LeBron James has opted out of his $21.6 million player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
All indications say this is going to be a wild and frenetic offseason.
First, the Indiana Pacers’ David West opted out of his own $12.6 million player option on June 24. On that same day, James’ teammate, Kevin Love, did the same thing. He bypassed his $16.7 million player option.
And now, James has followed suit.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the news of LBJ nixing his player option for the 2015-16 NBA season on June 28. It will be the third time in six years he will be an unrestricted free agent.
LeBron James has notified the Cavs he will opt out of his contract and become a free agent, sources told ESPN
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 28, 2015
However, Windhorst confirms James plans to re-sign with Cleveland. He will not reach out to other teams.
Cavaliers general manager David Griffin told Windhorst on Sunday that he and his camp had been in discussions with the four-time MVP since the 2015 NBA Finals ended. Griffin revealed James was “very engaged” in talks about the Cavs’ lineup.
Windhorst says “it is James’ intention to stay somewhat removed from the Cavs’ free agency until other free agents are handled.”
James and teammate Tristan Thompson happen to have the same agent in Rich Paul, who has stated his first priority is to have Thompson re-signed, per ESPN.
“We fully intend to keep Tristan Thompson.” -Cavs GM David Griffin pic.twitter.com/VCg34a6vUp
— Cavs Nation (@CavsNationNet) June 20, 2015
This shouldn’t be much of a problem as Cleveland has every intent on locking up Thompson, a restricted free agent power forward who is seen to command a salary of $13 million annually following his strong peformance (9.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game) in the 2015 NBA playoffs.
James will also likely see how Love’s situation in Cleveland plays out. Windhorst sources say the Cavaliers are willing to dangle a five-year, $110 million contract despite Love’s back and shoulder issues.
These same league sources also told Windhorst that Love is likely going to return to the Cavaliers. He routinely reached out to teammates for advice during the season, asking them if he should sign a long-term or short-term deal with Cleveland.
The Cavaliers may have to fix the contract issues of Thompson, Love and possibly shooting guard Iman Shumpert before having a talk with James, but they are still expected to offer him a maximum, four-year deal worth roughly $22 million yearly by July 1, per Windhorst.
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) June 28, 2015
For James’ part, the ESPN update says he is expected to sign a one-year deal with a player option for the 2016-17 NBA season which will make him a free agent next offseason when the salary cap increases.
The Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Joe Vardon confirms James’ plans of signing a one-year contract through his own team source on June 28. The source quipped “I expect him to sign back” when asked about James’ intentions.
Vardon stresses the $400,000 raise from $21.57 million to $22 million isn’t the reason why James decided to opt out. Instead, he will get a year’s worth of protection should he sustain a serious injury during the 2015-16 NBA season.
Another reason why James wanted to become a free agent before signing a new deal with the Cavs is contract flexibility for next offseason. When that time comes, he can decide to ink a long-term deal with Cleveland as the league’s revenues are expected to increase with its new $24 billion contract, per Vardon.
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) June 29, 2015
LBJ also confirmed to The Northeast Ohio Media Group during the 2015 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors he’s “happy” in Cleveland.
Cavaliers head coach David Blatt told Vardon on Sunday he wasn’t the least bit surprised James decided to opt out.
“Expected,” Blatt told The Northeast Ohio Media Group. “And, of course, hopeful that it will all work out fine.”
The Parting Shot
LeBron James’ decision to opt out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers does not come as a shock.
To put things in greater perspective, The Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd says James has two reasons for doing so:
- Increase his earning power with the onset of the bigger salary cap next season
- Pressure Cavaliers management into re-tooling the roster
Back in April, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported the NBA’s salary cap will increase from $67.1 million in 2015-16 to $89 million in 2016-17. It will reach an all-time high of $108 million in 2017-18.
These projections are due to the massive increase in revenue brought about by the NBA’s massive television deal, as Windhorst earlier pointed out.
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) June 28, 2015
James has every right to increase his earning power. He believes he’s worth more than the almost $22 million he was paid last season.
His stats back him up: An impressive 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the 2015 NBA Finals. There’s no sign of him slowing down.
And yes, he’s also using his free-agent status as leverage in forcing Cleveland to sign better players next season. Even without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving for most of The Finals, it was painfully obvious the Cavs had a less-than-stellar supporting cast.
For the most part, Timofey Mozgov (14.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and Tristan Thompson (10.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG) were the only reliable players outside of James during The 2015 NBA Finals.
James isn’t oblivious to this fact. He’s playing hardball, but it’s for the betterment of the team.
Kevin Love and LeBron James have been spotted hanging out together in LA pic.twitter.com/dSH8SHcfRS
— Sports Nation Ohio (@SN_Ohio) June 29, 2015
For the Cavaliers’ part, they know where their best player is coming from. He just put in what was arguably the best individual performance of a player from a losing team in The NBA Finals.
James wants Cavaliers general manager David Griffin to give him a better supporting cast for next season. Despite all indications saying Love will be back, James is not taking any chances.
It’s obvious he wants the Cavaliers to be 12-deep—the kind of roster that can produce several NBA titles in the next few years.
James will eventually get his wish. The Cavaliers’ makeover should be something to look forward to once the NBA’s free agency period kicks off on July 1.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all stats are current as of June 29 and are courtesy of ESPN.com.