ASK IRA: Is LeBron about to become a free agent this summer . . . and next summer?

Today's mailbag includes questions on LeBron James, the Miami Heat and NBA free agency.

Q: Ira, does this mean LeBron James signs a long-term contract with the Cavaliers and puts all this free-agency nonsense to rest? -- Nate.

A: I still think opting out, taking a short deal that takes him into the $30 million range for next season and then something more substantive in the 2017 offseason makes the most sense. And, as I've stressed previously, I believe LeBron's ability to control the offseason by taking short-term deals allows him to own his situation. While there is plenty that LeBron treasures about his Cleveland experience, even with this championship, I'm not sure the Dan Gilbert is one of them. So, yes, I do believe we'll have to go through some nonsense when LeBron -- gasp! -- opts out of his current contract and enters free agency on July 1. And then all the backchannel manipulation will commence, with LeBron making sure that he gets the roster he wants going forward. Because for all the joy of Sunday for LeBron came the reality that he mostly had to do it all, more, in fact, than he had to do for his two titles with the Heat. So for a long answer to your short question, there very well could be LeBron James free agency this summer . . . and next summer, as well.

Q: Everyone has short memory. It's not that LeBron James left. It's how. He tried to handicap us heading out the door. The draft pick (Shabazz Napier), delay (last-minute meeting with Pat Riley), etc. -- Myles.

A: And yet Dwyane Wade still flew back from a business conference in Hawaii to support his friend in Game 7 in Oakland and Micky Arison was among the first to offer congratulations to the Cavaliers when Sunday's game was over. And while LeBron spoke of how Sunday was the most meaningful of his championships, I'm not sure that wasn't a reaction to the moment, with his first title, in 2012 with the Heat, truly liberating him from being viewed as a stand-alone star. As stated above, while manipulation is manipulation, at the end of the day when it produces championship results, it becomes reclassified as brilliance.

Q: Hi, Ira. What does the new $94 million projected cap mean for the Heat? What can they do internally and does this mean we are contenders for any big names (provided that's in the plan this offseason)? Thanks. -- Mike, Changwon City, South Korea. 

A: I'm not sure an additional $2 million makes that much of a difference. Yes, it puts the Heat around $43 million in cap space when counting the four players under fully guaranteed contract for next season (Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts and Justise Winslow) and the two others with favorable non-guaranteed contacts (Josh Richardson and Briante Weber). But cut $22 million of that total for a potential max contract for Hassan Whiteside, and you're down to $21 million for Dwyane Wade and, perhaps, a plus-one. And based on where Wade left off this past season, what will be left over after taking care of Wade (whose cap hold will likely be higher than his actual salary, which therefore precludes the use of his Bird Rights) doesn't figure to be much more than half a max contract, if that.  When you get to less than a maximum by that significant of a degree, it comes down more to how much a player wants to join your team. So what does that type of a cap move mean for the Heat? Less than for other teams that might be trying to carve out a pair of max slots (to perhaps use one on Whiteside).