Plenty of opinion on LeBron, including Kobe's

MIAMI

   It started last week at the Orlando Pro Summer League and assuredly will continue this coming week at the Las Vegas summer league, the speculation about LeBron James and his 2014 opt-out and what's next.

   Yes, you could bury your head in the sand, rightfully point out that there is still a full season to be played, an opening-night ring ceremony scheduled for AmericanAirlines Arena, and plenty at stake before LeBron establishes the stakes next July.

   The easy target are the national outlets, with ESPN already filling its non-Hernandez, non-Puig moments with LeBron conjecture.

   But, understand, this is not just the outsiders, not just those searching for ratings points and web hits.

   It's also the insiders, as well, including the executives, scouts and coaches at the Amway Center this past week and on the campus of UNLV this coming week.

   It's what you sell to your fans when there is nothing at the moment to sell, even though the letdown can be far more severe than the buildup. (Just ask the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls after their failed pursuits of James in July 2010.)

   A scout for one of the teams involved in the LeBron chase in 2010 and now working for another Eastern Conference team said it's what teams do, how they buy time, create hope.

   "I would agree with that," he said, "that there is always the pie-in-the-sky, the panacea."

   So for the Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Lakers or another suitor that jumps into the race and can offer the needed cap space, perhaps there will be a payoff. No one, after all, a year ahead of the fact had the Miami Heat as a frontrunner for LeBron in 2010, let alone frontrunners for LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

   While the NBA just this past week fined the Houston Rockets $150,000 for talking about the free-agency heist of Dwight Howard before the end of the signing moratorium, the league also knows that free-agency buzz is good for the league.

   The reality, of course, is that nothing will matter until the Heat's final game of next season, or, more to the point, of next season's playoffs. Will Wade's knees make it to the finish line? Will Bosh be able to stand tall enough in the middle? Will the luxury tax corrode the championship veneer?

  Anyone who has those answers this July is far more prescient than anyone in the NBA. Because while those league executives might hope, they certainly don't know.

   But make no mistake, we're at the starting line.

   And while LeBron and the Heat might not be talking, plenty of NBA types will, probably including some of those previously fined for talking out of turn on free-agency issues.

   This past week, it was no less than Kobe Bryant entering discussion.

   In an interview with the Lakers Nation website, Bryant was asked why a player like LeBron would want to eventually play alongside Bryant when he is out to win more championships than the Lakers' guard.

    "Well, yeah, I'm mean, you know, it's that argument that goes on forever," Bryant said. "You don't want to help someone else kind of increase their ring count, you know. But he's already increased Dwyane's, so I don't think it's that big of a stretch."

   Yes, even Kobe is talking about the LeBron Lakers, not thinking of it as that much of a stretch.

   In a follow up, Bryant was asked whether LeBron actually might consider such a move.

   "I'm not going to speculate," he said. "Who the hell knows?"

   Who? These days seemingly everyone has a should-he-stay-or-should-he-go opinion.

IN THE LANE

    TRUE SACRIFICE: When it comes to sacrifice, the Heat have proven to be champions, as well, from Ray Allen bypassing a larger 2013-14 Heat contract by bypassing free agency, to Chris Andersen taking less from the Heat than was available elsewhere. The dollars left on the table have been tangible. For that matter, so has the playing time, with Heat players such as Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and even Andersen pulled from the rotation at various times during the championship run. Now it's the Clippers, with their loaded roster, talking sacrifice, something that certainly was a financial reality with the contracts of Darren Collison and J.J. Redick and something that will have to be a reality when it comes to minutes in Doc Rivers' loaded rotation. And then there's Kobe. Asked by "Lakers Nation" about his 2014 free agency and the need to possibly take a pay cut for the greater free-agency good of the Lakers, Bryant told the independent web site, "I'm not taking any at all. That's the negotiation that you have to have. For me to sit here and say, 'Oh yeah, I'm just going to take a huge pay cut'? Nah, I'm going to try to get as much as I possibly can." He backed off in ensuing interviews, but the reality is "sacrifice" is something that has to be demonstrated and not just spoken.

    SUMMER SILLINESS: This past week in Orlando, teams were awarded "quarter points" for winning a quarter as part of the process in determining a champion of that summer league, which eventually was won by the Oklahoma City Thunder. This week, teams will play in a championship bracket in Las Vegas to crown a tournament winner in that summer league. Yes, it makes for better programming for NBA TV. And, yes, there isn't exactly much else to show this time of year. But as one coach pointed out in Orlando, isn't summer league supposed to be about player development? And does a player desperately fighting for a livelihood or at least playing time need the incentive of earning a "quarter point" or summer "championship"? There was a time when teams shied from summer leagues because of the distractions. Now it's as if the NBA can't create enough of them in July.

   ONE MORE TIME: So why is forward David West back with the Indiana Pacers? Well, the free-agency money certainly was good, but so was the motivation of falling to the Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. "We were a quarter and a half away from the NBA Finals," he told the Indianapolis Star. "I'm going to take a step back, go somewhere else? That just doesn't make sense. It just didn't make sense to roll the dice [with another team]."

   NO SLEEVES: Count the Heat out when it comes to the NBA's move to short-sleeve jerseys as an alternate option for next season. While teams have been exhibiting the look during summer league, the Heat have informed the NBA that they are opting out of the program, as is a team's right. The Heat were one of the few teams to go sleeveless in Orlando.

 NUMBER

  64-166. Cleveland Cavaliers' record since LeBron James left for the Heat in the 2010 offseason, as his free-agency return in 2014 is speculated.

   iwinderman@tribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat

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