LeBron James has opted out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers and has become a free agent. While all signs point to James re-signing with the Cavs, there is work to be done and it sounds like LeBron is going to make the Cavs sweat until it happens.
James is expected to re-sign with the Cavs and does not plan to meet with other teams, according to sources for Brian Windhorst and Chris Broussard of ESPN, which has almost certainly been the plan all along.
James would have made $US21.6 million next season under the old contract. By opting out, James can now sign a contract worth about $US22.0 million for the 2015-16 season, according to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. More importantly, James will almost certainly sign a one-year contract which will allow him to become a free agent again next summer when the salary cap is set to explode thanks to an infusion of new national TV revenue. In 2016, James can sign a contract that will start with a salary close to $US30 million with annual increases.
But there is more to James’ free agency than just a $US400,000 raise. If it was only about the money, he would just sign the contract as soon as it is offered on Wednesday. But that won’t happen, according to Brian Windhorst on ESPN Radio, who described the situation as “a chance [for LeBron] to squeeze the Cavs a little bit.”
The biggest issue is that the Cavs’ Eastern Conference championship roster has eight free agents including several key contributors such as Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, and J.R. Smith. According to Windhorst, free agency for LeBron is just as much about making sure the Cavs open up their vault to make sure they keep a good team mostly intact.
The two most important pieces appear to be Love and Thompson. According to Windhorst, the Cavs still intend to offer Love a five-year, $US110 million max contract and all signs point to Love accepting it even if he does talk to other teams before doing so.
Thompson is a restricted free agent and the Cavs intend to match any offer he receives, according to Windhorst. Complicating matters — or maybe simplifying them for James — is that Thompson and James share the same agent who’s “first priority” is getting Thompson a new deal.
Re-signing James may be a formality, but it sounds like that won’t happen until these other moves get done.
In the end, there almost certainly won’t be a Decision 3.0 this summer. But until James does put pen to paper on a new deal with the Cavs, their fans should be holding their breath and hoping that things don’t go horribly wrong.
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