In what seemed like an inevitable move, Lebron James declined to exercise his $35.6 million player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and will officially become an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 am on Sunday.
With him not opting in, it essentially eliminated teams like the Houston Rockets and other long shots like the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors from being contenders for James’ services because the only way they would’ve been able to land him was via trade with James opting in for the 2018-19 season.
The Philadelphia 76ers have a slim chance to land Lebron and they have the cap space to give him a max salary of $35.3 million per season but essentially it’s a two horse race for the three-time NBA Champion and NBA Finals MVP between the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland can offer Lebron the “supermax” contract which is for five years and worth $205 million.
Los Angeles or any other team that has the cap space can offer up to four years worth $152 million.
The Lakers are the favorite as it stands now due to the fact that they have not only the cap space to land another free agent with a max contract like a Paul George but they also have the assets to pull off a trade to acquire Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard and create another super team in the NBA.
The Cavaliers are trying to make roster moves to upgrade the talent surrounding James after being swept in the NBA Finals by Golden State and knowing that Philadelphia and Boston are coming for them in the Eastern Conference.
However, the limited number of assets and no cap space to sign free agents is making things difficult for Cleveland to make moves.
James has stated he’s going to do what will make himself and his family happy.
While they’re home in Northeast Ohio and are living the closest to a normal life as they can, they own two homes in Los Angeles, Lebron has his hands in Hollywood through his production company and his 13-year-old son Lebron James Jr. is already a highly touted basketball player and could attend one of the top prep schools in the country in California.
Whatever decision Lebron James intends to make in the next few days will shake the landscape of the NBA in either direction.
If he stays in Cleveland, I think it shows that he’s not chasing championships and Lebron along with his family are satisfied being in Northeast Ohio where he along with his wife Savannah’s families are here and they enjoy the life that they’re living. James also would know that the path to his ninth straight NBA Finals appearance is somewhat easier in the East than the West although Philadelphia and Boston are coming with a fury.
James also would know that he has it all with the Cavaliers organization. Two of his friends work in the front office and his personal trainer is on the team’s payroll. Despite the reports that team owner Dan Gilbert would like to see Lebron James go so that he can “get his team back”, Gilbert has spent $450 million in team salary and an additional $137 million in luxury tax over the last four seasons, the most by any team in the NBA.
If he goes to Los Angeles, obviously James would be the face of the franchise and would instantly upgrade the franchise that has struggled for the last four or five seasons. Going to the Lakers would attract other players to join him and the Lakers have the cap space and assets to build the roster around James. While they wouldn’t be the favorite in the West, if they lured James and either Paul George or Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers would be back in the playoffs and could be back on top within a year or two pending on how the Warriors future shakes out.
The next week in the NBA should be exciting to watch as the dominoes will start to fall with Lebron unquestionably being the biggest domino.