Chris Paul, Miami, Heat, NBA, rumors, LeBron, Lakers
Chris Paul and LeBron James hanging on a boat in 2016. Getty Images

ESPN's Max Kellerman brought up the theory this week of LeBron James potentially returning to the Miami Heat in NBA free agency this summer. 

 

Kellerman is far from the Adrian Wojnarowski of this here game, but all things considered - a LeBron return to the Heat makes a whole lot more sense than him landing in Los Angeles with the Lakers or even landing in Houston with the Rockets.

 

Anyone who follows the NBA and its rumor mill has long been aware of LeBron having said he wants to finish his playing career playing alongside his friends - namely Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.

 

Wade was traded back to the Heat last week and it's for certain that he will now close out his career in the place where it all started for him.

 

As for Chris Paul, Carmelo and LeBron - it in no way is a coincidence that all three are NBA free agents this summer. Given their ages, this will be their final chance to all team up, and in terms of financial and roster flexibility - the Heat are in the best position to get the Banana Boat crew together in one spot.

"Pat Riley is a go big or go home kind of guy," NBA Lockdown podcast host Jorge Sedano said (via SliceMiami.com) last summer. "I look at Pat and he's saying to himself, 'I want to create enough mobility for myself with my roster and some flexibility where I can have some cap space for next year in the big 2018 free agency class and have some tradeable commodities to be able to maybe create some space because I think - and this is just my guess - Pat Riley's trying for a LeBron reunion. He's trying for a Banana Boat tour, the Banana Boat boys in Miami."

Riley has already smoothed things over with Wade and has been doing nothing but heaping praise on LeBron in recent months. At the very least, we know LeBron has more distain for current Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert than he does for Riley in Miami.

"I want to see a great Finals and I think it's going to be one of the best ever," Riley told the Sun-Sentinel before last year's Finals. "But I love LeBron, we all do. He was part of our team for four years."

As for fitting LeBron under the salary cap and leaving room for Chris Paul, the Heat would need to do some major maneuvering - but not as much as say - the Rockets would need to do. Riley has set this thing up masterfully in Miami by giving middle-range contracts to fringe All-Stars like Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters in hopes that Erik Spoelstra can "coach them up" to improve their value around the NBA.

Spoelstra has that for the most part as the Heat are seen around the NBA as one of the "up-and-coming" teams in the East despite not having any A-listers. 

"Up and coming" teams with young, talented, affordable players are the teams you have to watch out for most when it comes to potentially forming a superteam. In the standings, the Celtics were where the Heat are right now just a few years back, and the Heat in 2010 were much like this current Heat squad - a good group but needing an A-lister or two to put them over the top.

Riley the realist is more aware of this than anyone, and you had better believe that the Heat boss would trade Dragic to Houston for Chris Paul just ahead of NBA free agency (much like the Rockets did this past summer to obtain Paul), if it meant him being able to pitch a Banana Boat scenario to LeBron when the time for talking comes.

Obviously, signing Chris Paul flat-out in free agency wouldn't make much sense for Miami unless they were to trade Dragic elsewhere. 

One of Rockets GM Daryl Morey's few blunders came a few years back when he chose not to re-sign Dragic, whose contract was and is now more than reasonable in hindsight. If there are rumblings that Paul is going to walk in free agency, Morey absolutely will look to get a return - and Dragic would be a good place to start.

In a way, Chris Paul is the most important piece to the NBA offseason. His decision on where he wants to play next season will go a long way in determining all of the other dominos.

If you're skeptical of a LeBron reunion in Miami, just go back to these quotes from March 2016. They are striking today - just months ahead of the 2018 NBA free agency circus.

"I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together … at least one, maybe one or two seasons - me, Melo, D-Wade, CP - we can get a year in," LeBron told Bleacher Report. "I would actually take a pay cut to do that.

"I mean, we've had plenty of conversations. We've been together for almost 15 years, so we've had plenty of conversations."

Carmelo Anthony in the same piece: "I'd take a pay cut if it happens. I think we all would have to take a pay cut … I think by that time [in your career], you want to go somewhere warm. By that time. That's later. That would be later - retirement. I'm just adding fuel to the fire."