On Tuesday, San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan decided to exercise his player option and return for his 18th NBA season, all of which have been with the same organization.
LeBron James should take notice.
The Miami Heat superstar has until June 30 to decide if he’ll opt out of the final two years of his current contract and become an unrestricted free agent.
James is the league’s most dominant and recognizable player and is still in the prime of his career. This puts more leverage in his hands than any other potential free agent in recent memory, regardless of the sport.
For me, the King’s decision is simple — James should do nothing and finish his career in Miami.
There’s no logical reason he should leave. In the four years James has been in South Beach, the Heat have been a fixture in the NBA Finals every season — a feat only two other franchises have achieved in the last 35 years.
Leaving Miami would be a figurative slap in the face to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The pair has completely altered its style of All-Star play to allow James to reap all the praise for the Heat’s success. James predicted he would win “not six, not seven,” but eight championships with those same teammates.
By my count, they have six to go.
It’s difficult to determine whether James is seriously considering leaving Miami or if ESPN is simply looking for a ratings bump.
But if he does decide to leave the Heat, the scrutiny of James would immensely trump any he faced after his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010. It’d also give credence to one of the only accurate criticisms of his basketball abilities — sometimes, James simply quits.
Bolting for another team that may be in a better position to win a title would be further proof of that claim.
James should remember Magic Johnson. Along with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar helped the NBA become a global powerhouse.
He lost in the NBA Finals four times, one more than James. Yet Johnson neither quit on nor left the organization that drafted him. Instead, he worked through those tough times, and he’s remained a household name among basketball fans nearly 20 years after his final game.
James cannot claim to have played for one team his entire career, but he can remain with a franchise that’s proved over the past decade that it can win titles.
As elementary as it sounds, there’s only one team that can win the championship. With 30 organizations all vying for the same prize, the odds aren’t in anyone’s favor — not even King James.
Making the finals is a success in itself, and that’s all James has known since he’s joined the Heat.
Losing in the NBA Finals after winning the previous two doesn’t seem like a bad situation for a superstar player. I’m fairly certain NBA greats like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing or Karl Malone would gladly trade places with James, given the opportunity.
Even Duncan could have left San Antonio after the heartbreaking loss to James and the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, and no one would have blamed him.
But he didn’t. Duncan used the gut-wrenching defeat he and his team suffered at the hands of James — and a timely three-pointer from Ray Allen — as motivation. That motivation just ended in the fifth championship for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
The level of play in the Eastern Conference has been putrid at best lately. James and the Heat would be almost a lock to make it back to the NBA Finals, even if the organization doesn’t do anything to improve its roster.
Staying in Miami is the easiest way for James to keep adding championships to his “greatest basketball player of all time” résumé. There’s no reason to leave now.