The Washington Post

How the Cavaliers can afford LeBron James


(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

The world waits for LeBron James to decide where he will take his talents next, but there is a growing sentiment that King James could make a return to Cleveland.

Various reports say James will give serious consideration to returning to the Cavs, who he met with Sunday in south Florida. James is traveling today to Las Vegas, and a source who has been briefed on James’ free agency maneuverings told SheridanHoops that James’ inner circle, from his wife, Savannah to his agent, Rich Paul, to his best friends, Maverick Carter and Randy Mims, are unanimous in their belief that James’ best move is a return to the team he played for from 2003-2010.

My source believes there is a 75 percent chance James returns to Cleveland.

It seems owner Dan Gilbert is also taking steps to mend the fences after the messy breakup in 2010.

According to Spotrac, the Cavs have $16,825,195 in cap space for the 2014-15 season. However, it is widely reported James is seeking a max deal.  Under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, the Heat can offer James a five-year maximum deal worth $127.7 million. Other teams are limited to offering a four-year contract, maxing out at $94.8 million. So how does Cleveland make the necessary cap space for James? It starts with finding a trade partner for Jarrett Jack. Jack signed a four-year, $25.2 million contract with Cleveland last season ($6.3 million cap figure) which included $19.4 million guaranteed. He averaged 9.5 points and 4.1 assists in his first season for the Cavs during the regular season while shooting just 41 percent from the field. It’s not a contract with a ton of value, but it does appear Brooklyn could be interested in Jack as a replacement for Shaun Livingston, who left for the greener pastures of Golden State.

Cleveland has three first round draft picks in the 2015 NBA draft, so it is feasible they package one of those in addition to Thornton and the one year, $8.6 million remaining on his contract. Clearing both the Jack and Thornton contracts from the books would generate more than $23 million in cap space for this upcoming season – just enough to squeeze a max contract for James on the books.

But what does that mean for Cleveland’s future?

They just signed Kyrie Irving to a five-year, $90-million maximum contract which kicks in after the 2014-15 season and with two max contracts on the books, it makes getting that third impact player all the more difficult – even if you can dangle some first round draft picks to help sweeten the pot.

Plus, the Cavs need to cast an eye towards the future for highly touted Andrew Wiggins, this year’s top draft choice for Cleveland. It’s a bit premature to say Wiggins would be worth a max contract, but not inconceivable that the Cavs would need to find room for three max contracts on the books in the not so distant future.

James heading back to Cleveland is a terrific story, but it likely wouldn’t end with another ring for James. By tying up that much money in two contracts, the Cavs will struggle to afford role players to support James and Irving, leaving the four-time league MVP in a situation similar to the one he’s facing in Miami.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.



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