OKLAHOMA CITY -- Although LeBron James made another round of headlines this week when he told NBA TV he couldn’t currently envision a case in which he would leave Miami, it was basically the same message he’d been sending in smaller settings throughout the season.
James can opt out of his contract after this season to become a free agent. He could also return under the same contract, which has two additional seasons remaining worth about $44 million. James has downplayed his decision and has said he wouldn’t discuss the process during the season.
However, the four-time league MVP has repeatedly addressed his comfort level and happiness in Miami. He did so again Tuesday in Dallas before he scored a season-high 42 points to lead the Heat past the Mavericks and into Thursday’s high-profile showdown in Oklahoma City against the Thunder.
As of now, James insists his experiences in Miami have lived up to his expectations on many levels. The Heat have advanced to the Finals each of the past three seasons and are coming off consecutive championships, looking to become just the fourth franchise in NBA history to win three straight titles.
“The winning is No. 1, of course,” James said of the biggest case the Heat can make for retaining his services. “That’s the No. 1 reason I came down here [from Cleveland], to be able to play with great talent and to win. I’ve been able to accomplish that, and along the way we’ve built a great friendship and brotherhood around here.”
James has maintained that he’ll reserve taking a definitive stance on his potential free agency until the summer, when teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could also opt out of their current contracts. Both Wade and Bosh have said they hope to stay with the Heat for the long term. But all three players know there will be changes to the roster one way or another, with veterans like Shane Battier and Ray Allen likely to contemplate retirement and several others who could become free agents.
“We’ve always been a team that sort of prides ourselves on staying in the moment and not taking anything for granted,” Bosh said. “I think that’s what has allowed us to stay successful, because we don’t take that success or each other for granted. You never know what can happen, so you make the most of everything you can right now. Then you take care of what’s next when that time comes.”
James said the Heat’s track record of stability and the commitment to winning are the franchise’s biggest assets. Well, those, and the weather.
“I think the organization speaks for itself -- just being around here every day and understanding how great this franchise is from top to bottom,” James said.
After missing 15 games before the All-Star break to deal primarily with knee issues, Wade said he will continue to take a cautious approach in the final two months of the season leading into the playoffs.
Wade returned to action Tuesday after missing the Heat’s final two games before the break, with one absence due to migraines and the other the result of a minor foot injury. Wade then played 11 minutes in Sunday’s All-Star Game in New Orleans.
Wade seemed sluggish at times during Tuesday’s 117-106 win against Dallas but had strong moments in the second half. He finished with 13 points, seven assists and a block in 34 minutes. But Wade’s availability remains a day-to-day process for the Heat.
“It will be the same plan as we had in the first half [of the season],” Wade said. “I’m 100 percent honest that it’s day to day. I’m as honest as I can be. When you have one thing that really bothers you, your whole body focuses on that area.”
Wade said he’s having issues only with his right knee, for which he underwent a shock-wave therapy procedure in the offseason. The left knee, which required surgery two summers ago, has not been a problem. Between the knee, the migraines and the foot problem last week, Wade said he’s tried to maintain a positive outlook. Despite his issues, the Heat have played well recently and have the third-best record in the league (38-14) entering Thursday’s game against the Thunder.
“I’ve learned not to say, What else can go wrong?” Wade said. “Because I’ve realized that a lot can go wrong, so it’s just one of those things. It [stinks], man. But it is what it is, right? We just want to go into the playoffs as healthy as we can be.”
The Heat didn’t report any injuries after Tuesday’s win in Dallas, with the entire roster expected to be available for Thursday’s game against the Thunder. The status of Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook (knee), who hasn’t played since Dec. 25, remains uncertain but both the Heat and Thunder have prepared for his return.
DID YOU KNOW?
Since their last meeting on Jan. 29 in Miami, LeBron James has registered more 30-point games (five in seven total outings) than NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant (four in eight total outings). Both players enter Thursday having scored at least 36 in each of their last three games.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“From here on out, it is business. We have to take care of business and try to get that first spot back.” – Chris “Birdman” Andersen, on the Heat’s attempt in their final 30 games to overtake the No. 1 seed in the East from Indiana, which holds a 2½-game lead in the standings.