In the decision everyone saw coming, LeBron James reportedly decided to turn down his $21.6 million option with the Cleveland Cavaliers next season and will technically be a free agent on July 1.
However, according to ESPN, the 30-year-old four-time MVP isn’t expected to meet with or discuss a new contract with any other team besides the Cavs. James evidently wants to “stay somewhat removed” from Cleveland’s work during free agency with power forwards Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love, as well as shooting guard Iman Shumpert all up for new deals.
James’ choice isn’t necessarily motivated by money this summer, but next year is entirely different. When he returned to Cleveland following a four-year stint with the Miami Heat, James only agreed to a two-year deal to give the Cavs salary cap flexibility. However, James’ move, like a number of free agents this summer, also kept his options open before the NBA’s cap grows substantially in 2016.
The league’s new television rights deal with ABC, ESPN, and Turner Broadcasting begins next summer, and in turn the entire league’s cap will increase to as much as $90 million per team. That will allow James to sign an even more lucrative deal.
Thus, James will probably sign a one-year deal with Cleveland again worth $22 million, once Thompson and likely Love’s deals are set, and opt-out again next summer to land an even richer contract for the 2016-2017 season and beyond.
James will essentially receive an almost $500,000 raise for next year, but his next long-term contract could be worth almost $200 million. Cleveland currently has only $24.7 million devoted to player contracts next season, and $9.3 million on the books for the 2016-17 season, according to HoopsHype.com.
Love has already informed the Cavs that he will test free agency, but with Cleveland allowed to offer him more money and an extra year, as well as the opportunity to play with the league’s best player in James, the versatile scorer and rebounder is expected to remain a Cav, ESPN also reported.
Cleveland is prepared to offer Love a five-year, $110 million contract, while every other interested team can only sign him to a four-year deal per the collective bargain agreement’s rules.
James did say he wasn’t planning on recruiting Love during free agency, unlike last summer when he spoke to the All-Star before Cleveland acquired him from the Minnesota Timberwolves for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. But the two were spotted poolside in Los Angeles over the weekend, though it’s unknown what James and Love spoke about.
Thompson, a restricted free agent, could sign an offer sheet with another team, but Cleveland would likely match any other contract after the 24-year-old exploded by averaging a double-double in the final three series of the postseason.
Having averaged nearly 36 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists in the NBA Finals, James brought the Cavs within two wins of their first title. With Love and Kyrie Irving sidelined, Cleveland fell to the Golden State Warriors in six games.