LeBron James will not pick up the player option on the final year of his contract with the Cavaliers and will become an unrestricted free agent, according to ESPN and multiple reports. James had until 11:59 p.m. ET Friday to inform the Cavs of his intentions before the option expired. The decision will make the four-time MVP the headliner of a star-studded free-agent class that includes Paul George, Chris Paul and DeMarcus Cousins, among others. Free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. ET Sunday, and the balance of power in the NBA could shift if James chooses to leave Cleveland and create a new super team with the Los Angeles Lakers or join a burgeoning power such as the Houston Rockets or Philadelphia 76ers. Free agents can’t sign contracts until July 6.
James has bolted as a free agent twice — in 2010, when his contract was up with Cleveland and he chose the Miami Heat, and in 2014, when he exercised the early termination option in his Heat contract and returned to Cleveland. He also opted out of his contract with the Cavs in 2015 to sign a new “one-plus-one” deal, and then opted out of his contract again in 2016 to sign a new deal with two years guaranteed and a player option for the third year. That third season — worth $35.6 million for 2018-19 — is the option that James is declining. According to ESPN front-office insider Bobby Marks, Cleveland can offer James a more lucrative deal than any other team — a five-year max contract in the neighborhood of $205 million.
Any other suitor can offer a four-year pact worth $152 million. Should James re-sign with a shortened one-plus-one deal in Cleveland — in order to give himself the chance to explore free agency again in the summer of 2019 — his compensation for 2018-19 would be $35.4 million, and 2019-20 would jump to $38.2 million as the option year. James, 33, is coming off one of his finest campaigns as a pro in his 15th season. He played all 82 games for the first time and averaged 27.5 points (his most since 2009-10), tied a career high with 8.6 rebounds per game and set a career high with 9.1 assists per game while shooting 54.2 percent from the field. He followed that up in the playoffs by averaging 34 points, 9.1 rebounds and 9 assists while shooting 53.9 percent. The Cavs advanced to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season and were swept by the Golden State Warriors. James finished second in MVP voting, amassing 738 points, behind only first-time winner James Harden of the Rockets (965).
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This was expected by damn near everyone who follows the NBA. With free agency starting this weekend, the big question is where will Lebron James end up? Los Angeles? Houston? Cleveland? Philadelphia?