James Jones opts out of Heat deal, might be staying

MIAMI— Saying he merely was looking to "find the best situation for me," Miami Heat forward James Jones confirmed Wednesday to the Sun Sentinel that he has decided to opt out of the 2011-12 season on his contract.

Jones, however, stressed that the decision was not in response to being benched for the final nine games of the playoffs, including all six games of the NBA Finals, which the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks.

"If anything," Jones said, "making it to the Finals is an enticement to stay."

Jones, 30, a University of Miami graduate and Southwest Ranches resident, said the decision was made merely to increase his options.

"I just decided to become a free agent," he said. "My goal is still to find the best situation for me, and that possibly could be Miami."

This is the second consecutive year Jones has hit the free-agent market, this time opting out of the $1.3 million on his contract for 2011-12.

Jones is coming off a career season from beyond the 3-point arc, with a career-best 123 3-pointers. He also won the 3-point contest during All-Star Weekend.

Jones worked out a brief separation from the Heat last summer that aided the Heat in the free-agency machinations that allowed the team to sign LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. At the time, the Heat only could bring Jones back for a veteran-minimum salary.

Jones, however, actually cashed a pair of checks from the Heat this past season, one for the $1.1 million veteran's minimum and another for the $1.5 million buyout of his previous Heat contract.

In fact, even by opting out of his latest Heat contract, Jones still is due $1.7 million for next season and $1.8 million from the Heat in 2012-13 from the buyout of his previous deal. Any new Heat salary would be paid over and beyond that salary.

The NBA free-agency period begins Friday or at the conclusion of a lockout, which is expected to be imposed by the league later this week.

While Jones thrived at times during the regular season, he was reduced to afterthought in the playoffs, with Miller moving into a more prominent role in the rotation. The 6-foot-8 forward appeared in only 12 of the Heat's 21 playoff games, dropped completely from the rotation after the second game of the Eastern Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls.

Jones has been representing the Heat in the negotiations with the NBA over a new collective-bargaining agreement, in his role as secretary-treasurer of the National Basketball Players Association.

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