James respects Rivers perhaps more than any coach he hasn't played for, a side effect of playing four playoff series against Rivers when he was the coach of the Celtics. James developed a strong dislike for many of the Celtics players, but with each year he grew more fond of Rivers as an adversary.
The bond between James and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is strong and Riley has delivered on every promise he's made to James. There's no reason to expect any of that will change. But if for some unforeseen reason it does, James' best friend and favorite coach he hasn't played for are a part of the Clippers organization, which is located in a glamour market. Four years ago the Clippers got a courtesy meeting from James during his three-day free agency summit in Cleveland. Rather tellingly, when it came time for the Clippers' appointment they were left waiting in the lobby so the Heat could finish their presentation, which ran long. James had known then-Clippers general manager Neil Olshey since James was a teenager and Olshey was a workout coach, and because of it he was willing to hear the Clippers' pitch.
At the time, even getting the meeting was a big deal to the franchise. The Clippers later issued a press release just to announce they'd simply met with James. In recent years, they have built a new state-of-the-art practice facility, traded for Paul and then convinced him to re-sign, lured Rivers away from the Celtics, and landed several key free agents like Jamal Crawford.
For the first time in his tenure, Clippers owner Donald Sterling is paying the luxury tax this season. He has handed control of the basketball decisions to Rivers, whom he is paying the highest coaching salary in the league at $7 million per season. The Clippers of 2014 are not like they were in 2010 or the 20 years before that. They are now the dominant team in Staples Center, which sums up their shift more profoundly than anything else.
Despite the increased investments from Sterling over the past few years, the Paul-Griffin pairing still has yet to get past the second round of the playoffs. The Clippers are currently 34-17 as they deal with Paul's shoulder injury. That is fourth place in the Western Conference and a game behind last season's pace.
If the Clippers fall short of their lofty preseason expectations with Sterling's expanded expenditures, they may be willing to break up some of their core in an aggressive attempt to chase James. Once again, this cannot fully be assessed until the end of the season.
James has been very clear he will not address free agency during the season. That is a reminder that, just like in 2010, where things stand in June and early July will matter more than anything that is thought or said before then.
Back then many people took some things for granted and never saw the big move coming; that mistake will not be made again.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein contributed to this story.