To the surprise of no one, LeBron James has opted out of his Cleveland Cavaliers contract, becoming an NBA free agent for the third straight offseason. And while all signs point to him returning to Cleveland — perhaps on another two-year deal with a player option for the second year — he would make more money signing elsewhere.
“I love it here. I love being here. I love my teammates,” James said during the Cavaliers’ NBA title victory parade last week. “Obviously my agent will take care of all the logistical things but, I’m happy. I’ve got no plans to go nowhere at this point.”
James made $24 million with the Cavaliers last season and would make $27.5 million if he signed another two-year deal with an opt-out to stay in Cleveland. But because of various NBA salary-cap rules the Cavaliers are limited as to the size of his raise, while other NBA teams are not.
Another team with cap space — and there are more than 20 of them — could give James $30.8 million for next season.
The reason for this is complicated in contract language and math. Summarized, the salary cap is leaping so much — $24 million — that the increase in the max-contract parameters exceeds the 20 percent raise the Cavs can offer James.
As is the case with almost everything else involving NBA numbers this summer, this is a new situation.
The only way James could get $30.8 million next year from the Cavs is if he took a two-year deal under league rules. In this case, he could sign for two years and $64 million.
But James almost certainly isn’t going anywhere because he’s playing the waiting game until next offseason, when the NBA’s new television deal with ESPN/ABC begins and the salary cap is expected to explode again. James can afford to take less salary now in exchange for the vast riches that await him by signing a max contract worth more than $200 million next summer. In the meantime, James seems likely to be satisfied with the $27.5 million he’ll make next season in Cleveland. Plus, the lesser salary could give Cleveland a better chance to shore up his supporting cast apart from Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, who are locked up with long-term deals.
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