts:
• I consider Smith very credible with NBA information, so this should not be dismissed out of hand. He was the first mainstream media member to broach the possibility of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade teaming up in 2010.
• James’ friendship with Wade cannot be understated, as explored in this outstanding ESPN.com piece last week. And James said earlier this season that he would love to play alongside Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony late in his career.
• One person in sports whose information I’ve found to be consistently credible, who speaks with James’ associates, told me in early March that those associates had raised the possibility (not probability, but possibility) of James returning to the Heat and that James was unhappy with some things going with the Cavs.
I, nor anyone outside his inner circle, can speak to what James is thinking at this moment. Plus, he’s winning now, and winning can be the eternal band aid.
• The Heat was unhappy about how James left, but it’s impossible for me to envision that Riley or Micky Arison (who both badly want to win) would spurn him if he wants to come back. I gave some of those details of sources of discomfort between James and the Heat in this piece before LeBron’s first game back in Miami (with Cleveland) on Christmas Day 2014.
Since then, more has come to light, including a report that the Heat wasn’t pleased when members of James’ entourage were distracted and disengaged during that meeting that Riley was summoned to in Las Vegas.
• Pro Basketball Talk reminded what James wrote in his letter to Sports Illustrated when he left the Heat.
“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.
“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”
• Do I expect LeBron to come back? The odds are against it. It’s difficult for me to envision a player who wants to be liked once again enraging fans in his home state --- where he wants to be welcomed back after retiring --- even if he wins them a championship.
But Smith is too credible on this --- and the bond with Wade too strong --- to bet a substantial amount of your savings against it, either.
• This is the ultimate fantasy conversation, but in case you wondered, James' max salary for next season would be about $30 million. If if the Heat dumped Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts for no money back, Miami would have $27.3 million committed to Chris Bosh (who will remain on Miami's cap this summer regardless of any health situation), Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson next season, plus $1 million to retain restricted free agent Tyler Johnson's rights (the cap hit would remain that even if TJ signs for more), plus $4 million as cap hits for open roster spots up to 12 (replaced when actual players are signed).
With a $92 million cap, that would leave $60 million to $62 million to split among James, Wade and Whiteside, or James, Wade and another player cheaper than Whiteside. There would need to be major sacrificing done to accommodate James/Wade/Whiteside.
Again, all fantasy talk for now. But Stephen A. succeeded in making it a talking point today.
By striking out twice Sunday, Giancarlo Stanton tied an MLB record with 17 strikeouts over his past six games. Only Mark Reynolds (2010) and Brett Wallace (2015) achieved that ignominious feat. But at least Stanton had a hit Sunday, as he hopes to snap out of his slump.
Stanton ranks 66th among qualifying big-league outfielders with a .211 average. Conversely, Christian Yelich is ninth at .320, Marcell Ozuna 11th at .311.
• Tommy Hutton, who obviously never should have been dropped by the Marlins and Fox, has found a temporary game analyst gig: He will work American Athletic Conference tournament games Tuesday afternoon and evening for CBS Sports Network. He also does a weekly Monday afternoon segment on Andy Slater’s WINZ talk show.
• The Dolphins are now loaded at defensive end, but Mike Tannenbaum says there will be significant playing time for at least four -- Cam Wake, Mario Williams, Jason Jones and Andre Branch. And as the Dolphins noted, Jones can also play defensive tackle if needed.
• When Chris Grier was named GM earlier this offseason, he vowed there would be no more dysfunction in terms of the coaching staff and the front office not being on the same page.
So it was notable that team president Tom Garfinkel told three Dolphins fan web sites this over the weekend: "I’m not qualified to watch film and evaluate the players, but I can say that the evaluation and decision-making process and how the draft played out is vastly improved and was very impressive to watch. Probably most importantly, what I see is everyone really on the same page and working together. There is healthy debate but the personnel department is working to deliver players that fit the coaching staff’s scheme and profile for the kind of players they want."
Seems simple enough, but that didn't always happen with the previous coach (Joe Philbin) and previous front office.
• Some wondered why the Dolphins decided not to invest any more time or money on their weekday talk show Finsiders, which was canceled in March --- two months before the team shifted to WQAM.
Garfinkel explained why the team replaced that show with more digital content: "The Finsiders was a three-hour radio show. The Finsiders had 800,000 listeners for the entire 2015 calendar year. For context, one coach’s speech on Facebook last year had 1.2 million views and the first 25 episodes of Dolphins Daily had combined viewership of over 2.3 million. With that said, one thing we’ve heard from fans is that they miss the longer format, so we’ll soon be rolling out a new program called The Audible that will be a longer-form show that fans can interact with. We also are working on a redesign of our website where we better aggregate all the content from different platforms into one place."
For a look at that entire interview that Garfinkel did over the weekend, click here.
• Kenny Stills has made a strong early impression on the coaching staff. And DeVante Parker is picking up the new system well.
• Check back Tuesday, when the Dolphins make four players available after an OTA practice. (Only one OTA session will be open to reporters each week; this week's will be Thursday.) And Adam Beasley is in Charlotte covering the Super Bowl vote.
Please check back tonight for Dolphins… Twitter: @flasportsbuzz