LeBron James has made a decision. Well, at least one of them anyway.
According to multiple reports, the four-time league MVP who helped lead the Miami Heat to two championships and four consecutive Finals appearances not that long ago has decided he will enter free agency on Sunday and not into the $35.6 million player option he had to stay in Cleveland next season.
How does that affect the Heat? Well, it only makes his longshot of a return to South Florida even longer.
With more than $118 million in salary cap space already committed to 10 players, the easiest way for a LeBron-Heat reunion would have been acquiring him via trade. But now that James, 33, has opted to become a free agent it makes it nearly impossible for a team without cap space to acquire him.
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Since James will fetch a starting salary of $35.4 million, the Heat would need to clear about $55 million off the books in cap space while taking nothing back except cash and draft choices in order to create the room to give James a max contract.Good luck with that.
In a sign-and-trade scenario the team receiving the player in the sign-and-trade would be hard capped at can’t surpass the league apron,which is projected to be $129 million ($6 million more than the projected luxury tax line). So, the Heat would be in a really tough spot to add much to its roster after acquiring James in this scenario – while also giving up valuable assets to get him.
The bottomline: James’ options are basically down to teams with cap space. That’s the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers and a return to Cleveland.
The Cavs, which own James’ Bird rights, can offer him a new five-year contract worth $207.4 million, based on the league’s projected $101 million salary cap for next season. But Cleveland is also already $40 million over the cap so its options of upgrading the roster are limited.
The most another team could offer James is four years and $152.3 million. The Lakers have enough cap space to sign two players to max contracts. The Sixers would have to clear about $8 million in cap space to have room for James, and would need to make at least one trade to do it.
If James had picked up the player option before Friday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline and forced a trade, his new team could have offered him a four-year extension to his contract that would have equaled roughly $207million in as early as six months. Now, if he chooses a new team as a free agent, he’ll make about $55 million less than that.
Teams can negotiate with free agents starting at midnight Sunday.
▪ Former Indiana Pacers forward and Heat playoff rival Paul George, who lost to James and Miami twice in the Eastern Conference Finals, recently sought the advice of Dwyane Wade about his impending free agent decision. The moment was captured in a three-part video series produced by ESPN highlighting George's decision.
Wade, 36, spoke to George, who is deciding between returning to Oklahoma City or joining the Lakers, his hometown team, about the formation of the Heat’s Big 3 and why it came together.
“For me, it wasn't about money,” Wade said. “It wasn't about nothing but winning. A lot of people don't believe this; a lot of people think we had this already set up. ‘Bron called and said, ‘What are you thinking?’ I said, ‘Bro, I want to win championships. I'm tired of getting knocked out in the first round. It sucks.’ And then it went from there to saying, ‘Yo, let’s do it together.’
“Like I won the scoring title, P.G., Nobody bought me a car. Nothing happened. It was just the season was over. And I didn't want that. What fulfilled me is raising that gold thing above my head. That moment fulfills you like no other moment. I knew that winning was going to bring everything I wanted and more.”
George, 28, thanked Wade for his thoughts.
Wade has said on various occasions in the last few months he will either play a 16thseason for the Heat next year or retire.