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James' sweepstakes narrow down to five challengers

Cavaliers among challengers to make early pitch for James
Cavaliers among challengers to make early pitch for James
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

LeBron James is putting the NBA and his home team through a familiar waiting game. But this time around, the most likely outcome is that James will stay with his current team in the Miami Heat, and not leave them like he did the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, if James is on his way out of Miami, it looks like four teams are getting a head start in wooing him themselves, according to an ESPN report on July 3.

ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein alleged that representatives from the Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks have already had meetings with James' agent. While James himself is current on vacation, agent Rich Paul -- who didn't represent him in 2010 -- has handled the pitches in his place.

The Los Angeles Lakers are also alleged to have a meeting with Paul on July 4, as they work on luring Carmelo Anthony on board as well. A Big Three of James, Anthony and Kobe Bryant could storm the Lakers back into relevancy, or at least keep the Clippers from taking over Los Angeles.

However, the Suns have a younger and more up and coming team, while the Rockets already have superstars in Dwight Howard and James Harden, the Mavericks have owner Mark Cuban and his vast checkbook, and the Cavaliers offer a massive homecoming. Meanwhile, all the Heat have is uncertainty that they can get Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to take deep enough pay cuts to keep James, while leaving room to lure a new supporting cast.

Miami is still the odds on favorite to keep James, although he could always just sign for another year or two and then test the market again. If that's the case, it won't exactly be a vote of confidence and would put the Heat on borrowed time. Nevertheless, that would be better than no time at all, which becomes more of a possibility the more these stories leak.

Will James find Howard and Harden, Anthony and Bryant or Kyrie Irving and Anthony Wiggins more appealing partners than Wade and Bosh for the next few years -- or perhaps organize a new Big Three in a place like Phoenix? These questions may ultimately string everyone along until James predictably stays in Miami, but more and more cracks are showing in that theory by the day.