James’ decision to not pick up the player option does not rule Cleveland out of the running for the 33-year-old’s services next season. In fact, had James exercised his player option, James would have likely had a trade partner prepared. The Cavaliers are still a major competitor for James in free agency. Cleveland can offer James more money than any other team – a $207 million five-year max contract. Meanwhile, any other prospective destination could only offer James a four-year deal worth $152 million.
Interestingly, the destinations of certain superstar free agents will likely have a significant impact on James’ own free agency plans. Sources say James is hesitant to commit to the Los Angeles Lakers without the franchise having acquired a high-calibre free agent such as Leonard or George.
The Lakers have emerged as a frontrunner for James’ signature as a result of their plentiful cap space. The storied ball club has enough cap space to accommodate both James and another superstar free agent. In turn, Los Angeles could potentially assemble a super team with the talent to challenge the Golden State Warriors atop the NBA.
However, James will have no shortage of interested suitors, and there are multiple franchises apart from the Warriors that would allow James to compete for a championship. The Philadelphia 76ers boast the likes of Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and All-Star center Joel Embid. Moreover, Philadelphia, an Eastern Conference team, would provide James an easier path to the Finals with only the Boston Celtics posing a legitimate threat.
The Houston Rockets, another interested team, took Golden State to seven game series in the Western Conference Finals, led by James Harden and Chris Paul. And while Chris Paul is a free agent himself, LeBron’s arrival would almost certainly influence Paul to remain in Houston.
It is still worth noting that James could sign a one-plus-one deal, allowing him to enter free agency once again in 2019. The All-NBA forward would receive $35.4 million in the first year and $38.2 million in the option year.
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