MIAMI >> LeBron James has this summer on his mind, and is already starting to plan for next season.
The summer of 2014, that can wait.
James said Tuesday that he is not thinking about the possibility of becoming a free agent in 12 months, though he did acknowledge that the prospects of competing with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley for several more championships with the Miami Heat is more than a tiny bit intriguing.
“That’s the goal,” James said. “That’s the ultimate finish. And we all hope that can happen, obviously.”
James’ final interview session of this season revealed plenty in 17 minutes, including that he’s already feeling an itch to get back on the basketball court after just a few days off, that he’ll stop at nothing to give longtime girlfriend Savannah Brinson anything she wants on their wedding day in a couple months, and that he’s making no secret of his hope that the Heat bring back at least the majority of this year’s championship roster.
The most interesting news, however, was when he spoke of his short- and long-term plans. First, he’s vowing to come back better next season, which is no small promise from someone with four MVP awards, two Finals MVP awards and who carries the tag of “best player in the world.” And then next summer, it certainly sounds as if he’s going to give the prospects of staying in Miami a good, long look.
“This is what we came here for, so that would be the ultimate,” James said. “But you can never … I don’t know, life changes, things happen, and we have to be prepared for that. But this is what we all want to be here for, that’s to be able to compete for a championship each and every year. And if we can do that, then it’d be awesome.”
James scored 37 points in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, carrying the Heat to their second straight championship in a season where he picked up his fourth MVP award. He’s gotten to the championship series in all three of his seasons with Miami, falling to Dallas in 2011, then beating Oklahoma City last season and the Spurs this year.
The team gathered for physicals and a quick meeting on Tuesday, and now begins the process of scattering for vacation and other business. James will make his annual trip with Nike to China next month, not long after Wade does some business there.
And already, James sounds like he’s missing the group that he spent the past nine months with.
“It’s like, ‘Damn, I wish we could come back in the locker room, have another practice, take another flight, have another bus ride with those 15 guys,'” James said. “That’s what it’s all about. You miss the guys throughout the summer. I know my family probably doesn’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth.”
It was not a Finals without speed bumps for James, who failed to score 20 points in any of the first three games against the Spurs. And after Miami lost Game 5 in San Antonio, James had to prepare without one of his most faithful sounding boards.
Maverick Carter, James’ longtime friend and perhaps his most trusted confidant, wouldn’t talk with him for days after Game 5, other than challenging him by saying that great players have to be great in the biggest moments.
James responded with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in Game 6, then the 37-point outburst in Game 7.
“That’s why I like the guys around me, off the court,” James said. “It’s not just a bed of roses with us. They’ve been around me too long to allow me to be careless or not stepping up to the plate at the highest level, not in basketball but in everything.”
The Heat are expected to announce by Sunday that they will pick up an option on point guard Mario Chalmers, one of three potentially departing players — Ray Allen and Chris Andersen being the others — identified by James on Tuesday as being “huge parts of our team.” James, who was completely exhausted after Game 7, said he’s already feeling rejuvenated physically and is eager to get back to work, which may not be great news for opponents.
“I’m going to come back a better player,” James said, “because I owe it to my teammates. … I’m obsessed with success.”
James said he hasn’t taken much of a look at who might be available for Miami this summer in free agency yet, in part because the season just ended and in part because he thinks the current Heat roster, if brought back essentially intact, would be good enough to contend for the title in 2014.
If Riley, Spoelstra, managing general partner Micky Arison and salary-cap guru Andy Elisburg find a way to improve the roster, then James — who plays just about every position on offense and defends them all on defense — certainly wouldn’t complain.
Still, it says something that he’s not demanding upgrades, either.
“My mindset is at a point where there is no relief,” James said. “I love the burden. I love what I have to do for this team to win. If it happens and we get someone who relieves something from me as far as a big or a wing guy or something, then it’d be good for our team. But I’m not going up to those guys or approaching this summer saying ‘I need help.’ I’m coming back saying if we come back with this roster, we’re going to compete for a championship.”
The way he sees it, if he gets better and the Heat get healthier and other players find ways to improve, then he likes his chances next year.
“This year coming, which will be here soon, that’s our focus,” James said. “Our focus is on how we’re going to get better this year coming up, and how we’re going to prepare to be better with all these other teams getting better, to be able to keep that trophy here.”
So he gets one ring when next season starts, and another a couple months beforehand, when he and Brinson finally tie the knot.
He’s let his fiancée do most of the planning, though James has been involved in some decisions. His approach has been steadfast since proposing shortly after the clock struck midnight and the calendar flipped to Jan. 1, 2012 — it’s her day.
“I’m involved enough to where everything’s going to go right,” James said. “The most important person is Savannah. She’s happy, then I’m happy. That’s all that matters. I don’t really care about nothing else. I don’t really care about nobody else there on that day besides her.”
Then comes a new season — and the same questions he heard going into his infamous ‘Decision’ summer of 2010, when he left Cleveland for Miami.
“I’ve been in this position before,” James said. “I’ve heard it before. It can’t get any worse than my season before I became a free agent in 2010.”