Stemming from that experience, while James is content for the time being, he does not plan to close any doors. He's admitted that he paid a public relations price for how his free agency was executed in 2010. But he has no regrets in how his open-mindedness about his options changed the face of the league and propelled him to championships. Now more emboldened and self-assured, James has more power and perspective than ever before.
"LeBron is not thinking about free agency right now, he's totally focused on the season," said one James associate. "In the summer he knows he can get to any team he wants to."
James was signed and traded from the Cavs to the Heat. Bosh was signed and traded from the Toronto Raptors to the Heat. In 2012, Steve Nash was signed and traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Lakers. Last summer, the Denver Nuggets lost out on re-signing Andre Iguodala and eventually signed and traded him to the Golden State Warriors.
For top free agents, this is standard business. They have the power to force hands when they are free agents.
If the results of this season ended up with James looking at the Clippers and the Heat were eventually forced to cooperate, league executives believe Miami would ask for Blake Griffin. But neither the Heat nor the Clippers at this juncture, slightly more than halfway through a season that finds both teams believing they're capable of winning the title, are prepared to discuss such a hypothetical scenario as they try to keep the focus off the future.
Under any scenario, the Clippers would have to make another maneuver to make a sign-and-trade work, primarily to shed some salary to get under the luxury tax. But it is not that complicated. The bottom line is this: If the Clippers were interested and James got interested, there's a deal that could be done whether it involves Griffin or another package of players.
For the biggest free agent of all like James, it is an option he knows he can leverage if it comes to that. Especially when there will be other suitors he could sign with straight up, which would force the Heat's hand if James decided he wanted to relocate again. The entire star free-agent market will wait on James' choices this summer.
It should also not be taken for granted the Heat will want to keep the status quo. While they certainly want to keep James, it is possible they will use the potential free agency of their stars to go shopping themselves and perhaps reshuffle their roster by actively seeking their own sign-and-trades.
It's another reminder about the dangers of assumption. If the Heat had made assumptions in February of 2010 they wouldn't have what they do now. If the Clippers had made assumptions over the past few years, they wouldn't have Chris Paul as their point guard or Doc Rivers as their coach and vice president right now.
As of now these types of moves may not seem likely but that shouldn't mean they should be considered impossible. The unlikely has been happening more and more in the NBA, which is in an era of unprecedented superstar movement over the past seven years since the Boston Celtics became a powerhouse when Kevin Garnett used his status to force a trade to a city he selected.