The biggest impediment to LeBron James returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency this summer is financial.
Because of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, LeBron has a heavy incentive to re-sign with Miami if he exercises his early termination option on his contract this summer, which he is widely expected to do.
He would leave nearly $US30 million on the table if he left Miami.
Here’s a comparison between the maximum contract Miami can offer and the maximum annual contract Cleveland can offer (we’ll get into the gritty details below):
Under NBA rules, a free agent who re-signs with his own team can get a five-year contract with 7.5% annual raises.
A free agent who signs with a different team can only get a four-year contract with 4.5% annual raises.
In each scenario, LeBron would make 105% of his 2013-14 salary in 2014-15 (which works out to $US20.1 million). But the Heat can give him a $US1.5 million raise every year after that until 2019, while the Cavs can only give him a $US900,000 raise every year after that until 2018.
In all likelihood LeBron would still sign a new contract for maximum dollars in 2018-19 if he decided to bolt for Cleveland. But that fifth year isn’t a guarantee if he leaves.
It’s also important to understand why LeBron is opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent this summer.
He isn’t doing it because he wants to leave. He’s doing it because he can get a longer, larger contract if he opts out and re-signs with Miami as opposed to signing an extension while still under contract.
He can sign a five-year deal with the Heat as a free agent if he opts out, and a four-year deal with the Heat if he signs an extension.
Yes, LeBron will technically be free agent this summer. But you shouldn’t take that as a suggestion that he wants out of Miami. It’s strictly procedural.
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