A modified version of the ballyhooed free-agent summit that was initially suggested and then downplayed by Dwyane Wade has indeed taken place, ESPN.com has learned.
Sources close to the situation said Monday night that three of the biggest names in basketball -- Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James -- met over the weekend in Miami to seriously discuss their futures, with a focus on the increasingly plausible possibility of those three teaming up with Wade's Heat.
Yet sources with knowledge of the meeting stressed to ESPN.com that James, while clearly intrigued by the possibility of forming a star-studded Miami trio with Wade and Bosh, has not yet committed to leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for South Beach.
One source did label Miami as the new frontrunner to land James in a package deal with Bosh and a re-signed Wade but also cautioned that James was "non-committal" with the start of free agency fast approaching.
Sources said James remains committed to fielding free-agent pitches from several teams when free agency officially opens Thursday at 12:01 a.m. ET, with the Chicago Bulls continuing to rank as a highly appealing destination and a return to Cleveland still figuring prominently in his thinking and with the Dallas Mavericks looming as an intriguing outsider.
The Miami Herald reported Tuesday on its website that two Wade representatives deny that the meeting took place, saying that Wade was in Chicago all weekend. Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the three players were initially drawn to Miami in conjunction with an annual two-day party and golf tournament hosted by DJ Irie -- who serves as the Heat's official team DJ -- and were seen in Miami.
Earlier Monday, Fox Sports Radio's Stephen A. Smith reported on his morning radio show and via his Twitter feed that James and Bosh have committed to joining Wade in Miami. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper, in a report on its website Monday afternoon, quoted a source close to Wade as saying that the 2006 NBA Finals MVP "believes his team is poised to pull off a free-agency coup" by signing James and Bosh and re-signing Wade.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, in a subsequent report on its website Tuesday, quoted a source close to Wade confirming that the All-Star guard "in recent days" has addressed the possibility of playing alongside James and Bosh and that the three have discussed the "financial machinations" required to get all of them on the same roster.
Unless Miami trades away former No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley to a team with salary-cap space, so it can avoid taking salary back, Heat president Pat Riley will not be able to offer the estimated 2010-11 maximum salary of $16.5 million to all three Team USA stars.
But sources told ESPN.com that James, Wade and Bosh all expressed confidence at the meeting that contractual complexities to make this ambitious triple signing work can be achieved, although it was not immediately clear if all three players would receive an equal amount or if one or two would receive the max. Another variable is whether Bosh would be willing to sign with the Heat outright or if he wants to hold out for a sign-and-trade.
Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo acknowledged Monday for the first time in a radio interview with the Fan590 in Toronto that "it's becoming more and more clear" that the prospect of Bosh re-signing with the Raptors is "not going to happen." But sources close to the situation have maintained for months that Bosh was likely to work with the Raptors on a sign-and-trade if he ultimately decided to leave in free agency, thereby ensuring that Toronto doesn't lose him without compensation and enabling Bosh to get an extra year on his contract potentially worth as much as $30 million.
Sources insisted, meanwhile, that other scenarios were discussed at the weekend meeting apart from the Miami plan. One source said James' admiration for Bulls legend Michael Jordan is such that he is determined to hear Chicago's pitch later this week, keeping alive the possibility that both James and Bosh could still wind up together with the Bulls.
In that scenario, sources said, James and Bosh would join Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago, while Wade would hope to be joined in Miami by close friend Carlos Boozer, who was not at the meeting.
Sources said James, furthermore, has not ruled out staying with the Cavaliers. Although Cleveland does not have the financial flexibility or the trade assets to import Bosh or Wade and enhance its chances of retaining this summer's face of free agency, James is a proud Ohioan who is said to be still wrestling with the notion of leaving his home state, no matter how enticing the possibilities are in Miami and Chicago.
The Sun-Sentinel reported that Wade is also exploring his options by planning free-agent sitdowns in coming days with the Bulls and Mavericks. ESPN.com had previously reported that Wade and Bosh are scheduled to be in New York on Friday for separate recruiting visits with the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets.
It was not immediately clear, as details of the Miami option emerged, whether the 65-year-old Riley intends to stay in his front-office role and let coach Erik Spoelstra return for his third season or return to the bench for a third stint coaching the Heat.
The original notion of a summit was hatched in late May, when Wade told the Chicago Tribune that he planned to talk with fellow free agents James and Joe Johnson before making a decision in free agency. It later emerged that Bosh, Boozer, Amare Stoudemire wanted to participate as well, leading to the "summit" concept.
But Wade and agent Henry Thomas insisted that a formal gathering involving all those free agents was never the intent.
"Dwyane never made reference to a summit," Thomas told CNBC.com in early June. "He said that he'd have conversations with some of these guys and that still will happen. These guys came into the league at the same time and they're in similar situations, so it's unrealistic to think that they won't talk."
James, however, left little doubt that the top free agents will discuss their futures together before July 1 in his recent interview with CNN's Larry King, telling King that he would be the "ringleader" for the conversations.
But NBA commissioner David Stern said during the NBA Finals that he would not prevent a summit if the league's top free agents -- many of them Team USA teammates -- wanted to get together.
"They can have it," Stern said, explaining that the league does not treat player-to-player interaction in the offseason in the same way it warns teams against tampering with other teams' players or pending free agents before July 1.
The NBA announced after Wade's initial comments that it only metes out discipline for player-to-player tampering in what it regards as "the most egregious" cases and said Wade's comments "do not meet that standard."
Although free-agent negotiations begin Thursday, teams and free agents are not permitted to actually execute new contracts until a leaguewide moratorium is lifted July 8.
Chris Broussard is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine and Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.