What's next for LeBron James? A look at his free-agency options
CLEVELAND — Should he stay or should he go?
Those questions will be discussed over and over until LeBron James decides in early July where he wants to play next season.
James has until June 29 to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Cavaliers, which he is expected to do, and become a free agent.
Cleveland can offer James a five-year deal worth nearly $209 million, and other teams can offer him a four-year deal worth about $150 million. There's no guarantee James signs a deal that long.
Another consideration: Three teams have realistic salary cap space to sign James in free agency: the Cavs, 76ers and Lakers. Any other team will have to commit extreme salary cap gymnastics or convince the Cavaliers a sign-and-trade is worth their while.
Some teams James might consider.
In the moment, given the Cavs were just swept by the Warriors in the Finals, it's hard to see James returning. For the second consecutive season, Cleveland lost to Golden State, winning one of nine Finals games. If the Cavs want to keep James, they need to improve the roster, and that won't be easy considering their salary cap situation.
The 76ers are an attractive option. They have a talented young core with All-Star center Joel Embiid, All-Star-in-the- making Ben Simmons and Dario Saric.
James and Simmons share the same agent, Klutch Sports' Rich Paul.
The Sixers need to find a general manager after parting ways with Bryan Colangelo, and they could look to former Cleveland general manager David Griffin.
Does James want to play with a younger team? That's a fair question.
In terms of market appeal, none of these teams can compete with Laker Land. But if LeBron is going to partner with Magic Johnson to turn this storied franchise around, he simply must find a way to bring two fellow All-Stars with him.
Is one Paul George, the Palmdale, Calif., native who is also a free agent and widely known to have serious interest in playing for his home region's team? Is another Kawhi Leonard, whose future with San Antonio remains unknown? Is it Chris Paul, who is widely believed to be committed to re-signing in Houston but who has the freedom to join James with the Lakers?
James can't head west unless he truly knows his roster is good enough to compete with the Warriors.
So here's the key question when it comes to the Rockets: Is there any way Paul takes anything less than a five-year, $205 million deal? The Rockets will likely need that kind of concession if they're going to somehow find a way to land James, and only he knows if the prospect of playing with James is enticing enough to leave money on the table.
The Rockets' possibility is even more appealing after Houston pushed the Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference finals, and James is known to have serious interest in playing with Paul (and vice versa, of course). But this would require some extremely heavy lifting from general manager Daryl Morey, whose team would likely have to shed the contracts of Ryan Anderson (two years, $41 million combined remaining) and Eric Gordon (two years, $27 million combined) to make room for James. If James is willing to be the one who concedes, he could opt in for next season on his current contract (approximately $35 million) and force a trade, a la Paul last summer with the Clippers, as a way of making Morey's job easier.
The Knicks are a long shot, but James has a soft spot for the Knicks' mystique and Madison Square Garden. James could go to the Knicks and revive a woebegone franchise that last won a title in 1973.
New York hired David Fizdale as its coach, and Fizdale has a strong relationship with James going back to when James played for Miami and Fizdale was an assistant. James has been supportive of Fizdale, who was fired by Memphis this season.
The big problem: the Knicks roster and owner James Dolan.
It would surprise no one if Miami president Pat Riley wanted James back with the Heat. But does James have interest in Miami 2.0? It seems unlikely, but don't discount the power of Riley's persuasion to at least have a discussion with James.
When James spoke during the Finals about how basketball IQ mattered so much in his thought process, he might as well have mentioned the Spurs by name. Coach Gregg Popovich is known to be one of his favorites, and the reality is that, from an X's and O's standpoint, the Spurs are as good a destination as any. Still, this potential landing spot is seen as unlikely when it comes to these candidates.