LeBron James is looking to make his eighth straight NBA finals appearance, but many fans are focused on this summer when James can become a free agent. According to Spotrac, James is slated to make $35.6 million next season in the final year of a three-year, $99.8 million deal. James has a player-option for the 2018-19 season, meaning he can opt out of his deal to become a free agent this summer, which is what many expect him to do.
James opting out does not necessarily mean he would leave Cleveland, but there are a few reasons to point to as to why James would leave. Rumors have swirled around James future since last summer, but James has been mostly quiet on the subject. On one of the rare occasions James discussed his future, he cited his family and winning as the two most important factors in his upcoming decision.
“My family. That’s all that matters,” James told Cleveland.com. “I want to continue to win at the highest level, because I know I can still do it as an individual, and then my family. My family is what’s most important to me, more than anything.”
This is not a glowing endorsement for the Cavs. James has admitted there was skepticism within his family after he decided to return to Cleveland. Some in his inner circle were not thrilled with his decision given Dan Gilbert’s less than flattering public remarks after he left Cleveland for Miami. James spoke about his wife and mother’s displeasure with Gilbert in a 2017 Bleacher Report video.
“It’s more of a bigger picture and it’s more of … all these kids, all these people that need inspiration, need a way to get out,” James noted (via USA Today). “And I believe I’m that way out. And so I had to be like, as much as my mom means everything and my wife and my kids … I had to be like, let’s not worry about small [expletive], let’s worry about us trying to build something that’s bigger.”
If family is James top priority come free agency, this could point to James departure given their frustration with ownership. Fans could also look at this statement in the opposite way, as James grew up in Akron, and has a lot of family members in the area.
What is less disputable is how the Cavs stack up when it comes to competing for championships. While Cleveland made a lot of moves at the trade deadline, none of them make the Cavs long-term contenders aside from James being on the roster. The Cavs have so many bad contracts on their roster, it makes it difficult for the team to offer James any realistic promises of surrounding him with more talent via free agency. Cleveland has the No. 8 pick in this draft that will help them add a top prospect, but the Cavs will be competing against franchises that are able to sign James along with another star player this summer.
In a piece written by Bleacher Report’s Ken Berger, an anonymous NBA executive noted it is “when LeBron leaves” rather than using an if in front of the idea. Another agent told Bleacher Report that the Sixers are a team that could target James.
“When LeBron leaves,” one Eastern Conference executive told Bleacher Report, choosing an interesting qualifier (not “if” but “when”), “that trade will be devastating financially. A lot of money in [George] Hill and Clarkson, and you have to pay Nance.”…
“He’s not going to the Lakers, because they know they can get Kawhi [Leonard] next summer,” the agent said. “If I’m the Sixers, I have to think about what it means to bring in LeBron and take the ball out of Ben Simmons’ hands. Simmons is useless when he’s not controlling the ball. Is LeBron going to give up the ball?”
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported what league sources believe James criteria for his next venture will be.
Several possible factors in LeBron’s decision-making process have been raised by league sources: a place to raise his family; a place where he will have the best shot at winning more championships; a place where he can begin setting up his post-playing career and dip into the world of entertainment and team ownership.
One thing is clear, King James will be the No. 1 free agent on all NBA teams list, making the 2018 NBA free agency big-time news come July.